6 dead, 32 sick in European Listeria outbreak linked to frozen corn

As listeria continues it death stroll in South Africa, Australia, and before that, Canada, the European Food Safety Authority reports an outbreak of invasive Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) infections defined by whole-genome sequencing (WGS) and probably linked to frozen corn has been ongoing in five EU Member States (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom) since 2015.

As of 8 March 2018, 32 cases have been reported and six patients have died due to or with the infection. WGS analysis of six non-human L. monocytogenes isolates detected from 2016 to January 2018 in Austria, Finland, France and Sweden found these isolates closely related to the multi-country cluster of L. monocytogenes  serogroup  IVb, multi-locus sequence type 6 (ST6).

The non-human isolates were detected in two different samples from mixed frozen vegetables; three samples from frozen corn, and one sample from a surface where various vegetables could have been processed. The only common food item in all non-human samples was corn. The WGS analysis provides a strong microbiological link between the human and the non-human isolates and is suggestive of a potential contaminated food source related to frozen corn persisting in the food chain at least since 2016.

Traceability information for the three frozen corn samples pointed to frozen corn products packed in Poland and processed/produced in Hungary. Two additional non-human strains isolated in Austria from frozen vegetable mixes with corn as an ingredient were traced back to the same common origin in Hungary. Further investigations are needed to verify the point of contamination in the food chain.

Consumption of frozen corn has been confirmed by two patients, one in Finland and one in Sweden. In addition, a Danish patient reported consumption of mixed frozen vegetables, which could have included corn. The Finnish patient confirmed consumption of frozen corn of one suspected brand, supporting an epidemiological link between the outbreak cases and frozen corn. However, no traceability and microbiological information was available for the corn consumed by the Finnish and the Swedish patients.

Food business operators in Estonia, Finland, Poland and Sweden have withdrawn and recalled the implicated frozen corn products from the market. These measures are likely to significantly reduce the risk of human infections in these countries. However, new invasive listeriosis cases may be identified due to the long incubation period (1–70 days), long shelf-lives of frozen corn products and potential consumption of frozen corn bought by the customers before the recalls and eaten without being properly cooked. Furthermore, until the root source of contamination is established and control measures implemented, new cases may occur.

So where does frozen corn – one of my personal favorites – come from?

In 2001, long before barfblog.com or youtube, Chapman and I toured some farms and vegetable processing plants in Ontario (that’s in Canada) in 2001.

We more both amazed at the efforts involved in taking corn from the field to a frozen packaged state.

At the time we were wandering around combines in fields – something comfortable for me – and a dude said, we’re gonna sell 90-minute, non-GMO frozen corn in the EU./em>

That’s 90 minutes from harvest to the frozen bag.

I won’t go into the BS marketing aspects of this, but that they were able to pull it off was something to watch.

Intricate timing with the harvest, metal detectors, individually quick frozen (IQF) kernels and into a box to be bagger later.

I asked what the biggest microbial risks were, and the manager said, Listeria.

So they ran a test-and-hold procedure.

That’s how it’s done.

No idea what’s happening with the EU suppliers.

Nerd alert: Risk assessment in Europe

The European Food Safety Authority says a special issue of the EFSA Journal presents the main outcomes of EFSA’s 2nd Scientific Conference “Shaping the Future of Food Safety, Together” held in Milan, on 14-16 October 2015. 

kvANE_s-200x150The event was a unique opportunity for stakeholders in Europe’s food regulatory system – policy makers, risk assessors, scientists and NGOs – to identify future challenges for food safety risk assessment in Europe. Over 1000 delegates came together in what proved to be a stimulating and insightful debate on global food safety concerns. The discussions covered an impressive range of topics and provided inspiration for EFSA’s Strategy 2020. The conclusions will help EFSA and the wider risk assessment community to chart a course in food safety risk assessment in the coming years.

The special issue of the EFSA Journal reflects the conference’s three plenary and nine parallel sessions and is accompanied by a Foreword from EFSA’s Executive Director, Bernhard Url.

All the conference material that was published on the conference’s dedicated microsite will be archived on EFSA’s website. This includes the programme, webcasts, recordings and video clips which will continue to be publicly available and linked to the special issue of the EFSA Journal. 


EFSA advises on meat spoilage during storage and transport

Continuing in the advice vein, the European Food Safety Authority is trying to balance safety and quality when transporting meat.

meat.and.you.simpsonsEFSA had previously advised on the implications for meat safety if two parameters – time and temperature – varied and provided several scenarios for ensuring safety of meat during storage and transport of meat. The Commission subsequently asked EFSA to consider what implications such scenarios would have for the growth of bacteria that cause meat to spoil.

