Spices have twice the Salmonella of other FDA-regulated imports

In an effort to curb the number of foodborne illness outbreaks in America, the Food and Drug Administration is taking a harder look at packaged spices that are typically found on grocery store shelves.

pepperFDA has announced it is analyzing a recently completed two-year, nationwide study to collect data on the presence of Salmonella in retail packages.

The FDA has introduced new rules, as part of the Food Safety and Modernization Act, to “establish preventative controls in the food supply chain.” Through a “risk profile,” the agency determined the presence of pathogens, such as Salmonella, and filth in spices is “a systemic challenge,” and the problem relates in part to poor or inconsistent use of appropriate controls to prevent contamination. Once full analysis of the study has been completed, the FDA will post the results online.

The draft risk profile released in Oct. 2013 determined that the presence of pathogens, such as Salmonella, and filth in spices is a systemic challenge and that the problem relates in part to poor or inconsistent use of appropriate controls to prevent contamination. Spice shipments from 79 countries were examined for Salmonella, and we found that 37 of the 79 countries had Salmonella-contaminated shipments, indicating that contamination of spice shipments with Salmonella is not limited to just a few source countries. Spice shipments offered for entry into the U.S. had an overall prevalence for Salmonella of approximately 6.6 percent during the 2007 to 2009 fiscal years, about twice the average prevalence of all other imported, FDA-regulated foods. We also found that approximately 12 percent of the spice shipments offered for entry to the U.S. during a three-year period (FY 2007 to FY 2009) were adulterated with filth such as insects and animal hair, which can result from inadequate packing or storage conditions.

However, we noted in the study an important data gap in that we were missing key information about the level of contamination of spices at retail in the U.S. When we began conducting the risk profile, we asked the public for any data but did not receive information about contamination rates at retail. Because many imported spices are treated after entry to the U.S. to reduce contamination before they are sold to consumers, we knew that the 6.6 percent contamination rate found at the import level did not reflect what was actually reaching consumers. We needed retail data to better evaluate the true risk to consumers.

Imports. Domestic. Plenty of food safety issues are home-grown: Salmonella at the market

Salmonella continues to rank as one of the most costly foodborne pathogens, and more illnesses are now associated with the consumption of fresh produce.

cilantro.slugs.powell.10 U.S. Department of Agriculture Microbiological Data Program (MDP) sampled select commodities of fresh fruit and vegetables and tested them for Salmonella, pathogenic Escherichia coli, and Listeria. The Salmonella strains isolated were further characterized by serotype, antimicrobial resistance, and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis profile. This article summarizes the Salmonella data collected by the MDP between 2002 and 2012.

The results show that the rates of Salmonella prevalence ranged from absent to 0.34% in cilantro. A total of 152 isolates consisting of over 50 different serotypes were isolated from the various produce types, and the top five were Salmonella enterica serotype Cubana, S. enterica subspecies arizonae (subsp. IIIa) and diarizonae (subsp. IIIb), and S. enterica serotypes Newport, Javiana, and Infantis. Among these, Salmonella serotypes Newport and Javiana are also listed among the top five Salmonella serotypes that caused most foodborne outbreaks. Other serotypes that are frequent causes of infection, such as S. enterica serotypes Typhimurium and Enteritidis, were also found in fresh produce but were not prevalent. About 25% of the MDP samples were imported produce, including 65% of green onions, 44% of tomatoes, 42% of hot peppers, and 41% of cantaloupes. However, imported produce did not show higher numbers of Salmonella-positive samples, and in some products, like cilantro, all of the Salmonella isolates were from domestic samples. About 6.5% of the Salmonella isolates were resistant to the antimicrobial compounds tested, but no single commodity or serotype was found to be the most common carrier of resistant strains or of resistance.

The pulsed-field gel electrophoresis profiles of the produce isolates showed similarities with Salmonella isolates from meat samples and from outbreaks, but there were also profile diversities among the strains within some serotypes, like Salmonella Newport.


