Organic basil recalled due to Cyclospora risk

I keep telling people that certain fresh herbs – like basil – are a ridiculously high percentage of foodborne illnesses.

They look at me like I just fell off the truck.

Sure, I walk with a cane now because I fall too much, but not off trucks.

United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) is initiating a voluntary recall of a limited quantity of Wild Harvest® Organic Basil distributed out of UNFI’s Hopkins, MN distribution center to select retailers in Minnesota between 4/18/2020-5/8/2020. UNFI’s recall is issued out of an abundance of caution because of the potential for the impacted product to be contaminated by Cyclospora cayetanensis. No illnesses, including allergic reactions, involving this product have been reported to date.

This recall includes Wild Harvest® Organic Fresh Basil products sold in .25oz, .75oz, 2oz, and 4oz plastic clam shell containers (UPCs: 0071153550450, 0071153550322, 0071153550762, 0071153550323). Impacted product can be identified by a white sticker with black ink on the back of the container stating: “Product of Colombia” and “112.”

This concern was identified following routine sampling. Cyclospora cayetanensis is a microscopic parasite that can cause an intestinal illness in people called cyclosporiasis. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the illness is usually not life threatening. Symptoms of cyclosporiasis may include: watery diarrhea (most common), loss of appetite, weight loss, cramping, bloating, increased gas, nausea and fatigue. Other symptoms that may occur but are less common include vomiting and low-grade fever.

C perfringens in herbs and spices

Clostridium perfringens spores are able to persist under harsh conditions, and thus, are predestined as high risk hazards in the food category dried spices and herbs.

In the present study, C. perfringens spores were produced, and then, screened toward their susceptibility to the antimicrobial activity of nine condiments. While heat activation for induction of spore germination led to a significant increase in recovery by almost 1 log10 colony forming units, the supplementation of germinants was negligible. The enumeration of C. perfringens before heat treatment revealed no detrimental effects by potential antimicrobial active compounds of the condiments. However, after heat activation a significant reduced recovery was determined for cinnamon and allspice in comparison to the control but it was still higher than without treatment. Probably, the heat improved the extraction of compounds inhibiting the germination of the spore and/or the outgrowth of the cell.

Practical applications

This study contributes to the understanding of the production of C. perfringens spores and their recovery from artificially spiked condiments. For an efficient spore production the following four factors are essential with decreasing importance, namely (a) the strain selection, (b) the preparation via a two-step approach, (c) the heat activation, and (d) the supplementation of germination factors. The detection of the actual contamination is of major importance especially for food control institutions. Neglecting the heat activation poses a potential risk for underestimation and false-negatives during food control analyses. Consequently, it is recommended to enumerate before and after heat treatment to detect vegetative cells as well as spores.

Production of Clostridium perfringes spores and their recovery from artificially spiked spices and herbs

1 March 2018

Journal of Food Safety

Philipp Lins

DOI: 10.1111/jfs.12453

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jfs.12453/abstract

Raw is risky: Fresh herbs can be contaminated

I’m not a fan of the guac, ever since a hungover former partner spewed vile smelling green stuff at the side of the road decades ago.

And I’m wary of fresh herbs, based on previous outbreaks.

So is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which on Feb. 23, 2018, revealed details on just how many bacteria are hiding in fresh, store-bought herbsThe agency plans to continue testing herbs through 2019 to thoroughly assess their “rates of bacterial contamination.”

The plan is to test 1,600 samples of items “typically eaten without having undergone a ‘kill step,’ such as cooking, to reduce or eliminate bacteria.” These items include fresh cilantro, parsley, and basil.

This first round of results revealed that of the 139 fresh herb samples tested, four tested positive for salmonella and three contained E. coli bacteria.

The Packer noted the testing found  no pathogens in the U.S. herbs versus imported herbs.

In the same period, the FDA found that three of the 58 U.S.-processed avocado products that were tested had listeria, and one of the 49 imported samples had listeria.

From 1996 to 2015, the FDA linked 2,699 illnesses and 84 hospitalizations to fresh herbs.

The FDA also plans to sample processed avocado for similar reasons – from 2005 to 2015, 525 illnesses were linked to avocados in 12 separate outbreaks. Of 107 avocado and guacamole samples in the initial results, four contained listeria. Avocados, the FDA notes, “have a high moisture content and a non-acidic pH level, conditions that can support the growth of harmful bacteria.”

Salad greens likely source of salmonella that sickened 136 in UK in 2010

From July to Oct. 2010, 136 people in London and east England were sickened by Salmonella Java phage type 3b variant 9. Gobin et al., from the U.K. Health Protection Agency, report in Eurosurveillance today that most cases were female with a median age of 39.5 years and lived in London. Results of epidemiological investigations are compatible with salad vegetables as the potential source, but no common suppliers of salad were identified and no organisms were isolated from environmental and food samples.

S. Java is present in poultry flocks in the European Union and is the most common serovar reported in poultry in the Netherlands. Outbreaks of S. Java have been reported in the past, associated with salad vegetables, goat’s milk cheese, poultry, reptiles and tropical fish aquariums. S. Java is an uncommon cause of salmonellosis in the United Kingdom (UK), with 151, 112 and 130 cases reported in 2007, 2008 and 2009 respectively according to the national database.

