India seeking $99 million from Nestlé over noodle soup scare

NPR reports the Indian government is seeking $99 million in damages from Swiss food and beverage giant Nestlé over the recent food scare involving the Maggi brand of instant noodles that are a household staple in India.

maggi.noodlesThe class action, filed late Tuesday before India’s National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, accuses Nestlé of “gross negligence, apathy and callousness.”

The government had ordered the popular snack cleared from the country’s shelves in June, after India’s food and safety regulators said they found unacceptable levels of lead in some samples, as well as the presence of monosodium glutamate, despite a label that said “No MSG.”

In response, Nestlé pulled nearly 400 million packets of its No. 1-selling brand from Indian stores.

Dismissing the allegations, Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck told the Swiss newspaper Handleszeitung that Indian authorities forced Nestlé to burn 29,000 tons worth of “quality” food in the instant noodle soup dispute. He’s quoted as saying, “Laboratories in the United States, Britain, Australia and Singapore did not find anything harmful in the noodles. Our products are safe for consumers.” Brabeck added, “Nevertheless, the case in India is not harmless and should not be underestimated.”

The food safety scare that has been a commercial disaster for Nestlé has also exposed issues with India’s food safety regulatory system.

Global brands stretched by India’s food safety record

At a McDonald’s plant outside Mumbai, 200 workers walk through air dryers and disinfectant pools, then get to work making the day’s 25,000 patties from chicken painstakingly sourced in a country with one of the world’s worst food safety records.

mcdonald' safeguard its multibillion-dollar brand, McDonald’s says more than 100 checks it applies across its international operations are then carried out after that.

India’s tainted water, patchy cold storage network and a retail sector made up of tiny local grocers present a major risk for international food brands, whose reputation can suffer globally from one local slip.

This can mean educating hundreds of small, often illiterate, farmers – critical in a fragmented farming sector that in some cases still uses “night soil”, or human faeces, for composting.

“There are thousands of farmers you need to reach out to, each with maybe an acre, two acres of land,” said Vikram Ogale, who looks after the supply chain and quality assurance for McDonald’s India.

Swiss food group Nestle is currently battling India’s biggest food scare in a decade and an unprecedented branding crisis in the country, after regulators reported some packets of its noodles contained excess lead, a finding the company disputes.

Its woes have laid bare the risks of operating in a country where it is difficult to build a watertight supply chain, and where state food safety infrastructure is minimal, at best.

Nestle uses external audit firms to check suppliers.

Wal-Mart, which operates as a wholesaler in India, says its checks mean rejecting 10-11 percent of produce daily.

Nestle is now pushing ahead with India’s first ever national recall, pulling some 27,400 tonnes of its popular Maggi noodles off India’s shelves, a process that will take at least 40 days.


Nestle to boost foodborne pathogen research

Nestle SA, the world’s biggest food and drink company, is, according to Associated Press, boosting research to tackle the threat of ever-stronger strains of bacteria and germs in food manufacturing.

The Vevey, Switzerland-based company said Thursday it will initially focus on several types of foodborne bacteria — particularly a dangerous strain nestle-of bacterium E. coli that infects people and pumps out a poison called Shiga toxin — and Norovirus and Hepatitis A.

Company officials and industry experts looked over more than 20 new microbiology labs that Nestle opened Thursday within its research center outside Lausanne, the last time they will be shown publicly before sealing them off and restricting access to scientists in protective clothing.

They described the spotless new labs as among the world’s most advanced microbiology research facilities, and the most sophisticated in the food industry, some at biosafety containment level three, on a scale of one to four.

John O’Brien, a former chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland who is now head of food safety at Nestle’s research center, said the company “cannot afford errors” as it aims for better ways of processing food that kills germs but keeps as much of the nutrients and taste as possible. That requires a lot of genetic and enzymatic testing.

“With the increasing problem of emerging food-borne pathogens, such as the Shiga toxin-producing strains of E. coli, a risk assessment is only possible once we know what genes are carried by that organism,” O’Brien told officials. “So we need to get down to the genome level increasingly. Now, that requires a lot of molecular detective work, which is why we are investing so much in molecular tools.”

