Needles in Australian produce: Copy-cats, metal detector sales and stiff penalties for ‘cowards and grubs’

With more than 100 reports of tampered fruit being investigated by police across Australia, an Adelaide father has been charged over a fake needle-in-strawberry report.

Police say the 34-year-old last week reported that his daughter bit into a strawberry purchased at a local supermarket and that it was contaminated with a needle.

The arrest comes as the hunt for those responsible for sticking needles in strawberries continues, and the federal government ramps up penalties for so- called “food terrorists.”

Food tamperers could spent 10 to 15 years behind bars under draft laws passed by the government on Thursday.

One young boy in NSW has already been arrested over behaviour that “could be called a prank”, police said, and he will be dealt with under the youth cautioning system.

The warning comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison looks to punish ‘cowards’ who purposely contaminate food.

Culprits could face up to 15 years jail under tough updates to food contamination laws the PM will urgently push through parliament this week.

And “idiots” who post Facebook hoaxes about fake contamination cases could face up to 10 years in jail under new measures to deal with “reckless” behaviour.

‘Sabotage’ laws will also be updated to include the sabotage of “goods for human consumption” where it impacts national security.

“Any idiot who thinks they can go out into a shopping centre and start sticking pins in fruit and thinks this is some sort of lark or put something on Facebook which is a hoax, that sort of behaviour is reckless and under the provision we will be seeking to introduce swiftly, that type of behaviour would carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison,” Prime Minister Morrison said today.

“It’s not a joke. It’s not funny. You are putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you are scaring children,” he said.

“You are a coward and a grub. And if you do that sort of thing in this country we will come after you and we will throw the book at you.”

Meanwhile, the strawberry scandal’s costing the industry millions of dollars, but it’s created a booming trade for one food safety company.

A&D Australasia provides metal detectors to food production companies, and their sales in the last week – including in New Zealand – have skyrocketed.

Spokesperson for the company Julian Horsley says he’s sold a year’s worth of products in just four days.

“There’s an element of panic obviously because customers are saying we can’t buy your product until this and this are in line – so that’s obviously a commercial panic to them” he said.

Each detector costs around $22,000, but Horsley says growers are viewing them as an investment.

“For these guys it’s either put my produce in the rubbish bin, or supply it to the customers.”

People are sick: Frozen strawberries grown in Egypt recalled because of hep A in Canada

For at least the third time in the last six years, people have gotten sick with hepatitis A after consuming strawberries – fresh or frozen — grown in Egypt.

A multistate outbreak of hepatitis A virus (HAV) among European travellers returning from Egypt occurred between November 2012 and April 2013.

A total of 14 European Union (EU)-European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries reported 107 cases. Twenty-one cases from six countries were affected by strains of sub-genotype IB harbouring identical RNA sequences, suggesting a common source outbreak.

In Sept. 2016, at least 89 were sickened in the U.S. with hepatitis A at Tropical Smoothie Cafés in Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, linked to consumption of frozen strawberries from Egypt.

Now, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says Groupe Adonis Inc. is recalling Montana brand frozen strawberries from the marketplace due to possible Hepatitis A contamination. Consumers should not consume the recalled product described below.

The ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ) transmitted an alert to the news media concerning the affected product. Please click on the following link for details: (French only).

The following product has been sold exclusively from Adonis markets in Quebec and Ontario.

Recalled products

Brand Name Common Name Size Code(s) on Product UPC
Montana Strawberry
1 kg All codes purchased on or before April 14, 2018 6222000401487

If you think you became sick from consuming a recalled product, call your doctor.

Check to see if you have recalled products in your home. Recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the store where they were purchased.

This recall was triggered by findings during an investigation into a foodborne illness outbreak.

CFIA won’t say how many are sick, that’s up to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

And vaccines work.

