UK restaurateur sentenced to 6 years after peanut allergy death

The owner of an Indian takeaway in North Yorkshire has been found guilty of manslaughter after a customer with a nut allergy was served a meal containing ground peanuts.

food.allergensThe trial was told Mohammed Zaman had cut corners by swapping the thickening agent almond powder for the cheaper groundnut powder, which contained peanuts.

Although the vast majority of restaurants are safe, a number each year are found to have breached laws and guidelines.

Since December 2014, takeaways and restaurants have been required by law to let customers know if any of the 14 most dangerous allergens are ingredients in their food.

They include peanuts, eggs, milk, fish, crustaceans and mustard.

Paul Wilson, 38, who suffered an anaphylactic shock after eating a meal from Zaman’s business, died before the change in the law, but the trial heard he had flagged up his peanut allergy to the restaurant and his meal had been labelled as “nut free”.

Another customer with a nut allergy had to be treated at a hospital after eating at Mr. Zaman’s restaurant three weeks before Mr. Wilson’s death. Like him, she had been assured her meal would not contain nuts, prosecutors said.

Mr. Zaman was convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence in the death of Mr. Wilson, and six food safety offenses. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

indian gardenHe had a “reckless and cavalier attitude to risk,” the prosecutor, Richard Wright, told a jury at Teesside Crown Court.

It marked the first time in Britain that someone has been convicted of manslaughter over the sale of food.

David Pickering, of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), said: “Some [restaurants] will have it in a book, some will give you the information verbally. If they can’t give you it, don’t eat there.”

From the Salmonella-in-low-moisture-foods file: survival for 180+ days in cookie and cracker sandwiches

In 2009 when PCA was distributing Salmonella-contaminated peanut paste products to lots of manufacturers, many were asking questions about how the pathogen survived in the low-moisture environment and whether the outbreak was an indicator that the snack food industry was facing a larger issue. Since then there have been numerous low-moisture food outbreaks (here’s a nice review from Sofia Santillana Farakos and Joe Franks).

Friends of barfblog Larry Beuchat (right, exactly as shown) and Scott Burnett did some work on peanut butter and Salmonella and showed that the pathogen could survive for a long, long time, Larry-Beuchat-28622-105-230x154‘Post-process contamination of peanut butter and spreads with Salmonella may to result in survival in these products for the duration of their shelf life at 5 degrees C and possibly 21 degrees C, depending on the formulation.’

Larry has published another great paper on Salmonella in low moisture foods, Survival of Salmonella in Cookie and Cracker Sandwiches Containing Inoculated, Low-Water Activity Fillings in JFP. From the abstract, ‘The ability of Salmonella to survive for at least 182 days in fillings of cookie and cracker sandwiches demonstrates a need to assure that filling ingredients do not contain the pathogen and that contamination does not occur during manufacture.’


Or in his own words,

“There have been an increased number of outbreaks of diseases associated with consumption of contaminated dry foods. We wouldn’t expect salmonella to grow in foods that have a very dry environment,” said Beuchat, who works with the Center for Food Safety on the UGA campus in Griffin.

Focusing on cookie and cracker sandwiches, the researchers put the salmonella into four types of fillings found in cookies or crackers and placed them into storage. The researchers used cheese and peanut butter fillings for the cracker sandwiches and chocolate and vanilla fillings for the cookie sandwiches.

These “are the kind that we find in grocery stores or vending machines,” Beuchat said.

“The salmonella didn’t survive as well in the cracker sandwiches as it did in the cookie sandwiches,” Beuchat said.

In some cases, the pathogen was able to survive for at least to six months in the sandwiches.“That was not expected,” he said.

This is nuts: parents blast NZ TV prank

An on-screen prank that involved smearing peanut butter on the face of a children’s television presenter pretending to have a nut allergy has outraged parents of children suffering from the affliction.

The New Zealand Herald reports What Now presenter Adam Percival had his face covered in peanut butter during yesterday adam.percivalmorning’s show on TV2 as part of a segment about allergies.

Despite Percival not being allergic to nuts, the segment drew harsh criticism from parents who labeled it “irresponsible” and feared terrible consequences if children imitated the prank.