Prevalence and characteristics of Salmonella serotypes isolated from fresh produce marketed in the United States

Journal of Food Protection, January 2016, No.1, pp. 4-178, pp. 6-16(11)

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-15-274

Shanker P. Reddy, Hua Wang, Jennifer K. Adams, Peter C. H. Feng


Letter: Bacteria in dairy products in baggage of incoming travelers, Brazil

To the Editor: International air travel can lead to the rapid global dissemination of infectious agents. Unlike products and byproducts of animal origin imported between countries under agreements that legally establish sanitary standards, products introduced into a country illegally or irregularly do not follow specific standards and can come from any source, thereby posing a risk to the health status of a country. Animal products transported clandestinely in baggage can contain infectious agents harmful to animal and human health (14). We investigated Brucella spp., Mycobacterium bovis, and Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP) in dairy products seized from baggage of passengers on flights at the 2 main international airports (Guarulhos Airport, São Paulo, and Galeão Airport, Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil.

maxresdefaultDuring 2010–2011, 12 missions were instigated by the International Agriculture Surveillance (VIGIAGRO/MAPA) in airports to detect and seize unauthorized dairy products carried by passengers; 195 products were collected from multiple flights from different destinations. Baggage was scanned by using an x-ray machine and, on detection of a product, was opened by the owner in the presence of a federal agriculture inspector. To avoid contamination, the products were not opened and were sent to the designated Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply Laboratory in their original packaging. All seized products were packed according to the International Air Transport Association standards (5) and transported by commercial aviation with official monitoring to the laboratory.

After completing real-time quantitative PCR (Promega, Madison, WI, USA) using TaqMan technology (Life Technologies, Darmstadt, Germany), we extracted DNA directly from the sample (6,7). The technique for the detection of MAP and eryD Brucella (except strain 19 Brucella abortus) and also using the region RD4 to detect M. bovis were proposed by Irange et al. (8). To detect M. bovis, we used the primers M. bovis-88-F (5′-CGC.CTT.CCT.AAC.CAG.AAT.TG-3′), M. bovis-88-R (5′-GGA.GAG.CGC.CGT.TGT.AGG-3′) and to detect Brucella, we used Bru-Eri-Taq-92-F (5′-GCC.ACA.CTT.TCT.GCA.ATC.TG-3′) and Bru-Eri-Taq-92-F (5′-GCG.GTG.GAT.AAT.GAA.ATC.TGC-3′).

We analyzed 35 containers of dulce de leche, a caramelized milk paste confection, from Argentina (n = 30), Angola (n = 1), and Uruguay (n = 4). We tested all specimens for Brucella spp. and MAP, and 32 for M. bovis. We detected MAP in 1 specimen from Argentina and 1 from Uruguay, Brucella spp. in 3 specimens from Argentina and 1 from Uruguay, and M. bovis in 1 specimen from Argentina.

de-niroThree containers of liquid milk from the United States were collected and analyzed for the presence of MAP; 2 were analyzed for M. bovis and Brucella. Brucella was detected in 1 specimen. Five containers of powdered milk were seized: 2 from Chile, 2 from Angola, and 1 from Portugal. Brucella was detected in 1 container from Chile; Brucella and M. bovis were found in 1 container from Angola. Four containers of yogurt were seized, 1 each from the United States, China, Angola, and South Africa. MAP was detected in those from Angola and South Africa, and the yogurt from South Africa also showed Brucella.

We analyzed samples from 147 cheeses that were confiscated from baggage owned by travelers from 21 countries, mainly from Italy (24.5%), Portugal (22.4%), and France (14.3%). M. bovis was identified in 18 (17.5%) cheeses collected from Italy, Portugal, Spain, the United States, the Netherlands, Lebanon, Morocco, and Norway. MAP was amplified in specimens from 13 cheeses from Spain, United States, Iraq, Israel, Norway, Peru, France, and Portugal, the last 2 countries showed the highest occurrence. Brucella was detected in 62 of the cheeses analyzed, which originated in Bolivia, Chile, Iraq, Lebanon, and Morocco (n = 1 in each country), Netherlands, Israel, and Norway (n = 2 in each country), Turkey and Spain (n = 3 in each country), United States, France and England (n = 4 in each country), Portugal (n=10), and Italy (n = 23).