If flour is a source of dangerous E. coli, how is cross-contamination controlled in kitchen? Ready-to-bake cookie dough not ready-to-eat

 To all broken hearts: don’t eat prepackaged cookie dough before it’s baked.

That’s the message health-types conclude from a June 2009 outbreak of shiga-toxin producing E. coli (primarily O157:H7) in Nestle Toll House cookie dough that sickened at least 77 people in 30 states. Thirty-five people were hospitalized – from cookie dough.

The 2009 investigation, which involved extensive traceback, laboratory, and environmental analysis, led to a recall of 3.6 million packages of the cookie dough. However, no single source, vehicle, or production process associated with the dough could be identified for certain to have contributed to the contamination.

The researchers could not conclusively implicate flour as the E. coli source, but it remains the prime suspect. They pointed out that a single purchase of contaminated flour might have been used to manufacture multiple lots and varieties of dough over a period of time as suggested by the use-by dates on the contaminated product.

Flour does not ordinarily undergo a kill step to kill pathogens that may be present, unlike the other ingredients in the cookie dough like the pasteurized eggs, molasses, sugar, baking soda, and margarine. Chocolate was also not implicated in this outbreak since eating chocolate chip cookie dough was less strongly associated with these illnesses when compared with consuming other flavors of cookie dough.

The study authors conclude that "foods containing raw flour should be considered as possible vehicles of infection of future outbreaks of STEC."

During the investigation, three strains of STEC were discovered in one brand of cookie dough — although it wasn’t the same strain involved in the outbreak.

Manufacturers should consider using heat-treated or pasteurized flour, in ready-to-cook or ready-to-bake foods that may be consumed without cooking or baking, despite label statements about the danger of such risky eating practices, the authors conclude. In addition, manufacturers should consider formulating ready-to-bake prepackaged cookie dough to be as safe as a ready-to-eat food item.

Eating uncooked cookie dough appears to be a popular practice, especially among adolescent girls, the study authors note, with several patients reporting that they bought the product with no intention of actually baking cookies. Since educating consumers about the health risks may not completely halt the habit of snacking on cookie dough, making the snacks safer may be the best outcome possible.

A Novel Vehicle for Transmission of Escherichia coli O157:H7 to Humans: Multistate Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 Infections Associated With Consumption of Ready-to-Bake Commercial Prepackaged Cookie Dough—United States, 2009

Infant formula tampered with; 1 sick in Ottawa

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Nestlé Canada Inc. are advising the public that some cans of powdered infant formula found in the Nepean, Ontario area have been tampered with.

Three cans of Nestlé Good Start Iron Fortified Infant Formula, 900g size,
UPC: 0 65000 36614 3, have been found to contain a powder which
appears to be flour. These cans were found at the following retail locations: Your Independent Grocer on Strandherd Drive and Sobeys on Greenbank Drive in Nepean, Ontario.

There has been one reported illness associated with the consumption of this product.

Consumers using powdered infant formula products should look under the plastic lid of the cans and ensure the metal/foil top is sealed properly. The CFIA is conducting an investigation and the case has been referred to the police.

Nestle Toll House cookie dough returns; Linda Rivera still hospitalized

In Room 519 of Kindred Hospital, Linda Rivera can no longer speak.

Her mute state, punctuated only by groans, is the latest downturn in the swift collapse of her health that began in May when she curled up on her living room couch and nonchalantly ate several spoonfuls of the Nestlé cookie dough her family had been consuming for years. Federal health officials believe she is among 80 people in 31 states sickened by cookie dough contaminated with a deadly bacteria, E. coli O157:H7.

The impact of the infection has been especially severe for Rivera and nine other victims who developed a life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. One, a 4-year-old girl from South Carolina, had a stroke and is partially paralyzed.

But good news. Two weeks ago, Nestle announced, in breathless PR-speak,

After almost two months of being out of the U.S. marketplace, Nestle USA is pleased to announce that Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough is returning to stores this week.

To make it easy for both retail partners and consumers to identify the new batch of cookie dough, a blue "New Batch" label will appear on all new production cookie dough items. Nestle Toll House shipping cases also are marked in blue (rather than the previous black) to denote new production and will contain the statement: "Do not consume raw cookie dough." The adoption of this distinct labeling is the result of helpful discussions between Food & Drug Administration (FDA) officials and Nestle, following reports of E.coli O157:H7 illnesses that appeared to be related to the consumption of raw cookie dough.