One concerned mother said she would lay a complaint with the industry watchdog, the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA).

What Now took to Facebook to defend the segment, saying Percival was safe and the prank was a way to highlight the issue.

“Our intention is never to make fun of anybody who has allergies, but to make sure we highlight the fact that having an allergy is a serious issue,” said the post.

It had generated more than 60 comments by 6.30 last night.

Dion McCracken, whose son has a serious nut allergy, was not convinced by the explanation.

“Great for Adam. A shame for my son who may now be exposed to kids at school thinking your prank was a great idea,” he said.

“If one kid that watched the prank thinks it’s funny to smear peanut butter on an allergy kid, there is a very real threat of anaphylaxis and rapid death.

“What Now didn’t have ill intent, but they’ve just taught thousands of Kiwi kids that doing this isn’t a big deal. It really is.”

Claire Eveleigh said she was going to lay a complaint.

“It’s very scary that you are defending yourself on a topic you clearly do not know much about. Not knowing is OK … but broadcasting on TV about it is not OK … I will be making a complaint to the BSA about this.”

41 sick from Sunland Salmonella peanut plant

The Portales, New Mexico plant of Sunland Inc., home to the naturally sweet Valencia Peanuts, and supplier to retailers like Target, Trader Joe’s and Costco, is now responsible for at least 41 illnesses.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:

• 28% of ill persons have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported; and,

• 63% percent of ill persons are children under the age of 10 years.

CDC says the numbers of new cases have declined substantially, but because these products have a long shelf-life, the outbreak could continue at a low level for the next several months if consumers are unaware that they still have recalled products in their home and continue to consume them.

Analysis conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed that environmental samples showing the presence of Salmonella bacteria in Sunland’s nut butter facility have a DNA fingerprint that is the same as the outbreak strain of Salmonella Bredeney.

38 sick; Sunland Salmonella peanut plant focuses on reopening

Following the Canadian episode of yeah-we’re-going-back-to-work-after-bad-things-happened-to-people-without-plausible explanation in the E. coli O157 at XL Foods, the Portales, New Mexico plant of Sunland Inc. may back in business soon.

They’ve shut down, torn apart facilities, and now they’re rebuilding it all. Sunland officials hope to reopen their peanut processing facility within a week and the peanut butter plant before year’s end. 

“I think everyone is very excited to get back into production,” Sunland Vice President Katalin Coburn said.  “The mood has been increasingly positive, and I think everyone is ready to just go forward.” 

Home to the naturally sweet Valencia Peanuts, Sunland products reached big name stores nationwide like Target, Trader Joe’s and Costco. 

Inspections at the plant revealed bacterial contamination. Coburn said contamination appears to have occurred environmentally.

“I do believe that consumers and the industry understands not just the challenges but also the steps that Sunland has taken, and will continue to take to ensure safe, quality food,” Coburn added. 

Sunland is receiving this year’s peanut crop and storing it for now. Coburn said they’re still analyzing data from their tests and the FDA’s inspection.

I’m not sure the 39 people sickened in 20 states understand. And I look forward to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 483 being made public, so mere mortals and peanut eaters everywhere can assess for themselves the steps Sunland has taken.

If Sunland was actually concerned, they’d go and brag about their awesome food safety instead of assuming the sheep will follow the flock.

Shigella from sugar peas in Scandinavia

The peas apparently came from Kenya. But that wouldn’t fit the alliteration.

Eurosurveillance reports that in Norway, shigellosis is a mandatorily notifiable disease, and all isolates are submitted to the NIPH for verification and typing. Around 150 cases of shigellosis are confirmed per year, the majority caused by Shigella sonnei. Only around 10 to 20 of the shigellosis cases reported each year are acquired in Norway, usually as secondary cases caused by faecal-oral transmission in households.

An outbreak investigation was initiated on 27 May by interviewing the four confirmed cases using a trawling questionnaire. On the same day the NFSA inspectors visited the two households where suspected cases were reported and found an unopened package of sugar peas imported from Kenya in one household, and the packing of the same brand of sugar peas in the other. The sugar peas were bought in the same shop. Based on this suspicion, it was decided to focus the interviews on consumption of fresh vegetables and lettuce.