Both M. bovis and Brucella were detected in 13 (8.8%) cheeses (1 each from Spain, Netherlands, Morocco, and Norway; 4 from Portugal, and 5 from Italy); Brucella and MAP were detected in 4 (2.7%) cheeses (Spain, France, Portugal, and Iraq). Co-amplification of the 3 genes (Brucella + MAP + M. bovis) occurred in 3 (2%) cheeses (United States, Norway, and Portugal). Among the cheeses analyzed, 84 (57.1%) contained isolates that amplified >1 of the genes for the 3 bacteria examined.

Of the 166 dairy products analyzed, Brucella was detected in 70 (42.1%). Cheeses were the most seized products (n = 121) and had the highest number of Brucella-positive results (62/121[51.2%]). Brucella was detected in dairy products that originated in Argentina, Spain, France, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Portugal, and Turkey; it was detected in 4 (21%) of the 19 cheeses from France and in 3 of the 4 (75%) cheeses that originated in Spain. M. bovis was detected in dulce de leche from Argentina, powdered milk from Chile, and in cheeses from Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Lebanon, Morocco, Norway, and Portugal.

Bacteria can be introduced into a country through contaminated animal products that are brought across borders illegally. The risk may be even greater when these products are carried in passengers’ baggage on international flights because of the growing number of international travelers and the wide range of origins of these passengers. Greater attention should be given to agricultural surveillance at airports to mitigate the risk for introduction of these products.

de Melo CB, de Sá MEP, Souza AR, de Oliveira AM, Mota PMPC, Campani, PR, et al. Bacteria in dairy products in baggage of incoming travelers, Brazil [letter]. Emerg Infect Dis. 2014 Nov [date cited]. http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2011.13142

Author affiliations: University of Brasília, Brasília, Brazil (C.B. de Melo, A.R. Souza, C. McManus, L. Seixas Author affliliations:); Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (MAPA), Brasília, Brazil (M.E.P. de Sa); MAPA, Galeão Airport, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (P.R Campani); MAPA, Guarulhos Airport, São Paulo, Brazil (J.O. Luna); MAPA, Confins International Airport, Belo Horizonte/Confins, Brazil (S. Cabral Pinto); MAPA, Brasilia International Airport (BSB), Brasília, Brazil (F.F. Schwingel); MAPA, Pedro Leopoldo, Brazil (A.M. de Oliveira, P.M.P.C. Mota).


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Irenge LM, Walravens K, Govaerts M, Godfroid J, Rosseels V, Huygen K, Development and validation of a triplex real-time PCR for rapid detection and specific identification of M. avium sub sp. paratuberculosis in faecal samples. Vet Microbiol. 2009;136:166–72. DOIPubMed

Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 20, Number 11—November 2014

Luna JO, Pinto SC, Schwingel FF, McManus C, Seixas L


Toxo imported meat might alter nation’s behavior, warns Iceland’s PM

Contrary to the claims of The Reykjavík Grapevin, toxoplasmosis is not a virus; it’s a parasite.

Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð GunnlaugssonBut according to Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, “Because this is such an interesting topic, maybe I will get one more minute to cover it, because it is extremely important that we, precisely, protect the wholesomeness of Icelandic products, that we don’t use additives, steroids and hormones and such in the production of Icelandic meat,’ Sigmundur Davíð pleaded in a live interview on radio-station Bylgjan on Thursday. … Another thing, no less important, is that we remain free of all sorts of infections which are, unfortunately, all to common in very many places. These are not just harmful to the animals but can be very detrimental to people. For example, there is a virus that causes people’s behavior to change. If they eat, for instance, meat in other countries, that has not been cooked particularly well, then people are at risk of ingesting this infection. And it can lead to changes in behavioral patterns. People have even posed the question, and researched, if this might be changing the behavior of whole nations. This sounds like science fiction, but …’

At this point the radio host intervened to ask: Where has this come up?