“If the sole consideration was safety, policy makers would have more options on the table to pick from. However, scenarios that are acceptable in terms of safety may not be acceptable in terms of quality,” said Dr. Marta Hugas, Head of EFSA’s Biological Hazards and Contaminants unit.

Current legislation requires that carcasses are chilled to no more than 7C and that this temperature is maintained until mincing. The European Commission wants to revise this legislation to provide industry with more flexibility and asked EFSA’s scientific advice on safety and quality aspects.

Experts also said that effective hygienic measures during slaughter and processing help control contamination with spoilage bacteria.

EU data on veterinary drug residues in animals and food

European Food Safety Authority’s data report summarises the monitoring data from 2014, including compliance rates with EU residue limits, for a range of veterinary medicines, unauthorised substances and contaminants found in animals and animal-derived food.

abattoirs-anc-494x190Overall, 730,000 samples were reported in 2014 – a drop from the 1 million plus samples in last year’s report on 2013 data – from the 28 EU Member States.

In 2014, the level of non-compliance in targeted samples (i.e. samples taken to detect illegal use or check non-compliance with the maximum levels) rose slightly – to 0.37%, compared to 0.25%-0.34% over the previous seven years.

There was slightly higher non-compliance for resorcylic acid lactones (hormonally active compounds produced by fungi or man-made) and contaminants such as metals and mycotoxins (toxins produced by fungi).

The summary data reported suggest high rates of compliance overall and demonstrate the strengths of the EU monitoring system and its contribution to consumer protection.

Antimicrobial resistance in Europe

In relation to the 8th European Antibiotic Awareness Day on 18 November, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has published the annual report of the European Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance Network (EARS-Net) [1]. On the same occasion, an update with 2014 data of the EARS-Net interactive database on antimicrobial resistance [2] and the European Surveillance of Antimicrobial Consumption Network (ESAC-Net) interactive database on antimicrobial consumption [3] was released, on the ECDC website.

ab.res.prudent.may.14The data on antimicrobial resistance showed that the percentages of Klebsiella pneumoniae isolates resistant to fluoroquinolones, third-generation cephalosporins and aminoglycosides, as well as combined resistance to all three antibiotic groups increased significantly at European Union (EU)/European Economic Area (EEA) level over the last four years. A significant increase was also observed for carbapenem resistance in K. pneumoniae.

For Escherichia coli, resistance to third-generation cephalosporins and combined resistance to fluoroquinolones, third-generation cephalosporins and aminoglycosides increased significantly at EU/EEA level. The increase in combined resistance, and the increase in resistance to last line groups of antimicrobials such as the carbapenems, is a serious cause for concern and a threat to patient safety in Europe.

Data on antimicrobial consumption in 2014 show that the overall consumption of antimicrobials in the community in the EU/EEA was 21.6 defined daily doses (DDD) per 1,000 inhabitants and per day. The large inter-country variation in antibiotic consumption observed in previous years remained. When antibiotic consumption was expressed in terms of number of packages (a better estimate for prescriptions) per 1,000 inhabitants and per day, five countries (Denmark, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden) showed a significant decrease during 2010–2014.

During the same period, antibiotic consumption in the hospital sector (expressed in DDD per 1,000 inhabitants and per day) showed a significant increasing trend. A significant increase in the consumption of specific antibiotic groups, e.g. carbapenems, was also observed during this period at EU/EEA level, and in several countries. Although the vast majority of antibiotics is consumed in the community, i.e. outside hospitals, antibiotic consumption in hospitals is a major driver of the spread of multidrug-resistant bacteria responsible for healthcare-associated infections.


European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Antimicrobial resistance surveillance in Europe 2014. Annual Report of the European Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance Network (EARS-Net). Stockholm: ECDC; 2015. Available from http://ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications/Publications/antimicrobial-resistance-europe-2014.pdf

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Antimicrobial resistance interactive database (EARS-Net). Stockholm: ECDC. [Accessed 19 Nov 2015]. Available from http://ecdc.europa.eu/en/healthtopics/antimicrobial_resistance/database/Pages/database.aspx

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Antimicrobial resistance interactive database (EARS-Net). Stockholm: ECDC. [Accessed 19 Nov 2015]. Available from http://ecdc.europa.eu/en/healthtopics/antimicrobial_resistance/esac-net-database/Pages/database.aspx

Internet cheese? Be careful Europeans

The suitability for consumers of a variety of raw milk cheeses purchased over the Internet was investigated in terms of packaging, labelling, physicochemical parameters and microbiological safety. 108 purchases from seven European countries were examined.

artisanal.cheeseThe prevalences of Salmonella spp., Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli and coagulase positive staphylococci (SA) were determined. All 108 samples were described on websites as raw milk cheeses and thereby qualified for this study. However, after delivery it was noted that 4.6% (5/108) of cheeses were labelled to be manufactured from heat-treated or pasteurized milk. Delivery duration ranged from 24 h to six days. Immediately upon receipt cheese temperatures were observed to range between 5 and 23 °C, whereas in 61.5% of all cases the temperature was higher than 15 °C. Cheese labelling was examined in respect of EC Guideline 2000/13 and Regulation No. 853/2004. Only 17.6% (19/108) of cheeses were properly labelled and fulfilled all European guideline requirements.