By 16 June, the reference laboratory has registered a total of 20 cases with the outbreak strain of Shigella sonnei, who had not travelled abroad prior to illness onset. The cases live in different municipalities, but mainly in the central and western parts of Norway. The date of onset for the first case was 10 May. All cases were adults except for one teenager, and 16 of them were women. All 20 cases reported to have eaten sugar peas, and there were no other obvious common exposures identified. The majority of the patients had bought the sugar peas in one of the large supermarket chains and only a few in another chain. The NFSA traced the suspected food product and found that all the implicated sugar peas were produced in Kenya. One sample from the unopened package of sugar peas collected in a patient household was positive for Shigella sonnei by both PCR methods, but could not be culture-confirmed.

As a response to our urgent inquiry Denmark reported an increase in the number of domestic Shigella sonnei infections in April and May 2009. They initiated an outbreak investigation to find out if the Danish cases were related to the outbreak in Norway. The investigation in Denmark also pointed at sugar peas as the source of the outbreak, and microbiological investigations (including MLVA typing) to compare the outbreak strains are ongoing.

Broken links in food-safety chain hid peanut plants’ risks

Julie Schmit of USA Today has written another excellent overview documenting the multiple failures – bad inspections, bad audits, bad people — that led to the peanut paste crapola that sickened 700 and killed nine.

Below are just a few of the highlights:

•Deibel Labs, which ran more than 1,600 salmonella tests for PCA’s Blakely plant from 2004 through 2008, found almost 6% positive. It was so many that Deibel sent PCA’s samples to a separate part of its Chicago lab to lessen chances that they’d contaminate other products, Charles Deibel, the firm’s president, said in an interview. For roasted products such as peanuts, a positive rate above 1 in 10,000 would be high, Deibel said. Proper roasting kills salmonella with heat. PCA never asked Deibel to look into the issue, Deibel said.

•Nestlé audited the Blakely plant in 2002 and rejected it as a supplier. Nestlé’s audit report said the plant needed a "better understanding of the concept of deep cleaning" and failed to adequately separate unroasted raw peanuts from roasted ones. Having them in the same area could allow bacteria on raw nuts to contaminate roasted ones, a risk known as cross-contamination. The plant wasn’t even close to Nestlé’s standards, auditor Richard Hutson said in an interview. Hutson, who now heads quality assurance for several Nestlé divisions, said he shared his concerns with PCA officials at the time, but "they didn’t pursue it" further with Nestlé, he says.

• To win customers, Parnell "extolled" the fact that an auditor, AIB International, had rated the plant as "superior," said King Nut CEO Martin Kanan at a congressional hearing. King Nut sold peanut butter under its name that was made by PCA. That rating also satisfied Kellogg, which began buying PCA’s peanut paste for sandwich crackers in 2007.

• AIB also draws criticism from a former food-industry official. Its audit of PCA was "superficial," said Jim Lugg, former food-safety chief for bagged salad maker Fresh Express, who reviewed AIB’s audit of PCA at USA TODAY’s request. One example of "shallow treatment of a big issue," Lugg says, is that the audit notes that PCA had a written program to evaluate suppliers and had an approved list. But AIB did no further checking of the suppliers. Years ago, Fresh Express stopped using AIB audits because it found them inadequate, he adds.

Whole Foods bites

I could devote an entire blog to debunking the nonsense that is Whole Foods.

Every day they have a post that contains the most outlandish, fantastical claims about food – and they expect customers to pay twice as much.

Unbeknownst to me, Amy came across part II of the Whole Foods fairy tale about what it means to be natural. And she asked a question:

In light of recent major recalls including natural peanut paste, I’d be more interested in knowing what kind of research you put into the safety behind your ingredients.

That comment has yet to be posted; it never will. The good demagogue that speak for Whole Foods know to never lose control of the microphone. Especially at those prices.

Kellogg’s sells poop; asks taxpayers to wipe up

Kellogg CEO David Mackay is planning to grunt out a giant turd in Washington tomorrow.