In 2007, a multi-country outbreak of S. Java phage type (PT) 3b variant 9 (var9) involved cases in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, the UK and the U.S. Epidemiological evidence suggested an association with salad vegetables.

The results of the case–case study confirmed a significant association between symptomatic infection of S. Java PT 3b var9 and eating out at restaurants, eating pre-packaged mixed salad leaves at home, consumption of salad leaves from takeaway restaurants and eating any salad leaves either at home or purchased from commercial catering settings. Since salad is often used as a garnish in meals eaten in commercial catering settings, it is possible that the model underestimated the proportion of cases who consumed salad leaves away from home.

We cannot exclude the possibility that the study may have missed the right vehicle of the outbreak such as sprouted seeds which have been implicated in two recent outbreaks in Europe. It is likely that the consumption of smaller food items (seeds, sprouted seeds and herbs) in salads prepared by commercial caterers was not remembered or was not noticed by cases. None of the smaller salad items were found to be associated with cases during the hypothesis generation. It is possible that salad leaves were a confounding factor in this investigation and smaller, less memorable items should be considered in outbreaks where salad vegetables appear to be implicated.

Environmental investigations did not identify common suppliers of salad vegetables and the short shelf life of salad vegetables limited the ability to acquire any suspect foods for microbiological analysis.

The contamination of salad leaves and salad vegetables during their production and processing has been implicated in a number of geographically widespread outbreaks. High risk practices during production and processing include the use of contaminated water either to irrigate the crops, to apply pesticides or other dressings, or to wash the crop once harvested; the use of human or animal sewage as a crop fertilizer; and the transport of the harvested crop in a contaminated vehicle/storage system, e.g. trucks previously used for transporting waste. Crops growing in the field are also vulnerable to contamination from sources such as wild animals and birds

Gastrointestinal infection associated with salad vegetables may also be the result of cross-contamination from poultry, meat or meat products or contamination by the food handler during food preparation in the home or in catering establishments. A review of more than 2,000 general foodborne outbreaks from 1992 to 2006 undertaken by the HPA found that 4% of them were associated with prepared salads. The review found that most of the outbreaks linked to salads occurred in the catering sector and were associated with infected food handlers, cross-contamination and poor storage.

The increase in illness and outbreaks associated with the consumption of fresh ready to eat salad vegetables indicates the ongoing need to improve methods in the production and preparation of these foods to reduce the potential for contamination with Salmonella and other enteric pathogens.

The complete epidemiological write-up, with a full discussion of limitations, is available at http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=20023.

Fresh herbs linked to Salmonella

AP is reporting the second Texas based Salmonella-linked cilantro recall in a week. Fresh herbs are on the FDA produce hit list along with tomatoes, leafy greens, cantaloupe and sprouts. FDA provides technical assistance to these industries to complete commodity-specific guidance documents. David Acheson, ex-food safety Czar said in May that fresh herbs were next on the list.

Frontera Produce of Edinburg, Texas, is recalling one lot of cilantro. No illness has been reported. The recalled cilantro was available at select store chains in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Louisiana and New Mexico between July 20 and July 27. Details: by phone at 877-381-5701.

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.

Weeds

The name of a popular series on Showtime, Weeds, is also now becoming a popular part of haute cuisine in France. On June 7, 2007, on France 2’s “Envoyé special” (a show like 20/20 or 60-minutes in the U.S.), one of the segments was dedicated to the use of “herbes sauvages” or wild herbs in France’s top 3-star restaurants. The reporters followed a member of the Radio France chorus who picked weeds right in Paris, tasted and explained them, and then carried them to her favorite 3-star chef. After demonstrating how fine tastes can come from these strangely exotic yet common weeds, they were off to a farm in Brittany where one woman specializes in growing weeds. She used to grow grains but when she recognized the profitability of this niche market, she switched. Her farm now has an annual income of over €200,000 a year – for picking, packing, selling and shipping dandelion leaves and the like. There’s even a workshop led in Switzerland where you can go around picking wild herbs in the mountains all day and then come back and learn how to make them into pesto and flan. Not to fear, the French are well aware that some herbs are toxic. But they put it into perspective: we eat potatoes, but the leaves are dangerous to eat. Same with rhubarb – never eat the leaves. One man was ready to pop a “bouton d’or” (buttercup) into his mouth when his instructor yelled out, “Non!” The 3-star chef assured that when he had questions about an item, he contacted his friend the horticulturalist to be on the safe side.

This program brought two things to my attention. The French think that the dangerous side of food is sexy, but there’s more to food safety than avoiding inherently toxic foods. At no point did anyone discuss the conditions in which the herbs were grown. As Doug and I wrote in our doggy-dining article … there is dog poop all over Paris and the rest of France. If there’s a patch of grass somewhere, it’s very likely that a cat or dog (or human) is also using this spot for relief. That’s quite a lot less sexy to think about than the perils of eating such refined foods as weeds. One aspiring chef said that everyone made fun of her … everyone asked her the same questions about knowing if the weeds were dangerous or not. She never mentioned if she thought that dog, cat, mouse, bird, or turtle poop might be on the herbs she’s putting primarily into fresh salads and uncooked sauces.