It’s not a war: FDA arming itself with science to help prevent Cyclospora infections

Steven Musser Ph.D., Deputy Director for Scientific Operations, FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) and Alexandre da Silva, Ph.D., Lead Parasitologist at CFSAN’s Office of Applied Research and Safety Assessment, write that Cyclospora cayetanensis is so small that it can only be seen with a microscope. However, there is nothing small about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s work to help protect consumers from the foodborne illness that this parasite can cause.

Of course it’s small. So are the trillion of microorganisms inside each of us.

Cyclospora has been on the public radar since at least 1996.

Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal illness caused by consumption of foods, mainly fresh produce, that are contaminated with Cyclospora. The FDA has been working to help prevent contaminated product from reaching consumers, gathering the scientific knowledge that will help to better detect the parasite in food and the environment, and gathering data to better understand how food is contaminated by the parasite and help prevent contamination in the future. We’re also sharing what we know with stakeholders in the public and private sectors.

Because several past outbreaks have been associated with fresh herbs, the FDA has been conducting surveillance sampling of fresh cilantro, parsley and basil. A quarterly update on this food surveillance study was released today. As this effort continues, our goal is to collect enough samples to provide a precise estimate of the prevalence of contamination of Cyclospora in our food supply, enabling us to better understand our vulnerability to Cyclospora contamination.     

The FDA is also acting on what we already know about where Cyclospora is found and how contamination can be prevented.   

In 2019, 10% of the Cyclospora infections reported between May and August were linked to a multi-state outbreak associated with fresh imported basil that started in mid-June and was declared over in October. FDA increased its screening at the border of basil exported by the company tied to the outbreak before the company voluntarily recalled its product and ceased shipping while corrective measures were implemented.

The FDA is also tracking contamination in domestically-grown produce. The first confirmed evidence of Cyclospora in domestically grown produce was detected in 2018 in cilantro, a finding not associated with an outbreak of illnesses. As with bacterial pathogens, if the parasite is found on produce, the FDA follows up with inspections and sampling, working with the business to take the actions needed to protect public health.

The FDA has been reaching out to farmers to increase awareness of Cyclospora and actions that can be taken on the farm to reduce the likelihood of contamination. For example, ways to control sources of contamination include proper use, maintenance and cleaning of toilet and handwashing facilities. We created education and outreach materials for farmers, including the Cyclosporiasis and Fresh Produce Fact Sheet

In late 2014, the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition established a Foodborne Parasitology Research Program, and in collaboration with the CDC, has been sequencing the genomes of several different strains of C. cayetanensis, enabling the development of genetic typing methods. In 2016, we created a genome database named “CycloTrakr” to be used as a public repository of genomic data at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). This is an important first step towards the goal of linking, in real-time, the genetic fingerprints of Cyclospora in contaminated food and sick people to pinpoint the source of the outbreaks.

The agency has also pioneered ways to detect the parasite, developing and validating new methods to test for Cyclospora in produce and water. The first of these new methods was used for the first time in 2018 to confirm the presence of the parasite in a salad mix product tied to an outbreak that sickened hundreds of people. 

In July 2019, the FDA made its second major advance in Cyclospora detection, completing studies that resulted in a novel, validated method to test agricultural water for the presence of the parasite. Water used on farms is a potential source of the contaminants that cause foodborne illnesses. Analysts from FDA laboratories are being trained in the use of this method for regulatory testing. 

Super sanitation cleaning: Caribbean Princess cruise ship turned back to US after more than 300 catch gastro bug

The Princess Cruises’ Caribbean Princess Ship left the U.S. on Feb 2 — and after more than a week at sea, was forced to turn back to the U.S. early when it was denied entry to the Caribbean.

The Caribbean Princess was set to have a 14-day trip around the Caribbean, but was forced to turn back to the U.S.

The cruise’s early return comes after it was denied entry to Trinidad and Tobago by the Government of Barbados due to the outbreak on board, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health.