In 50.9%, 38.8%, 46.3% and 39.8% of all cases (i) specific storage requirements, (ii) name and address of the manufacturer/packer or seller, (iii) net weight and (iv) shelf life (use by date), were missing. Even the labelling information “made from raw milk” was not apparent on 36% of all cheese items delivered. The major foodborne pathogen L. monocytogenes was detected in 1.9% of all samples, one of which had counts of 9.5 × 103 CFU/g. None of the 108 investigated cheeses showed a pH ≤ 5.0 and aw value ≤0.94 which are the limiting values for growth of L. monocytogenes. For two samples (0.9%) and 11 samples (10.2%) the pH and the aw value was ≤4.4 or ≤0.92, respectively at least at one of three stipulated time points (receipt, mid-shelf-life and at expiry). Salmonella spp. could not be detected in any of the samples. E. coli and SA could be detected in a total of 29.6% (≥10 CFU/g; 32/108) and 8.3% (≥100 CFU/g; 9/108) of samples, respectively, indicating poor conditions of hygiene.

Results reveal that labelling and hygiene concerns about the safety of Internet purchased cheeses in Europe are justified.

How safe is European Internet cheese? A purchase and microbiological investigation

Food Control, Volume 54, August 2015, Pages 225–230

Dagmar Schoder , Anja Strauß, Kati Szakmary-Brändle, Martin Wagner


Food Safety Talk 65: All My Ports are Engaged

Food Safety Talk, a bi-weekly podcast for food safety nerds, by food safety nerds. The podcast is hosted by Ben Chapman and barfblog contributor Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor at Rutgers University. Every two weeks or so, Ben and Don get together virtually and talk for about an hour.  They talk about what’s on their minds or in the news regarding food safety, and popular culture. They strive to be relevant, funny and informative — sometimes they succeed. You can download the audio recordings right from the website, or subscribe using iTunes.

Man who thinks he's European perplexed by maths.

Man who thinks he’s European perplexed by maths.


In this episode, Ben is absent, but Don is not alone. Mike Batz, Assistant Director of Food Safety Programs, Emerging Pathogen Institute at the University of Florida, is a guest on the show. He appeared not once, but twice on the podcast before.

Don and Mike start by talking a little about their travels, then, they quickly move to a discussion on the Chobani Yogurt recall. The news article leaves Mike unsure whether Mucor circinelloides was pathogenic to both animals and humans. A brief digression about podcast listening speed reveals that Batz listens at 1.5 speed while Don is more civilized. Returning to yogurt, they discuss the originalmBio article. Don concludes the study did not provide enough evidence to show M. circinelloides is truely pathogenic to humans.

Don asks Mike about a psychology experiment done by Facebook where they manipulated users feeds. Mike was disappointed by Facebook’s methodology since the study never requested an informed consent from the users. They then rambled about again about their various and sundry international travels. Mike resided close to the Rijks Museum (that’s in Amsterdam) for a while and Schaffner shared his experience in Finland (including reindeer tartare) and New Zealand (and beef tartare).

Next, they talked about a document from the FAO marketed as providing a list of the top 10 foodborne parasites ). To continue, they discussed seasonal food safety tips. While Mike confessed to not always follow his own food safety recommendations, Don revealed he is reluctant to eat a cut cantaloupe by a stranger.

Soon after, the discussion shifted to antibiotics in meat. Both agreed that the issue is quite complicated and there is not a straight forward answer.

They concluded the show with a discussion on cross contamination including cutting boardsartisanal cheese and the 5 second rule. Don recommended plastic cutting board for meat and wood cutting board for any other food types.

Over 800 sick with Hepatitis A; between indifference and approximation

Our Italian food safety friend, Luca Bucchini, provides an update on the ongoing Hepatitis A outbreak linked to frozen fruits.

An edited version is below, and something will probably be lost in translation.

In Italy, since the beginning of 2013 or shortly before, is currently the most significant outbreak associated with food seen in the western world after the German-based sprout outbreak of 2011.

The cases reported to the Italian authorities, and therefore serious enough to warrant medical attention, associated with berries are at frozen-berriesleast over 800, with a significant proportion of hospital admissions.