To see how his assertions would be, uh, swallowed, Mackay’s comments were leaked to an uncritical press this afternoon, just like in the financial meltdown. Both AP and Reuters proclaimed that Kellogg’s “is urging lawmakers to overhaul the nation’s food safety system.”

Mackay (right, exactly as shown) wants food safety placed under a new leader in the Health and Human Services department. He also called for new requirements that all food companies have written safety plans, annual federal inspections of facilities that make high-risk foods, and other reforms.

Mackay whined that Kellogg’s had to recall more than 7 million cases of crackers and cookies, at a cost of $65 million to $70 million, and that "Audit findings reported no concerns that the facility may have had any pathogen-related issues or any potential contamination.”

Kellogg’s is a multi-billion dollar company asking for a government handout to do what Kellogg’s should be doing – selling a safe product. Kellogg’s helped create the paper albatross that is third-party audits instead of having its own people at plants that supply product which Kellogg’s resells at a substantial profit. And now this crapmeister is going to tell Washington how to strengthen food safety when he can’t keep shit out of his own company’s peanut cracker thingies. Must be a day of dicks.

On-farm food safety for peanut producers

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asks an important question beyond how did the salmonella get into PCA’s Blakely, Georgia Plant — how did the 2007 Peter Pan outbreak strain get into the PCA plant?

From the AJC article:
Experts at the FDA and the CDC said they are intrigued by an unusual clue.
Two years ago the ConAgra plant in Sylvester launched a nationwide recall of Peter Pan peanut butter after consumers were sickened by a less common strain of the bacteria, called Salmonella Tennessee. It had a unique genetic fingerprint.
On Jan. 22, tests by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture found salmonella with that same genetic fingerprint in an unopened 5-pound container of King Nut peanut butter produced late last year at the Blakely plant.

The possible on-farm link to the peanut butter outbreak has been circulating around for a while (including being something ConAgra suggested during the investigation of the Peter Pan 2007 outbreak). This link reminds me of some of the stuff my good friends Linda Harris and Michelle Danyluk have looked at in the almond industry — the environmental persistence of Salmonella PT 30 and it’s subsequent transfer to the nuts (even frequent barfblogger Don Schaffner got in on some of this action). Maybe there is an environmental reservoir near of in some peanut fields. And if there is, maybe there are things that peanut producers can do to address them. The impact that this outbreak has had on peanut farmers suggests that any food safety hurdles that could be put in place is worth some investigation.

From the AJC article:
Some food safety experts questioned whether the peanut industry is aware some farming practices may increase the risk of salmonella contamination. Only one Georgia peanut farm has sought and received certification of using good agricultural practices, said Arty Schronce, a state Agriculture Department spokesman.
“My impression is the farmers really don’t have good agricultural practices,” said Michael Doyle, who has served as a consultant for ConAgra and the American Peanut Council. Doyle is director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia.
When peanuts are roasted, Doyle said, the focus may be more on achieving the right flavor rather than on safety. If salmonella is present in very large numbers, the roaster may not kill all of it, he said.
Doyle said he recently got a call from a peanut industry adviser in Georgia. “The bottom line I got from him: The farmers feel the processor is at fault and should process the salmonella out of the peanuts,” Doyle said. “They’re looking at the peanut as a commodity, rather than a food.”

I hear a lot of talk and read a lot of articles that quote food folks saying that food safety is a farm-to-fork responsibility. True. That’s why it’s a good idea that the peanut industry (and heck, other nut and seed folks as well — check this out) take these two outbreaks as indicators of something bigger — that there may be on-farm Salmonella reduction strategies employable that .

It’s not up to me to assign blame for the outbreaks (That’s the law and Bill Marler‘s job) although I’m sure that some peanut growers will feel that’s what the AJC article is all about.  It’s not — this is the first step in the public dialogue around the good agricultural practices that peanut growers currently have.  If there isn’t much there, as Mike Doyle alludes to, then it’s a good idea to do the research on what the risks are figure out how to address them.

Last month’s congressional subcommittee revelations revealed that there’s a bad operator in the middle of this outbreak, but peanut farmers, one of the groups hit hardest by the fallout, need to make sure they are part of the solution and truly make peanut butter food safety farm-to-fork.