Princess Cruises said in a statement to The Sun that the ship, which was on a 14-day cruise in the Caribbean, is now on its way back to the Port of Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.

The Caribbean Princess ship is scheduled to dock at 7 a.m. on Thursday, three days ahead of its previous Feb. 16 return.

A total of 299 passengers and 22 crew members of the 4,196 people on board got sick with a gastrointestinal bug, causing vomiting and diarrhea.

Princess Cruises said the cruise has “curtailed its voyage out of an abundance of caution due to guests reporting symptoms due to a mild gastrointestinal illness,” in a statement to The Sun.

The ship will undergo a “super sanitation cleaning” when it reaches the Florida port, according to a statement from the CDC.

Storytelling is vital, so is content: Doctors on TikTok try to go viral

For decades, sex education in the classroom could be pretty cringey. For some adolescents, it meant a pitch for abstinence; others watched their teachers put condoms on bananas and attempt sketches of fallopian tubes that looked more like modern art.

Me and my veterinarian first wife had no qualms about explaining biological reality to our young daughters– no stork, no parthenogenesis, no saviour prince.

Emma Goldberg of New York Times writes that on TikTok – which my children are still trying to explain to me — sex ed is being flipped on its head. Teenagers who load the app might find guidance set to the pulsing beat of “Sex Talk” by Megan Thee Stallion.

A doctor, sporting scrubs and grinning into her camera, instructs them on how to respond if a condom breaks during sex: The pill Plan B can be 95 percent effective, the video explains.

The video is the work of Dr. Danielle Jones, a gynecologist in College Station, Tex., and so far has racked up over 11 million views. Comments range from effusive (“this slaps”) to eye-rolling (“thanks for the advice mom” and “ma’am, I’m 14 years old”).

 “My TikTok presence is like if you had a friend who just happens to be an OB/GYN,” Dr. Jones said. “It’s a good way to give information to people who need it and meet them where they are.”

Dr. Jones is one of many medical professionals working their way through the rapidly expanding territory of TikTok, the Chinese-owned short-form video app, to counter medical misinformation to a surging audience. The app has been downloaded 1.5 billion times as of November, according to SensorTower, with an audience that skews young; 40 percent of its users are ages 16 to 24.

That would be the food service audience. Guess I better get hip.

I’ve learned to text more. Seems like an entire generation missed e-mail.

Although medical professionals have long taken to social media to share healthy messages or promote their work, TikTok poses a new set of challenges, even for the internet adept. Popular posts on the app tend to be short, musical and humorous, complicating the task of physicians hoping to share nuanced lessons on health issues like vapingcoronavirusnutrition and things you shouldn’t dip in soy sauce. And some physicians who are using the platform to spread credible information have found themselves the targets of harassment.

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie, a family medicine resident physician at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said TikTok provided an enormous platform for medical public service announcements.

“It has this incredible viewership potential that goes beyond just your own following,” she said.

Dr. Leslie’s TikToks on vaping-associated lung diseases drew over 3 million views, and posts on the flu and HPV vaccines also reached broad audiences beyond her hospital.

Striking a chord on TikTok, Dr. Leslie said, means tailoring medical messaging to the app’s often goofy form. In one post, she advised viewers to burn calories by practicing a viral TikTok dance. She takes her cues from teen users, who often use the app to offer irreverent, even slapstick commentary on public health conversations. She noted one trend in which young TikTokers brainstormed creative ways to destroy your e-cigarette, like running it over with a car.

TikTok’s executives have welcomed the platform’s uses for medical professionals. “It’s been inspiring to see doctors and nurses take to TikTok in their scrubs to demystify the medical profession,” said Gregory Justice, TikTok’s head of content programming.

Earlier this month, Dr. Nicole Baldwin, a pediatrician in Cincinnati, posted a TikTok listing the diseases that are preventable with vaccines and countering the notion that vaccines cause autism.

Her accounts on TikTok, Twitter, Facebook and Yelp were flooded with threatening comments, including one that labeled her “Public Enemy #1” and another that read, “Dead doctors don’t lie.”