‘This is very common,’ Sigmundur Davíð replied, ‘for example widely in East-Europe, France, not least Belgium. Actually all over the world. The prevalence is variable, but there are some countries that stand out, where this toxoplasma is rare. That’s Iceland. And Norway. And the UK, actually. Remarkably. There, people are rather safe against this critter.’

The Prime Minister then recommended that the radio hosts interview a scientist or a doctor about this ‘extremely interesting’ phenomenon.

Toxic takeaway: cholera, listeria, salmonella found in Australian imports

Cholera-dusted prawns, peanuts with a side of pesticide, salmonella-infused chilli powder and E. coli and listeria-flavored cheeses have been stopped en route to supermarket shelves this year.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service rejected almost 350 shipments of food up to October 30 for failing to meet chemical and bacterial standards, including four shipments of cooked prawns from China and Thailand blocked because of the presence of cholera bacteria.

Chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to neurological defects and developmental and autoimmune disorders, was found in peanuts imported from China on six occasions.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority began a review of chlorpyrifos because of concerns over its toxicity and potential risks, but a final report is still awaited.

The pesticide has been banned from use in US homes since 2001.

Ethylene chlorohydrin, detected in chilli powder, cinnamon sticks and ”garam masala” powder from India in August, can cause nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, headaches, low blood pressure, collapse, shock and coma.

The Australian National University public health and infection expert Martyn Kirk said the impact on people would depend on the amount of the bacteria or chemical consumed. ”You need quite a high dose of cholera to get infected,” Dr Kirk said.

Produce from India was rejected 49 times in the first 10 months of this year while China and Italy both had 32 products banned.

French cheeses were not up to standard on 43 occasions.

Gabrielle Cooper, a professor of pharmacy at the University of Canberra, said the presence of listeria bacteria in more than 30 products, including oysters from China, Roquefort cheese from France, smoked salmon from Ireland and ham from Italy, should serve as a reminder for pregnant women to stay away from seafood, soft cheeses and deli meat.

US outbreaks linked to imported foods increasing, so are imports

Foodborne disease outbreaks caused by imported food appeared to rise in 2009 and 2010, and nearly half of the outbreaks implicated foods imported from areas which previously had not been associated with outbreaks, according to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, presented today at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta.

“It’s too early to say if the recent numbers represent a trend, but CDC officials are analyzing information from 2011 and will continue to monitor for these outbreaks in the future,” said Hannah Gould, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases and the lead author.

CDC experts reviewed outbreaks reported to CDC’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System from 2005-2010 for implicated foods that were imported into the United States. During that five-year period, 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses were linked to imported food from 15 countries. Of those outbreaks, nearly half (17) occurred in 2009 and 2010. Overall, fish (17 outbreaks) were the most common source of implicated imported foodborne disease outbreaks, followed by spices (six outbreaks including five from fresh or dried peppers). Nearly 45 percent of the imported foods causing outbreaks came from Asia.

“As our food supply becomes more global, people are eating foods from all over the world, potentially exposing them to germs from all corners of the world, too,” Gould said. “We saw an increased number of outbreaks due to imported foods during recent years, and more types of foods from more countries causing outbreaks.”

According to a report by the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. food imports grew from $41 billion in 1998 to $78 billion in 2007. Much of that growth has occurred in fruit and vegetables, seafood and processed food products. The report estimated that as much as 85 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported, and depending on the time of the year, up to 60 percent of fresh produce is imported. ERS also estimated that about 16 percent of all food eaten in the United States is imported. The types of food causing the outbreaks in this analysis aligned closely with the types of food that were most commonly imported.

‘Food safety in Canada is an accident;’ imports, retailers face scrutiny

“Food safety in Canada, believe it or not, is an accident. It really is,” says Rick Holley, a University of Manitoba food-safety expert and an adviser to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

That’s how Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper kicks off a week-long series on the global marketplace for food, and how Canada has yet to come to terms with the regulatory, economic and technological challenges of global food, by reporter Steven Chase.