89 now sick with hep A: What kind of trendy smoothie place gets their frozen strawberries from Egypt?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that several states, CDC, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are continuing to investigate a multistate outbreak of foodborne hepatitis A. Information available at this time does not indicate an ongoing risk of acquiring hepatitis A virus infection at Tropical Smoothie Café’s, as the contaminated food product has been removed as of August 8. Symptoms of hepatitis A virus infection can take up to 50 days to appear. As a result, CDC continues to identify cases of hepatitis A related to the initial contaminated product.

tropical-smoothie-cafe89 people with hepatitis A have been reported from seven states: Maryland (10), New York (1), North Carolina (1), Oregon (1), Virginia (70), West Virginia (5), and Wisconsin (1).

39 ill people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Epidemiologic and traceback evidence indicate frozen strawberries imported from Egypt are the likely source of this outbreak.

In interviews, nearly all ill people interviewed reported drinking smoothies containing strawberries at Tropical Smoothie Café locations prior to August 8 in a limited geographical area, including Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

On August 8, 2016, Tropical Smoothie Café reported that they removed the Egyptian frozen strawberries from their restaurants in Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia and switched to another supplier. Out of an abundance of caution, Tropical Smoothie Café has since switched to another supplier for all restaurants nationwide.

If you think you’ve gotten sick from drinking a smoothie containing frozen strawberries from a Tropical Smoothie Café prior to August 8, contact your doctor.

Food handlers should contact their doctors and stay home if they are sick with hepatitis A.

 “To those who have become ill after eating at one of our cafes, we are deeply sorry,” Tropical Smoothie Cafe said in a statement. “We hope you recover quickly and completely.”

The Food and Drug Administration said in a statement that it would increase surveillance of imported strawberries.


More hepatitis A: smoothie edition

Berries are a staple of my diet; I go through about 2 lbs a week of raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. When the fresh berries are too expensive (or don’t look good) I substitute with frozen ones.

Frozen food is sometimes ready-to-eat. Sometimes not. Frozen berries likely haven’t been heat treated before the get to me and were almost certainly harvested by hand.

So I cook them before eating after the multiple noro and hep A outbreaks in the past few years. Even ones that go into smoothies.

According CBS6, hepatitis A cases linked to Egyptian strawberries served at Tropical Smoothie Cafes in Virginia have climbed to over 20.

There have been 23 confirmed cases of hepatitis A linked to frozen strawberries used at Tropical Smoothie Cafes across Virginia.

This includes four cases in Central Virginia.

There are seven is Northern Virginia, four in Northwest Virginia, and eight in the eastern region on the state.

The CEO of Tropical Smoothie Café said the strawberries in question were voluntarily removed from all stores when they learned of a possible link.

The VDH said they want anyone who consumed a smoothie with frozen strawberries at a restaurant within the last 50 days to watch out for symptoms of hepatitis A.

10 sick with Hepatitis A: Frozen strawberries from Egypt used in Virginia Tropical Smoothie Cafe customers

According to the Virginia Department of Health, people who consumed smoothies with frozen strawberries on August 5, 6, 7 or 8 may benefit from a vaccine or immune globulin to prevent hepatitis A.

Tropical Smoothie CafeAccording to a health department official, there have been 10 total cases of hepatitis A linked to the strawberries at Tropical Smoothie in Virginia so far.

The Department of Health has linked the smoothies with a strain of hepatitis A that has been associated with past outbreaks due to frozen strawberries from Egypt.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe voluntarily withdrew all of the strawberries sourced from Egypt and found an alternate supply.

The Department of Health says other restaurants and restaurant suppliers may have received the frozen strawberries. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify other locations where the product may have been distributed.

In a news release sent Friday, the department said genetic testing had linked frozen strawberries from Egypt, distributed to all 90 Tropical Smoothie Café locations across Virginia to the Hepatitis infections.

$550,000 in meth seized in strawberry load

Brisbane has fabulous produce, befitting the sub-tropical climate.

pick-your-own-strawberriesStrawberries were going for $0.50 a pint this week, and excellent quality.