A team of volunteers that is helping Dr. Baldwin monitor her social media has banned more than 5,200 users from her Facebook in recent weeks.

Dr. Baldwin said she started out feeling enthusiastic about the opportunity TikTok provides to educate adolescents, but her experience with harassment gave her some pause.

 “There’s a fine line physicians are walking between trying to get a message out that will appeal to this younger generation without being inappropriate or unprofessional,” Dr. Baldwin said. “Because of the short content and musical aspect of TikTok, what adolescents are latching onto is not the professional persona we typically put out there.”

There is so much beauty in the world: New Zealand edition

Beautiful, Emma (she of long-time carerrer of Sorenne back to Kansas days).

I’m looking forward to the end of Feb. when Canadian daughters 3 and 4 of 4 arrive for an Australian visit.
And Emma, you and partner are always welcome here.
There is so much beauty in the world.
And too many exclamation marks.

Mercier Kiwi Adventures


Samoa with Maria: Day 3

Posted: 08 Feb 2020 04:28 PM PST

On day three, we intended to hop on and off the bus to visit a variety of landmarks around Upolu. We had both done quite a bit of research on the Samoan buses and understood that they make a constant loop around the (basically circular) island, and there is no predicting when they will come, but if you hang out by the main road long enough, you can flag one down. Alright, simple enough. Well, when we told our Matareva hostess of our plans, she was horrified, saying we’d have to take at least three different buses in order to get to just the first of our several stops. Then she explained the we could sign up for their “Adventure Tour” which went everywhere we wanted to go, plus a lava tube. This was the first of many experiences we had in Samoa when someone seemed extremely helpful and knowledgeable about a system that didn’t made sense to us, but also their suggestions benefited them, so we while we wanted to trust them, it was hard to be certain. (The longer we spent in Samoa the more convinced we were that these people were too nice to mislead us, and I continue to believe/hope that that’s true.) In this case, the price for the tour was very reasonable, and fighting with multitudes of unpredictable buses sounded awful, so we decided to do it. And we’re so glad we did, because the tour was definitely a highlight of our trip, in ways that doing those things on our own, even if the bus plan had worked perfectly, would not have been.
We got in the van in the morning with a group of strangers, who by the end of the day felt like friends. We were accompanied by a man and two boys (perhaps 12 and 16) who were members of the family who owned Matareva Beach Fales. We assumed that the man was our tour guide, but soon found out that he didn’t speak English, and the two boys would be showing us around. They were hilarious and enthusiastic tour guides, with unorthodox but very entertaining methods, and I’m so glad we spent the day with them!

 

First we walked through some amazing native bush, with all kinds of incredible flora…
… to arrive at a lava tube. Our tour guides told us that it’s not on any websites or maps, but they’d like to make it more well-known in conjunction with their fales. It was too dark inside for pictures, but it was amazing in there, although extremely hot and humid (so much so that you could see the water in the air in the flashlight beams). There was also condensation on the walls, and when it beaded up on top of some kinds of lichen it glittered like gold. Our tour guides explained that people would shelter in these tubes (which are miles long) if there was a natural disaster, and showed us a grave deep inside it. They didn’t know the story of who the person was, but you can imagine hard times.

 

Next, we headed to Savaia, where there is a Giant Clam Sanctuary.
Having no underwater photo-taking ability, I am reduced to internet photos, but I can assure you that this is exactly what these clams looked like! Unbelievable, right? They are amazing! The ones that colour were mostly about 120cm (47in or almost 4 feet) long. And we learned that if you drop a rock on it, it will shut on it, then jettison it out with a jet of water! Click here for an underwater video around the sanctuary (apologies for the annoying music) and here for more information about endangered Giant Clams.

 

Also, bonus – sea turtles live there too! Unfortunately Maria and I were not together when another tourist pointed one out to me, so she didn’t get to see it, but I swam near it for several minutes, and it was amazing! There are places in Samoa that specifically advertise swimming with sea turtles, but they had mixed reviews on how happy the turtles were about coming into a confined space with people, so we decided not to go. But meeting this one in its natural habitat was so special!