I bet the discussions were helpful. Probably similar to the ones ConAgra had with the U.S. Department of Agriculture geniuses who said, safe cooking instructions for frozen $0.50 pot pies should tell consumers to use a thermometer to make sure the pie is safe. Food safety is a shared responsibility apparently means it’s the consumer’s responsibility, especially in foods that may be perceived as ready-to-eat.

This is what the new Nestle cookie label looks like, on a package I picked up at a local store on Saturday (front, above, right; back, below, left).

Labeling is a lousy way to provide information about food safety risks, but better than nothing. I’m sure Nestle and ConAgra, in the best interests of their consumers, will publicly release the evaluative data they (probably? maybe?) acquired to show that these particular labels have a positive impact on consumer food safety behavior.


ABC News: 3 kinds of E. coli linked to Nestle’s cookie dough

Brian Hartman of ABC News is reporting that investigators have linked at least three different kinds of E. coli to Nestle’s cookie dough but they remain stumped as to just how the bacteria got in the product.

DNA testing of E. coli found in an unopened package of cookie dough at Nestle’s plant in Danville, Va., determined the genetic fingerprint of the E. coli found at the plant is different than E. coli that has been linked to a 30-state outbreak that has sickened at least six dozen people, and that an altogether different strain of E. coli was found in dough recovered from the home of a victim.

Dr. David Acheson, the Food and Drug Administration’s assistant commissioner for food safety said,

“The investigation is winding up. It is not exactly over yet. But we have not figured out the likely ingredient. … It is unlikely that we will ever make a final determination of how this contamination occurred. … Theres no indication that this was deliberate.”

Smoking gun’ found in cookie dough E. coli scare

Brian Hartman of ABC News appears to be first off the block reporting that U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigators today found E. coli in an unopened package of raw chocolate chip cookie dough at the plant in Danville, VA where Nestle makes Toll House cookie dough.

A FDA type said the dough had been manufactured on February 10, 2009 but had not yet been shipped.

Investigators still do not know how the E. coli got into the dough. But finding this “smoking gun” package confirms they pushed for a recall of the correct product.

Possible poop remnants and Nestle’s raw cookie dough

During the evening of Thursday, June 18, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment urged Coloradans not to eat raw Nestle Toll House cookie dough because of possible contamination with E. coli O157:H7.

The next morning, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to eat any varieties of prepackaged Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough due to the risk of contamination with E. coli O157:H7. At the same time, Nestlé announced a voluntary recall of all Toll House refrigerated cookie dough products, “out of an abundance of caution.”

My colleague Evan managed to get some of that recalled cookie dough, I got some other cookie dough, and we made cookies.

In the latest video from the Safe Food Café, I stress that cookie dough is a raw product (although the eggs have been pasteurized in any commercial product) and can therefore cross-contaminate anything in the kitchen, and that the warning labels and safe-handling instructions on packages of raw cookie dough are terrible.

Nestle Toll House cookie outbreak victim: “I had major headaches, diarrhea and cramping.”

As the Nestle-linked E. coli O157:H7 outbreak unfolds in the upcoming days, stories about affected individuals highlighting the fallout will begin to appear. In the first one I have seen, the Oregonian reports that 15-year-old girl’s craving for a treat resulted in her and her fathers illness.

Melissa made the cookies in early May. While baking, she tasted some of the dough, which a lot of people do even though it is not supposed to be eaten before baking. Her dad, 37-year-old day, Mike Kitchens, stuck his finger into the bowl as well, picking out sweet chocolate bits. The two of them soon came down with cramping and diarrhea, typical symptoms of food poisoning. Mike recovered after about four days but Melissa continued to be severely ill.

Melissa was quoted as saying "It was hard for me to do my work, I’d call my friends, but I’d get hot and sweaty and my stomach would cramp up. I tried to deal with it, but it got too be too much so I couldn’t do anything. I had major headaches, diarrhea and cramping." She did manage to take all of her tests, but she suspects that she failed at least two finals which count heavily in overall grades.