Officers with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations at the Pharr International Bridge seized an estimated $550,000 worth of alleged methamphetamine hidden a commercial load of fresh strawberries.

On Feb. 27, CBP officers at the Pharr International Bridge cargo facility encountered a 39-year-old man from Reynosa, Mexico, driving a tractor/trailer carrying a commercial shipment of fresh strawberries, according to a Customs and Border Protection news release.

After referring the truck for secondary inspection, officers discovered and seized two packages of alleged methamphetamine weighing about 28 pounds and seized the Freightliner tractor as well, the release said.

Irrigation water, produce and pathogens

The microbiological sanitary quality and safety of leafy greens and strawberries were assessed in the primary production in Belgium, Brazil, Egypt, Norway and Spain by enumeration of Escherichia coli and detection of Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) and Campylobacter.

strawberryWater samples were more prone to containing pathogens (54 positives out of 950 analyses) than soil (16/1186) and produce on the field (18/977 for leafy greens and 5/402 for strawberries). The prevalence of pathogens also varied markedly according to the sampling region. Flooding of fields increased the risk considerably, with odds ratio (OR) 10.9 for Salmonella and 7.0 for STEC.

A significant association between elevated numbers of generic E. coli and detection of pathogens (OR of 2.3 for STEC and 2.7 for Salmonella) was established. Generic E. coli was found to be a suitable index organism for Salmonella and STEC, but to a lesser extent for Campylobacter. Guidelines on frequency of sampling and threshold values for E. coli in irrigation water may differ from region to region. 

Risk Factors for Salmonella, shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli and Campylobacter occurrence in primary production of leafy greens and strawberries

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

Siele Ceuppens, Gro S. Johannessen, Ana Allende, Eduardo César Tondo,  Fouad El-Tahan, Imca Sampers, Liesbeth Jacxsens, and  Mieke Uyttendaele

Cattle poop can get into irrigation water: E. col and strawberries in Belgium

Strawberries are an important fruit in Belgium in both production and consumption, but little information is available about the presence of Salmonella and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in these berries, the risk factors in agricultural production, and possible specific mitigation options.

cow.poop2In 2012, a survey was undertaken of three soil and three soilless cultivation systems in Belgium. No Salmonella spp. were isolated. No STEC was detected in the strawberry samples (0 of 72), but STEC was detected by PCR in 11 of 78 irrigation water and 2 of 24 substrate samples. Culture isolates were obtained for 2 of 11 PCR-positive irrigation water samples and 2 of 2 substrate samples.

Multivariable logistic regression analysis revealed elevated generic E. coli numbers (the odds ratio [OR] for a 1 log increase being 4.6) as the most important risk factor for STEC, together with the berry-picking season (elevated risk in summer).

The presence of generic E. coli in the irrigation water (≥1 CFU per 100 ml) was mainly influenced by the type of irrigation water (collected rainfall water stored in ponds was more often contaminated than groundwater pumped from boreholes [OR = 5.8]) and the lack of prior treatment (untreated water versus water subjected to sand filtration prior to use [OR = 19.2]).

The follow-up study in 2013 at one of the producer locations indicated cattle to be the most likely source of STEC contamination of the irrigation water.

 Microbial Safety and Sanitary Quality of Strawberry Primary Production in Belgium: Risk Factors for Salmonella and Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli Contamination

Applied and Environmental Microbiology

Stefanie Delbeke, Siele Ceuppens, Claudia Titze Hessel, Irene Castro, Liesbeth Jacxsens, Lieven De Zutter, and Mieke Uyttendaele

It really was Bambi: deer dropping linked to E. coli O157 outbreak on strawberries in Oregon; 1 dead 14 sick

Oregon health officials confirmed today that deer droppings caused an E. coli outbreak traced to strawberries.

Scientists picked up environmental samples from fields at Jaquith Strawberry Farm in rural Washington County and 10 tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. Of those, six matched the strain that sickened 15 people in Oregon, including one woman who died. The other four were separate strains of E. coli O157:H7.