 

Next, we headed to Togitogiga Waterfall.
(A note before I continue: In order for Anglophones to pronounce the Samoan ‘g’, it’s helpful to imagine that it has an ‘n’ in front of it, as it sounds much like the end of ‘ing’. So this waterfall is pronounced as if it was spelled Tongitonginga. I find this very cook, because keeping it in mind as I read Samoan made me much more able to find overlap between it and Māori.)
This beautiful waterfall was not only visually stunning but very adventurous (as promised by the tour name). We spent a little while swimming around the freezing water at the bottom (a welcome change from the heat of the day at first, but really too cold for extended enjoyment) and challenging ourselves to swim against the current to get near the bottom of the falls.
Then Walter, the younger of our tour guides, showed us how to climb up the side of the falls and where to jump into the pool. (This is a stock photo, as we were much too busy adventuring to take any.) On the left, you can see people jumping from one place we jumped from, but above them you can also see a little fence – we also climbed up and jumped from there. It was much more exhilarating, because you had to make sure to jump as far out as possible to make sure you cleared the lower ledge. It was not physically challenging to do so, but added an extra sense of adventure.
Our last stop of the day was to To Sua Giant Swimming Hole. Rather than regurgitating the information from this information panel, I thought I’d just include it – if you click on it, it should get big enough that you can read the words.
The whole area surrounding the swimming holes was very beautiful, although we explored very little. If we read the map right, this is the area where the lava tube connected to the swimming hole joins the ocean. Plus, look at that lovely little pool in the middle of the volcanic rock. Stunning.
This is the picture we took of the more open side of the lava tube. It was a bit overcast when we were there, for which we were very thankful, as it kept the temperature at a manageable 30C (86F), but it did mean that the colours of the water were a bit muted. It might also have kept some tourists away, because we were extremely lucky to find it mostly empty and ready for our exploration, whereas I’ve heard it can be quite busy.
Just for comparison’s sake, however, here is a photo of what it looks like under full sun.
This is looking back from the smaller of the two places where the roof of the lava tube collapsed. It was pretty exciting to swim through the tube part – I have a rather irrational fear of dark water, so I did take a deep breath or two before striking out into the tunnel, but it was worth it, and unsurprisingly, no sea monsters attacked me at all! Plus the view was amazing! So that’s a win for adventure.
This is looking down at that smaller pool from on top. I wish I could find a picture of looking up out of it, because seeing the light filtering down through all that lush greenery (and especially the ferns) was really special.
As I mentioned, the lava tube is connected to the ocean by an underwater section, so as the waves/tides roll in/out an enormously powerful suction is created. This causes an intense current within the swimming hole that changes direction rapidly every minute or so. There are ropes strung across the main section, and then one that you can pull yourself along to go through the tunnel. There is just enough of a threat in the idea of getting sucked into the underwater tube to get your adrenaline pumping, and this combined with the acrobatic potential of an underwater rope and a conveniently placed submerged rock results in some amazing playfulness, even in adults. By this time we had bonded with our fellow tourists and were ready to join together in all kinds of shenanigans and comfortable laughing with/at each other. This last bit was important, as we tested the limits of how far we could stray from the rope, how high we could balance on the rock, or which body parts we could link to the rope before the indomitable water inevitably returned us to our tightfisted grip on the lifeline. I think we all felt that we could do it forever and never get bored, but also realized fairly quickly that it was fatigue, not boredom, that would limit our adventures. What a workout! Walter again led the way in jumping from crazy heights (the exhilarating of the jump replaced immediately by the driving need to find the rope as soon as you hit the water), and then after that, we retreated to the car, exhausted but satisfied. Both of our young tour guides collapsed into the front seat in exhaustion, and were fast asleep by the time we got back to the fales. They’d made us laugh all day and shown us a truly amazing adventurous side to Samoa, and they deserved their rest.
The combination of adorable and entertaining guides, incredible sights, fantastic company, and invigorating adventure made this a day we will never forget!