Last year, Canada imported more than 33 million litres of apple juice from China; 11.8 million kilograms of pickles and relish from India and 4.9 million kilograms of cashews from Vietnam, all part of a two-decade-long surge that has made imported food – often from developing countries – a significant component of the Canadian diet. All of it is grown or processed far beyond the reach of Canada’s food inspection system, which – contrary to what consumers might expect – is still struggling to catch up to the reality of a global food market.

Critics say Canada’s ability to safeguard its citizens from the risks of both domestic and imported food is falling behind – charges levelled even as efforts are under way at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to update practices for the 21st-century global marketplace.

Today, foreign food makes up 15 to 20 per cent of this country’s diet.

Importers are not currently required by Ottawa to provide documentation that traces a primary food product to its origin. Some food retailers and importers may, however, already collect this information for their own commercial purposes.

Chief Food Safety Officer Brian Evans says CFIA intends to propose that importers be required to document the origin of all “ single entity products” – as opposed to multi-ingredient goods – they bring into Canada. These would include fish, eggs, leafy greens, salads, fresh fruits and vegetables. We would like to have country of origin traceability requirements as part of the first set of regulations going forward. We would like to see that in 18 to 24 months.”

However, he said, the timing and final details of such a plan is up to the government.

Roughly about 1 to 2 per cent of foreign food imports that enter Canada are inspected. The agency heavily inspects some products such as meat and also pays closer attention to goods that have a history of carrying food-borne illness – such as fish or leafy greens or eggs.

The CFIA argues that the absence of big problems shows the system works. In any given day, Dr. Evans says, about 100-million meals are eaten in Canada – which works out to about 36.5 billion meals at year. And what’s going wrong? There are about 250 to 300 recalls of food each year following inspections or consumer complaints. Canadians also suffer an estimated 11- million cases of acute gastroenteritis each year – a relatively minor amount – and one that federal authorities suggest is largely due to food preparation mistakes or bad hygiene rather than substandard imports.

However, the University of Manitoba’s Dr. Holley says a push for traceability is not a priority when there are other problems with food safety, including a lack of comprehensive information on what is making Canadians sick. “It’s like putting a sunroof on a car that has bald tires.”

While regulators waffle over how to improve food safety, some of the world’s largest grocery sellers have been using their market muscle to force suppliers to clean up or risk being punted from retail’s most sought-after shelves.

Leading the run are the same corporate giants critics blame for jeopardizing food safety amidst their globe-spanning pursuit of abundant cheap food. But no one is arguing about the impact grocery heavyweights are having on safety in the global supply chain, where their border-transcending clout eclipses the reach of public regulators.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest grocer, cut through a highly political debate over tainted hamburger meat in the U.S. this year by forcing suppliers to conduct specialized tests for E. coli and salmonella.

In Canada, Loblaws became the first national retailer to insist private-label suppliers comply with safety standards under the Global Food Safety Initiative, an alliance started by eight of the world’s largest food retailers.

Jorgen Schlundt, the recently departed director of food safety at the World Health Organization, worries big retailers view food safety as a marketing tool. “There is a huge difference between what consumers … think is important and what is really important,” Dr. Schlundt said. “It is extremely important that the science that standards are built upon and the standards themselves are not made by industry – not made by the people who are supposed to be monitored by government,” he said.

I’d rather those standards were publicly available and marketed at retail so consumers – who probably know a lot more about food safety than Dr. Schlundt thinks they do – could support those producers and processors that consistently provide microbiologically safe food – and can prove it.

Beer can be made at home: so why is Whole Foods featuring beer shipped from Germany? Not sustainable

Pointing out the hypocrisy of Whole Foods is like going quail hunting with Dick Cheney: too easy, too stupid, and someone’s going to get shot in the face (or near the heart).

Whole Foods, defenders of all things natural and sustainable, is featuring beer imported from Germany — or Czech Republic, depending on who’s brewing it — this month.

Beer is one of those things that can be fairly easily produced in a local venue: hops, malt, water, yeast.

Whole Foods CEO John Mackay was right last week when he said Whole Foods sold a bunch of junk.

