Source of CRF Listeria remains a mystery

Finding the source of Listeria in a processing plant is tough. It takes environmental sampling to seek out residential Lm and get rid of it. To accomplish that, positive test results lead to further testing (closer to the product) and an investigation into the cause.

And sometimes the source is never found.logo-CRF-Frozen-Foods

A harbor mystery is a problem as the company can’t eliminate the drain, the piece of equipment, or the wall where it’s living and growing. With no source, there’s nothing to fix. And that leaves the company open to problems down the road.

According to the Tri-City Herald, CRF Frozen Foods can’t find the Lm that has been making people sick since 2013.

Gene Grabowski, a consultant acting as spokesman for CRF during the crisis, said the company will turn its attention from trying to find the source of the deadly Listeria pathogen to securing federal approval to restart production.

Bill Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark, a Seattle law firm specializing in food safety, said hunting for Listeria is akin to hunting for the proverbial a needle in a haystack.

“You don’t have to have a filthy, dirty, horrible plant to have Listeria,” said Marler, who is in Washington, D.C., this week to discuss food safety issues with the federal officials, including White House staffers and members of Congress.

“The cleanest plant in the world can be harboring Listeria.”

First, it will conduct its own testing and review CRF’s records. Grabowski said there’s no way to know when CRF might get the green light to resume packing frozen fruits and vegetables.

The company laid off about 250 workers in early June, ostensibly to give them an opportunity to procure seasonal work during the shutdown.

Marler said his firm has been contacted by Listeria patients, though none whose cases have been genetically linked to the strain found in CRF products.

Foodborne illness cause and source 2009-10, US CDC

Known pathogens cause an estimated 9.4 million foodborne illnesses annually in the United States (1). CDC collects data on foodborne disease outbreaks submitted by all states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico through CDC’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System. Data reported for each outbreak include the number of, hospitalizations, and deaths; the etiologic agent; the implicated food vehicle; and other factors involved in food preparation and consumption.

During 2009–2010, a total of 1,527 foodborne disease outbreaks (675 in 2009 and 852 in 2010) were reported, resulting in 29,444 cases of illness, 1,184 hospitalizations, and 23 deaths. Among the 790 outbreaks with a single laboratory-confirmed etiologic agent, norovirus was the most commonly reported, accounting for 42% of outbreaks. Salmonella was second, accounting for 30% of outbreaks. Among the 299 outbreaks attributed to a food composed of ingredients from one of 17 predefined, mutually exclusive food commodities (2), those most often implicated were beef (13%), dairy (12%), fish (12%), and poultry (11%). The commodities in the 299 outbreaks associated with the most illnesses were eggs (27% of illnesses), beef (11%), and poultry (10%). Public health, regulatory, and food industry professionals can use this information when creating targeted control strategies along the farm-to-table continuum for specific agents, specific foods, and specific pairs of agents and foods. This information also supports efforts to promote safe food-handling practices among food workers and the public.

Of the 29,444 outbreak-related illnesses, 1,184 (4%) resulted in hospitalization. Salmonella caused the most outbreak-related hospitalizations with 583 (49%), followed by STEC with 190 (16%) and norovirus with 109 (9%). Outbreaks caused by Listeria resulted in the highest proportion of persons hospitalized (82%), followed by Clostridium botulinum (67%), and paralytic shellfish poisoning outbreaks (67%). Among the 23 deaths, 22 were attributed to bacterial etiologies (nine to Listeria monocytogenes, five Salmonella, four STEC O157, three Clostridium perfringens, and one Shigella), and one to norovirus.

A food vehicle was reported for 653 (43%) outbreaks; in 299 (46%) of these outbreaks the vehicle could be assigned to one of the 17 predefined commodities. The commodities most commonly implicated were beef, with 39 outbreaks (13%), followed by dairy and fish with 37 (13%) each, and poultry with 33 (11%). Among the 36 dairy-associated outbreaks for which pasteurization information was reported, 26 (81%) restaurant_food_crap_garbage_10involved unpasteurized products. The commodities associated with the most outbreak-related illnesses were eggs with 2,231 illnesses (27%), beef with 928 (11%), and poultry with 826 (10%). The pathogen-commodity pairs responsible for the most outbreaks were Campylobacter in unpasteurized dairy (17 outbreaks), Salmonella in eggs and STEC O157 in beef (15 each), ciguatoxin in fish (12), and scombroid toxin (histamine fish poisoning) in fish (10). The pathogen-commodity pairs responsible for the most outbreak-related illnesses were Salmonella in eggs (2,231 illnesses), Salmonella in sprouts (493), and Salmonella in vine-stalk vegetables (422). The pathogen-commodity pairs responsible for the most hospitalizations were Salmonella in vine-stalk vegetables (88 hospitalizations), STEC O157 in beef (46), and Salmonella in sprouts (41). The pathogen-commodity pairs responsible for the most deaths were STEC O157 in beef (three deaths), and Salmonella in pork and Listeria in dairy (two each).