Chipotle: The food safety gift that keeps on giving

In a previous life I was the scientific advisor for the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors.

We would meet a couple of times a year, and I would provide my food safety thoughts on what was going on at retail, but what struck me was that the first three hours of every meeting were like a self-help therapy session.

These heads of food safety at major Canadian retailers would bemoan their diminishing status at the corporate level: No one cares about food safety until there’s an outbreak. Twenty years later, the song remains the same.

Alexis Morillo of Delish writes that Chipotle workers claim that food safety practices are at risk at the fast casual restaurant due to managerial procedures that cause workers to “cut corners.”

A total of 47 current and former Chipotle workers from New York City locations came forward about the malpractice in a report to Business Insider. This news follows recent allegations that the company has been violating child labor laws.

In the report obtained by Business Insider, workers outlined concerns about the way things are done behind the scenes at Chipotle. It said that many incentives like pay bonuses let other responsibilities like cleanliness audits and food safety fall to the wayside.

Workers said in the report that working at Chipotle is “highly pressurized environment” with goals that include “minimizing labor costs.”

It was also said that managers are often told in advance when a restaurant will be inspected for cleanliness so they can be prepared. Meanwhile, when an inspection isn’t taking place the cleanliness standard is much more laid back. In the past, people have questioned Chipotle’s safety standards because of the E. Coli outbreak a couple years back. The chain also has an interesting sick day policy, where there are on call nurses for workers to check if they’re actually sick.

Chipotle said in a statement to Delish that the company is committed to safe food and a safe work environment and that the pay bonuses actually incentivize workers to be even more precise when following company policies.

The song remains the same.

Recommend using a thermometer instead of piping hot: FSA food safety culture

Jose Bolanos of the UK Food Standards Agency writes in Organizations, culture and food safety, 2020that FSA has a longstanding interest in organisational culture and its impact on the capability of a food business to provide food that is safe and what it says it is.

However, while there has been some work carried out on assessing organisational culture in some regulatory areas, there has been limited progress in the development of a regulatory approach specifically for food safety culture.

And on it goes in bureau-speak.

Can’t take an agency seriously when they still recommend that meat be cooked until piping hot.

Animals and produce-related risk: Australia New Zealand version

The Fresh Produce Safety Centre of Australia and New Zealand came out with an 8-page fact sheet on the risks of animals to fresh produce that was seven pages too long.

Chapman used to write wonderful 1-page fact sheets that were used around the world, and maybe he can be persuaded to do so again, or find a skilled student.

The important graphic is below. The rest is filler.



 

Was it really the last meal that made you barf? No

Early in a foodborne disease outbreak investigation, illness incubation periods can help focus case interviews, case definitions, clinical and environmental evaluations and predict an aetiology. Data describing incubation periods are limited.

We examined foodborne disease outbreaks from laboratory-confirmed, single aetiology, enteric bacterial and viral pathogens reported to United States foodborne disease outbreak surveillance from 1998–2013. We grouped pathogens by clinical presentation and analysed the reported median incubation period among all illnesses from the implicated pathogen for each outbreak as the outbreak incubation period.

Outbreaks from preformed bacterial toxins (Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus cereus and Clostridium perfringens) had the shortest outbreak incubation periods (4–10 h medians), distinct from that of Vibrio parahaemolyticus (17 h median). Norovirus, salmonella and shigella had longer but similar outbreak incubation periods (32–45 h medians); campylobacter and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli had the longest among bacteria (62–87 h medians); hepatitis A had the longest overall (672 h median). Our results can help guide diagnostic and investigative strategies early in an outbreak investigation to suggest or rule out specific etiologies or, when the pathogen is known, the likely timeframe for exposure. They also point to possible differences in pathogenesis among pathogens causing broadly similar syndromes.