Strict safety guidelines enforced as produce travels from Mexico

The Dallas Morning News ran a couple of excellent features on the flow of food from Mexico to the U.S. Yesterday’s story was about the lack of inspectors, how little product was actually inspected, and, perhaps unwittingly, the problem of inspecting fresh produce for microbial contaminants.

“In December, officials took a sample for testing from a 5,500-pound load of Mexican basil moving through the Otay Mesa border crossing in San Diego. The basil continued on to its destination and was sold to restaurants and other customers in California, Texas and Illinois the next day. When the test results came back two weeks later, they suggested salmonella contamination, sparking a late recall.”

It’s much better to design safety into all operations, beginning on the farm.

Glenn Fry helps run Taylor Farms de Mexico’s new $14 million plant in San José Iturbide, Mexico. He picked the land where it sits, designed just about every facet of it, and he manages more than 800 workers who plant, harvest and package produce – including lettuce, onions and broccoli – for export to the U.S.

Today’s story says that Taylor Farms is just one of a handful of U.S. companies lured by Mexico’s ideal year-round growing climate, proximity to Texas, low labor costs and plentiful workforce.

During a recent lettuce harvest, quality-control supervisor Laura Patino pointed to an aide who monitors workers coming out of the mobile toilets at the end of the fields to make sure they wash their hands before returning to work.

"Many of our workers don’t even have toilets at home, so this is new to them," Ms. Patino explains. "We’ve literally taught many of them how to go to the restroom. It’s that basic."

The lettuce field – owned by Oscar A. Bitar Macedo and leased by Taylor – is fenced off from outside "contamination." Heavy strips of yellow plastic keep out dogs, cattle and other livestock.

Mr. Bitar, owner of Rancho Don Alberto, leases all of his 100 hectares (about 247 acres) to Taylor. And he’s responsible for maintenance, water wells, monthly water testing, fencing, security guards and, yes, even toilet paper. …

Within two hours, 24 boxes, each holding about 850 pounds of lettuce, are transported to Taylor’s plant a few miles down the road for the first of several safety checks.

At the entrance, 19-year-old Efigenia Rosas checks the boxes to make sure they’re labeled with bar codes identifying the owner’s farm, crew supervisor, field and time of harvest – a crucial step in the process. If a consumer later finds a problem, Taylor can trace the produce back to the field and farmer. …

At 6 p.m., driver Roman Ayala, an employee of Flensa Trucking, begins the drive north on Mexico’s Highway 57. He’s in no rush because he has no chance of getting to Nuevo Laredo before Customs shuts down the bridge at 11 p.m. And it won’t reopen until 8 a.m., something that frustrates Mr. Fry to no end.

"How can the U.S. government be serious about food safety when they shut down the border overnight and perishable goods have to sit there and wait?" he asks.

There is also a good video overview of the lettuce harvesting procedures available along with the story at http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/world/mexico/stories/063008dningproducttaylor.40d72a3.html

Imported and domestic food should be held to the same standard

It’s easy to point fingers, to blame others, and not take care of business at home.

Erik Autor of Falls Church, Va., picks up on that theme in a letter to the N.Y. Times today:

"… most of the big food recalls over the last two years have involved domestic products — lettuce and spinach from California (E. coli), ground beef from Iowa (E. coli), canned chili from Georgia (botulism), peanut butter from Georgia (salmonella), chicken pot pies from Missouri (salmonella) and so on.

"Therefore, the proper focus should be on effective enforcement by government agencies and proper quality control procedures and supply chain management by producers for all food products no matter where they originate, the United States or any other country."

I tried to say the same thing to CNN’s Lou Dobbs during the fall 2006 E. coli O157:H7 spinach outbreak. The reporter kept asking about the risks of imported food — consistent with Dobbs’ obsession with illegal immigrants. I kept pointing out we were talking about homegrown produce, and finally asked the reporter if he thought California was a developing country.

And as I said in the July 18, 2007, USA Today,

While it may be "psychologically comforting to blame others," what the U.S. needs is farm-to-fork food safety, said Douglas Powell, director of the International Food Safety Network at Kansas State University. "Imports are a problem. So is food produced in the U.S. One should not distract from another."