Thirty-eight multistate outbreaks were reported (16 in 2009 and 22 in 2010). Twenty-one were caused by Salmonella, 15 by STEC (13 O157, one O145, and one O26), and two by Listeria. The etiologic agent was isolated from an implicated food in 11 multistate outbreaks. Five of the multistate outbreaks were caused bySalmonella (in alfalfa sprouts [two outbreaks], ground turkey, shell eggs, and a frozen entrée [one each]). Six were caused by STEC (in ground beef [two outbreaks], unpasteurized Gouda cheese, multiple unpasteurized cheeses, hazelnuts, and cookie dough [one each]).

Among the 766 outbreaks with a known single setting where food was consumed, 48% were caused by food consumed in a restaurant or deli, and 21% were caused by food consumed in a private home. Forty-three outbreaks resulted in product recalls.†† The recalled foods were ground beef (eight outbreaks), sprouts (seven), cheese and cheese-containing products (six), oysters (five), raw milk (three), eggs (three), and salami (ground pepper), bison, sirloin steak, unpasteurized apple cider, cookie dough, frozen mamey fruit, hazelnuts, Romaine lettuce, ground turkey burger, tuna steak, and a frozen entrée (one each).

Guam says most foodborne illness comes from homes

In May 2011, 370 students in five of Guam’s southern schools became ill after a breakfast of an egg salad sandwich, fruit and milk.

But Jian Yang, an associate professor of food science with University of Guam’s College of Natural Applied Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, says data from the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services show that 63 percent of foodborne illnesses in Guam occur in the private home. Foodborne illness is estimated to occur for one out of four Guam residents at least once per year. Obviously, foodborne illness prevention at home is essential.

Anyone who has to write “obviously” is compensating for something.

Yang also writes that based on a survey of 200 individuals in 17 villages, the high frequency of foodborne illness on Guam may be attributable to storing food at unsafe temperatures, cooking food improperly, and consuming risky foods.

I’m not familiar with the data cited, but any time someone tries to point fingers, it’s easy to find holes in the data.

We’ve reviewed most of the publicly available data and seen estimates of the home as the source of foodborne illness vary from 11-84 per cent. And most of the data sucks. If a person eats peanut butter or spinach at home, they might get sick at home, but the contamination was beyond the control of the consumer.

Jacob, C.J. and Powell, D.A. 2009. Where does foodborne illness happen—in the home, at foodservice, or elsewhere—and does it matter? Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, 6(9): 1121-1123.

Foodservice professionals, politicians, and the media are often cited making claims as to which locations most often expose consumers to foodborne pathogens. Many times, it is implied that most foodborne illnesses originate from food consumed where dishes are prepared to order, such as restaurants or in private homes. The manner in which the question is posed and answered frequently reveals a speculative bias that either favors homemade or foodservice meals as the most common source of foodborne pathogens. Many answers have little or no scientific grounding, while others use data compiled by passive surveillance systems. Current surveillance systems focus on the place where food is consumed rather than the point where food is contaminated. Rather than focusing on the location of consumption—and blaming consumers and others—analysis of the steps leading to foodborne illness should center on the causes of contamination in a complex farm-to-fork food safety system.

Not much to see; why restaurants embrace the open kitchen

Sales of magical bacteria-vision goggles remain stagnant.

Because they don’t exist.

Time magazine (is it still printed?) breathlessly praises the open kitchen trend as a response to Big Food and fast food horror stories.

A check of any local restaurant inspection results will show that dangerous microorganisms can fester with bad practices at the fanciest and dumpiest places; they’re equal opportunity pathogens.

For maximum transparency, restaurants ranging from fast-casual superstar Chipotle, to indie eateries favored by foodies, to massive fast-food chains like Domino’s are all turning to the open kitchen.

The problem is, an open kitchen doesn’t tell me, the consumer, whether the cooks washed their hands after having a dump, whether the food is being kept at proper hot or cold temperatures, whether a thermometer was used to verify a safe temperature had been reached, and, most importantly, where all those ingredients being assembled into a meal came from. Does the groovy Chipotle source lettuce from growers who have exemplary food safety programs or do they get it from where they get it.

An open kitchen may make people feel better, but does nothing to answer questions about microbial food safety.

E. coli O145 outbreak appears over; often illnesses are never traced to a specific source

There are few absolutes when it comes to linking illnesses. A lot of food safety management decisions are based on best guesses, probabilities and estimations. And sometimes there isn’t enough information available for epidemiologists to link illnesses to a common source.

For the past few weeks state and federal health folks have been trying to figure out what 15 people from Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and California who have been ill with E. coli O145 have in common. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced today that they don’t know. But it appears that whatever the source was is no longer in the marketplace.