Incubation periods of enteric illness in foodborne outbreaks, United States, 1998-2013

Cambridge University Press

  1. J. Chai(a1)W. Gu(a1)K. A. O’Connor (a2)L. C. Richardson (a1) and R. V. Tauxe 

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0950268819001651

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/epidemiology-and-infection/article/incubation-periods-of-enteric-illnesses-in-foodborne-outbreaks-united-states-19982013/453636E8DEEF537FFBFFD10C84E93887

356 confirmed sick; Multistate outbreak of Salmonella infections linked to raw turkey products

During 2018–2019, CDC, local and state public health partners, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigated a multistate outbreak of 356 Salmonella Reading infections from 42 states and the District of Columbia (DC) linked to turkey. The outbreak strain was isolated from raw turkey products, raw turkey pet food, and live turkeys. In July 2018, CDC and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) shared outbreak investigation results with representatives from the U.S. turkey industry, engaging with an industry group rather than a specific company for the first time during an outbreak, and CDC issued a public investigation notice. During the investigation, four recalls of turkey products were issued. Evidence suggested that the outbreak strain of Salmonella was widespread in the turkey industry, and therefore, interventions should target all parts of the supply chain, including slaughter and processing facilities and upstream farm sources.

In January 2018, through routine state surveillance, Minnesota Department of Health investigators identified four Salmonella Reading infections with an indistinguishable pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern, suggesting they likely shared a common source. One patient had consumed ground turkey, and two lived in the same household where pets in the home ate raw turkey pet food. Minnesota investigators also identified this same strain in one sample of retail ground turkey. This PFGE pattern is the most common subtype of Salmonella Reading; however, the Reading serotype is uncommon, not ranking in the 20 most common types of human Salmonella infections reported in the United States (1). In response to Minnesota’s investigation, PulseNet,* the national laboratory network for foodborne disease surveillance, was queried for additional Salmonella infections with this PFGE pattern. CDC began a multistate cluster investigation, collecting information on patient exposures from local and state health departments and information on food and pet food products from FDA and FSIS.

CDC defined a case as an infection with Salmonella Reading with the outbreak PFGE pattern with illness onset from during November 20, 2017–March 31, 2019. Patients were interviewed to collect information on consumption of turkey and other poultry foods, exposure to raw poultry pet food, and contact with live poultry.

Investigators from DC Health and the Iowa Department of Health identified two illness subclusters of cases in which attendees ate at a common event before becoming ill. The two events occurred in November 2018 and February 2019, and 152 persons became ill, including 51 whose clinical isolates matched the outbreak strain and 101 who had clinically compatible illness without culture confirmation of Salmonella infection. Investigators identified whole turkey and boneless roast turkey as the food items significantly associated with illness at these two events and found that turkey was not handled or prepared in accordance with FSIS guidelines and was not held at proper temperatures to prevent bacterial growth (2).

Overall, 356 outbreak cases from 42 states and DC were identified. Patients ranged in age from <1 to 101 years (median = 42 years), and 175 (52%) of 336 patients for whom information on sex was available were male. Among 300 patients with available information, 132 (44%) were hospitalized, and one died. Among 198 interviewed patients, 132 (67%) reported direct or indirect contact with turkey in the week before illness; 123 reported preparing or eating turkey products that were purchased raw (including whole turkey, turkey pieces, and ground turkey), four became sick after pets in their home ate raw ground turkey pet food, and five worked in a facility that raises or processes turkeys or lived with someone who worked in such a facility. No common type, brand, or source of turkey was identified.

During the investigation, the outbreak strain was identified in 178 samples of raw turkey products from 24 slaughter and 14 processing establishments in 21 states that were collected by FSIS as part of routine testing and in 120 retail turkey samples collected as part of the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System retail meat sampling program. These samples represented several brands and types of raw turkey products. The outbreak strain was also identified in 10 samples from live turkeys in several states.