William Keene, senior epidemiologist with Oregon Public Health, said the outbreak strain turned up in samples from fields in three separate locations.

“It could be one deer that conceivably traveled from one field to another,” Keene said. But he said the positive tests probably indicate that several or perhaps many of the deer around Jaquith’s property carry O157:H7.

But they don’t know for sure because they’ve not done much testing.

A total of seven people were hospitalized in the outbreak and three suffered kidney failure, Keene said.

Did deer poop kill one and sicken 15 with E. coli O157:H7 in Oregon strawberries?

My friend Farmer Jeff e-mailed me this morning. He’s not doing so well, but still has fire in his belly and the Oregon strawberry outbreak prompted him to write.

Jeff was a pioneer in fruit and vegetable growing in southern Ontario. I’m sure he got a chuckle when he heard that Monsanto announced last week it was going to start selling a consumer-oriented herbicide-tolerant Bt sweet corn. Jeff was growing, labeling and selling Syngenta’s Bt sweet corn over a decade ago (that’s Jeff, in the white T-shirt and banana pants doing what he loves — talking farming).

But Jeff always had a receptive ear for my microbial food safety rants and he always tried to fit my theories into the practicalities of farm life: especially strawberries.

Jaquith Strawberry Farm in rural Washington County, Oregon is a 35-acre strawberry producer, has been identified as the source of an E. coli O157:H7 that has killed one and sickened 15; four people went to the hospital, including two people who suffered kidney failure.

The farm sold potentially tainted fresh strawberries to buyers who in turn distributed them to roadside stands and farmers markets in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Yamhill and Clatsop counties.

The last of the berries were sold Aug. 1, but health officials are worried that consumers might have stored some of them in the freezer or turned them into uncooked jam.

Anyone who bought strawberries from a stand north of Marion County and as far east as Clackamas County should throw them out. They were sold in unmarked containers without labels.

According to reports in The Oregonian, once it became apparent an outbreak was emerging, epidemiologists kicked into high gear, grilling patients on what they had eaten and where to find a common link. Many said they bought strawberries from a roadside stand.

Next, epidemiologists drove to homes to collect berries from freezers for testing. They quizzed roadside stands where patients had shopped. Those questions turned up Jaquith Strawberry Farm as the likely source of the contamination.

William Keene, senior epidemiologist with Oregon Public Health, suspects the source might be deer he saw roaming through the fields. Scientists took more than 100 soil and other samples from the farm this weekend and sent them to a lab outside Seattle for testing, hoping to confirm the source of E. coli O157:H7.

In the scramble to unravel an E. coli outbreak traced to strawberries, Oregon food safety experts have spent days poring over sales information.

Jaquith Strawberry Farm provided hand-written lists of buyers, sometimes first names only, to food safety specialists. Officials then worked the phones, calling all the people on the list. But the calls didn’t stop there. What they discovered is that the berries sometimes changed hands, traveling from buyer to farmers markets and then to consumers.

And sometimes farmers bought the berries and resold them as their own crop, a practice that is illegal.

"Apparently, it is more common than we thought," said Vance Bybee, head of food safety at Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Deer, like other ruminants, are the natural reservoirs for shiga-toxin producing E. coli like O157:H7 (that’s right, Food Inc. fans, it’s not just feedlot cattle). Deer were the suspected source in the 1996 E. coli O157:H7 in unpasteurized Odwalla juice that sickened 76 and killed a 16-month-old. Deer meat has also been involved in at least two recognized E. coli outbreaks.

My friend Jeff says the pickers should have noticed the deer poop, or at least been aware, and as another farmer friend would suggest, “shoot the f***ers.”

Jeff says agriculture is going backwards.

A table of strawberry-related outbreaks is available at The overwhelming majority of these outbreaks are related to handling, not growing. But, stuff happens.