According to David Beasley at Reuters,

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not yet identified the source of the bacteria but said it has been six weeks since the last patient became ill.

"Although this indicates that this outbreak could be over, CDC continues to work with state public health officials," to identify additional cases and the source of the E.coli, the agency said in a statement.

The CDC confirmed an additional case of illness in Louisiana from Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli 0145, a strain of a large group of bacteria commonly abbreviated as E.coli.

That is the same type of E.coli that killed a Louisiana child in May and since April 15 has sickened people in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and California. Four of the patients were hospitalized.

The latest reported victim was sickened April 21, but health officials delayed officially connecting that illness to the outbreak because the E.coli that caused the patient’s infection was slightly different than the others, said Dr. Raoult Ratard, Louisiana’s state epidemiologist.

Louisiana health officials initially thought the child who died from the bacteria might have been infected after visiting a petting zoo. But that theory was dropped because none of the ill adults had been to the zoo.

The additional reported victim from Louisiana also had no connection with the petting zoo, Ratard said.
There have been no reported cases of illness from the strain that have developed in the country after May 12, the CDC said.


Food porn excess: chefs court farmers for the best ingredients, nothing about food safety

Chef Jonathan Benno visited a farm recently, a crucial stop in his yearlong quest to open a $20-million restaurant at Lincoln Center in September.

In a standard food porn piece, The New York Times reports this morning that once, farmers begged top chefs to give their produce a whirl. But with carrots, corn and tomatoes being accorded the fanatical attention once reserved for foie gras and truffles, chefs now come knocking.

Mr. Benno, 40, said,

“It’s not enough now to pick up the phone and say to a distributor: ‘What have you got? O.K., give me a case.’ Now you want to see. You want to go there. They get to know us, and they see the possibilities for us. And for them.”

Michael White, the chef and an owner of Marea, along with Alto and Convivio, all in Manhattan, said, “Our customers travel to food and wine festivals and food devotees are more and more aware of the sourcing of products.” At the table, they can even surf the Web on their iPhones to check out the provenance of the steak, the chicken and the chicory.

Benno was further quoted as saying,

“This is not about currying favor, it is about developing a relationship. In this business, it’s about the handshake — looking them in the eye.”

Look your farmer in the eye and ask what water he or she irrigated with as the crops were withering and about to die (that was my farmer, left, 10 years ago, and he engaged in frank food safety discussions). Ask about the microbial tests done on water and soil. Ask about the hand sanitation for workers in the field and in the packing shed. Trust, but verify.

Less food porn, more food safety.

Salmonella blamed as hundreds fall ill after eating Italian sausages

The Washington Post reports in tomorrow’s edition that federal officials say 225 people in 44 states and the District of Columbia are thought to have been sickened by Salmonella in imported black pepper used in the preparation of salami and other types of Italian sausage made by a Rhode Island company.

Daniele International recalled 1.2 million pounds of ready-to-eat salami on Jan. 22, after state health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked the outbreak to the company’s products. Daniele expanded the recall on Feb. 4 to include 23,754 additional pounds of salami products. Of those who fell ill, an estimated 26 percent have been hospitalized, officials said. No deaths have been reported. Victims of the outbreak range in age up to 93 years old, with a median age of 39. More than half, or 53 percent, have been male.

This is the second time in less than a year that an outbreak of Salmonella illness has been linked to pepper. Last March, 42 people fell ill after eating tainted white and black pepper sold by Union International Food of California.

The salami, sopressata and other products were packaged under Daniele as well as the Boar’s Head and Black Bear of the Black Woods brands and were sold by several national chains, including Costco, Walmart and online through

The outbreak began in July and is ongoing. Because the product has a shelf life of one year, federal health officials are concerned that the products remains tucked away in home freezers and pantry shelves.

Last month, officials at the Rhode Island Department of Health said they thought the contamination was caused by tainted black pepper that was used to coat the salami. Tests showed that the same strain of Salmonella involved in the outbreak was present in two open containers of black pepper at Daniele’s plant in Burrillville, R.I.

State officials said Daniele used two suppliers, Mincing Oversees Spice and Wholesome Spices, which both bought imported black pepper. Samples of pepper from both distributors tested positive for Salmonella, according to state health officials.

"This outbreak only underscores the importance of closely monitoring food that is imported from other countries as they may not have the same food safety standards as we do," David R. Gifford, the state’s director of health, said in a statement.

While the Department of Agriculture regulates salami, the Food and Drug Administration oversees black pepper and other food additives. An FDA spokesman said the agency does not know where the pepper originated and that its joint investigation with USDA continues.

Daniele, which has suspended salami production, said in a statement it has changed its spice suppliers and will now use only irradiated pepper, which undergoes a process designed to kill bacteria.

A list of the recalled products can be found at