Investigators from the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development identified the outbreak strain in two of three unopened ground turkey samples collected from two patient homes. These were the same brand of ground turkey but were produced in different facilities. Investigators from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture identified the outbreak strain in samples of two brands of raw turkey pet food that were served to pets in patients’ homes. No commercial connections or common source materials were identified among any of these facilities.

The two illness subclusters in this outbreak indicate improper handling and cooking of raw turkey products and highlight the need to reinforce consumer education. A 2017 study found that adherence to food safety practices among persons preparing turkey burgers was low but did improve after watching a USDA video on proper thermometer use (9). This same study also found very low adherence to CDC’s recommended steps for handwashing during food preparation and noted that approximately half of the participants contaminated other kitchen items, such as spice containers, by touching them while preparing turkey (9). These findings underscore the impact that food safety messaging can have on consumer behavior and the importance of proper food safety throughout the food preparation process. Consumers should always thaw turkeys safely (in the refrigerator in a container, in a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink of cold water, or in a microwave oven following the manufacturer’s instructions), avoid the spread of bacteria from raw turkey by keeping it separate from other foods and keeping food surfaces clean, and cook turkey to 165°F (74°C), measured on a food thermometer inserted into the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint.† In addition to emphasizing the importance of food safety messaging, this outbreak reinforced the need for awareness of the recommendations against feeding pets a raw meat diet, which can lead to both human and animal illnesses (10). Finally, industries can take steps to provide consumer education through their marketing programs and on product packages. Consumers, public health agencies, and industry officials all play important roles in promoting and implementing Salmonella prevention and control strategies to prevent future illnesses.

Not-so-dirty birds? Nor enough evidence to link wild birds to food-borne illness

One of my favorite on-farm food safety lines is, “We can’t kill all the birds. They’re Salmonella and Campylobacter factories. Be the risk can be managed and reduced.”

That applies to greenhouses too, as one grower very publicly reminded me in 2000 that, ‘they get hot and we open the lids and birds fly in and crap on stuf.’

But a Washington State University study published in Biological Reviews on Jan. 31 has found scant evidence to support the link between wild birds and human illness involving those three pathogens.

The perceived risk of wild birds can impact their survival, said Olivia Smith, lead author on the study and a recent WSU Ph.D. graduate.

 “Farmers are being encouraged to remove wild bird habitat to make their food safer, but it doesn’t appear that these actions are based on data,” Smith said. “When you restrict birds from agricultural settings, you are doing something that can lead to their decline.”

Bird populations have been falling rapidly in recent decades. Scientists estimate that since 1970, North America has lost more than three billion birds. In light of this, the WSU researchers highlighted the need for more definitive research before destroying habitat and banning birds from fields in the name of food safety.

Smith and her colleagues, WSU Associate Professor Jeb Owen and Professor William Snyder, analyzed data for E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter in 431 North American breeding bird species and found no relevant studies for 65% of those species, including birds that are commonly found in farm fields such as raptors, great blue herons and black-billed magpies.

In their review, the researchers found only one study definitively linking wild birds to food-borne illness outbreaks: a case where sandhill cranes spread Campylobacter on fresh peas in an outbreak that sickened nearly 100 people in Alaska in 2008.

The most studied birds in relation to these pathogens were ducks, geese as well as two non-native species, house sparrows and European starlings, that tend to swarm on feed lots and can contaminate the food and water used for cattle. Yet there’s a huge gap in knowledge about many other common native species that are often around agricultural crops including American robins.

Only 3% of the studies that the researchers analyzed looked at the entire transmission process from bird to plant to human. The majority simply tested bird feces to see if the bacteria were present or not.

In order for the bacteria to make people sick, the bird needs to get pathogenic strains of E. coli, Salmonella or Campylobacter on a food crop, and that bacteria has to survive long enough until people eat the contaminated food, including through shipment, washing, food processing in plants and food preparation. The data on the pathogen survival is also very limited.

“Birds do carry bacteria that can make people sick, but from our review of the scientific studies, it’s unclear how big of a risk they are,” Smith said.

We’ll see.


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