It is not surprising that during this epidemic the media have dealt with so little, instead devoting space to hypothetical risks, like GMOs, or of pigs brought before the Parliament.

But how is it possible that the epidemic, although slow, has not yet been stopped, and we do not know the origin (the origin is likely that there were crops irrigated with water contaminated with sewage in Eastern Europe, but do not exclude other possibilities).

At the same time, perhaps for the lack of pressure from public opinion, has definitely contributed little transparent action, slow and uncertain of the Italian authorities. Even the initial identification of the outbreak has not occurred in Italy, despite epidemiological signals of concern, but in Germany and the Netherlands, because of the tourists came back sick, in March, from holidays in Trentino.

At present, the clues on the origin of raw materials lead to Poland. From this country, according to the Italian documents, however, are arriving very little information to find a common origin. Community legislation imposes very specific: you should be able to go back to producing farms without difficulty. It is not clear, however, if the Poles have not applied the rules, or simply resisted requests for information Italian.

It was evident that the frozen berries can remain in the freezer for months or years, which are often consumed without cooking and are used without heat treatment capable of killing viruses (boiling), even for ice cream cakes, ice cream and for many other typical products of consumption in summer. The Ministry of Health has not promoted, and does not endorse, any communication; news on the site is difficult to find.

The scientific data were already clear: the only safe treatment was boiling. But consumers were given mixed messages until September, and even today few know that the official advice is to consume the products only after two minutes of boiling, then without giving any indication as to the tens of thousands of bakeries and ice cream stores. In essence, it is hoped that the problem would pass on its own. Instead, with the berries still in the freezers, the epidemic has diminished in intensity but has not yet passed.

In Italy, the ASL often do not have the aggressiveness needed for epidemiological investigation, and the central coordination is poor. It is based on the analytical findings and, when the problem is of this nature, even from a purely economic point of view it is better to eliminate a suspect lot (not confirmed) more, than letting the problem continue. We are at the point that the most prestigious supermarket chains, industry and the inability of authorities to solve the problem, they said they no longer sell this type of product.

Unfortunately, this myth of a system far superior, and food consequently always free of problems, has become a mantra repeated uncritically, even by those who should have a professional duty to respect the available data.

Lack of transparency is not conducive to the most efficient firms, and any reliable health authority has not only an obligation to act diligently to avoid unnecessary alarms, but also to worry about the economic interests of specific and general. But this search for balance, entrusted to a third party mediator between producer and buyer, it does not work for consumers, for businesses the most virtuous, and the industry continues to have – in this case – the unsolved problem. 

Frozen fruit and Hepatitis A outbreaks in Europe

As European regulators work to help identify the origin of the recent outbreak of Hepatitis A in Germany, the Netherlands and Poland, the Coop in Denmark is pulling frozen strawberries after 52 people were sickened across Scandinavia in possibly related outbreaks.

The Copenhagen Post reports that frozen strawberries are suspected of being the source of an outbreak of 52 cases of hepatitis A across frozen.strawberryScandinavia, leading Coop to withdraw them from its stores.

The berries are from Egypt and Morocco and sold under the names “Sund Fornuft Jordbær”, “Irma Jordbær” and “Coop Jordbær”, and have been sold by Fakta, Irma, Dagli´Brugsen, LokalBrugsen, Kvickly and SuperBrugsen.

“We are not sure these berries are to blame for the outbreak but we dare not risk the health of our customers,” Coop spokesperson Karin Frøidt told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “We are [withdrawing the berries] to be extra safe.”

Meanwhile, the European Food Safety Authority says 15 sickened people had travelled to the autonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano, in Italy and that preliminary investigations have identified frozen berries as the most likely source of infection.

‘I slaughtered this horse last Tues. I’m afraid she’s starting to turn;’ horse meat triggers more recalls

Tesco and discount chain Aldi revealed they have withdrawn a range of ready meals produced by French food supplier Comigel following horse.meat.09concerns over contamination of products with horsemeat.

The moves are part of a growing horsemeat scandal in Europe.

Down the road in the Gold Coast, Australia, a Perth butcher has confirmed horse meat is being supplied to some restaurants but has refused to reveal exactly who was selling the controversial dish.
Owner of Mondo Di Carne butchers, Vince Garreffa, told the Bulletin he had customers on the Coast and did not understand what the fuss was about.

“I don’t understand all the attention this is getting and we will not be making any more statements,” he said.

Mr Garreffa, who is the only butcher in Australia licensed to sell horse meat for human consumption, also refused to name the restaurants he was supplying due to the controversy it often caused.

The dish is rarely advertised by restaurants or published on menus due to fears of a backlash.

Horse has long been eaten in some European and Asian cultures but is met with controversy in Australia and other western countries.