How to stop food sabotage

Last Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, I had a requested op-ed published in the Sydney Morning Herald. I was a little rusty, so Amy did more than just clean it up, and I haven’t gotten around to posting it until now because there was some medical stuff last week, but all is well and here it is:

My 9-year-old daughter and I were watching the news on Saturday morning and she asked, why would someone put a needle in strawberries?

Some people are not nice.

A couple of years ago a food safety type asked me, what’s the biggest risk to the food supply.

I didn’t hesitate.

Deliberate tampering and food fraud.

Food safety has traditionally been faith-based – especially when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables. Consumers cannot control how food is handled before it gets to them. This is why consumers need to know their suppliers and know what they are doing to keep people safe.

This latest food tampering scare – 11 cases of contaminanted strawberries reported nationally so far, the first in Sydney on Saturday – makes that clear.

Faith-based food safety sucks. It always has. Risks have always been present. As Madeleine Ferrieres, the author of Mad Cow, Sacred Cow: A History of Food Fears,  wrote, “All human beings before us questioned the contents of their plates.”

But contemporary consumers forget that contamination risk has always been with us: “We are often too blinded by this amnesia to view our present food situation clearly. This amnesia is very convenient. It allows us to reinvent the past and construct a complaisant, retrospective mythology.”

“We still live with the illusion of modernity, with the false idea that what happens to us is new and unbearable,” she has said in an interview.

What’s new is that we have better tools to detect problems. This also presents an opportunity: those who use the best tools should be able to prove their food is safe through testing and brag about it. They can market food safety measures at retail.

The days of faith-based food safety are coming to a protracted close.

There is a lack – a disturbing lack – of on-farm food safety inspection; farmers need to be more aware of the potential for contamination from microbes (from listeria in rockmelon, for example) as well as sabotage.

There is an equally large lack of information to consumers where they buy their produce. What do Australian grocery shoppers know of the food safety regulations applied to the produce sold in their most popular stores? Who can they ask to find the answers?

The best solution is for farmers and retailers to market food safety. If they have a great food safety program they should be promoting it. Consumers can handle more information rather than less.

Douglas Powell is a (sorta?) retired professor of food safety in Canada and the US who now lives in Brisbane. He blogs at barfblog.com.

And in memorandum, Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy, the Blues Brothers’ guitarist and longtime blues sideman who died Friday at 88.

Man swallows needle in strawberry bought from Woolworths Australia

Queensland, with its sub-tropical climate, has fabulous produce and seafood.

Even if regulators are a bit dopey about food safety.

Jill Poulson and Tanya Westthorp of the Courier-Mail report health authorities are warning people who have bought strawberries in Queensland, NSW and Victoria to throw the punnets out after several incidents of needles being found in strawberries sold at Woolworths.

Queensland Health and Queensland Police today took the extraordinary step to urge people who bought strawberries across the eastern seaboard in the past week to throw them out after three separate incidents in Queensland and Victoria.

Police suspect the ground-down needles were deliberately planted in the punnets with the culprit intending to cause ‘grievous bodily harm or other objectives’.

The needle allegedly found in strawberries purchased from Woolworths at northside Brisbane. Pic: Supplied.

The contaminated strawberries come from one farm and are sold under the brands ‘Berry Obsession’ and ‘Berry Licious’. They are sold from Woolworths and it’s believed they may also be sold at other stores. A product recall is underway.

It comes as a 21-year-old Burpengary man ended up in hospital after he swallowed part of a needle when he bit into a strawberry bought from Strathpine in Brisbane’s north on Sunday.

Two more incidents in Victoria were confirmed yesterday.

Bugs survive during storage: Prevent E. coli

The survival of Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7 on strawberries, basil leaves, and other leafy greens (spinach leaves, lamb and butterhead lettuce leaves, baby leaves, and fresh-cut iceberg lettuce) was assessed at cold (<7°C) and ambient temperatures. All commodities were spot inoculated with E. coli O157:H7 or Salmonella to obtain an initial inoculum of 5 to 6 log and 4 to 5 log CFU/g for strawberries and leafy greens, respectively. Samples were air packed. Strawberries were stored at 4, 10, 15, and 22°C and basil leaves and other leafy greens at 7, 15, and 22°C for up to 7 days (or less if spoiled before).

basil.salmonellaBoth Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 showed a gradual decrease in numbers if inoculated on strawberries, with a similar reduction observed at 4, 10, and 15°C (2 to 3 log after 5 days). However, at 15°C (and 10°C for E. coli O157:H7), the survival experiment stopped before day 7, as die-off of both pathogens below the lower limit of detection was achieved or spoilage occurred.

At 22°C, strawberries were moldy after 2 or 4 days. At that time, a 1- to 2-log reduction of both pathogens had occurred. A restricted die-off (on average 1.0 log) and increase (on average , 0.5 log) of both pathogens on basil leaves occurred after 7 days of storage at 7 and 22°C, respectively. On leafy greens, a comparable decrease as on basil was observed after 3 days at 7°C. At 22°C, both pathogens increased to higher numbers on fresh-cut iceberg and butterhead lettuce leaves (on average 1.0 log), probably due to the presence of exudates. However, by using spot inoculation, the increase was rather limited, probably due to minimized contact between the inoculum and cell exudates.

Avoiding contamination, in particular, at cultivation (and harvest or postharvest) is important, as both pathogens survive during storage, and strawberries, basil, and other leafy green leaves are consumed without inactivation treatment.

Survival of Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7 on strawberries, basil, and other leafy greens during storage

Journal of Food Protection®, Number 4, April 2015, pp. 636-858, pp. 652-660(9)

Delbeke, Stefanie; Ceuppens, Siele; Jacxsens, Liesbeth; Uyttendaele, Mieke

http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iafp/jfp/2015/00000078/00000004/art00003

Can norovirus get into plants? Apparently, yes

Human norovirus (NoV) is the leading cause of foodborne disease in the United States, and epidemiological studies have shown that fresh produce is one of the major vehicles for the transmission of human NoV. However, the mechanisms of norovirus contamination and persistence in fresh produce are poorly understood.

sorenne.strawberry.13The objective of this study is to determine whether human NoV surrogates, murine norovirus (MNV-1) and Tulane virus (TV), can attach and become internalized and disseminated in strawberries grown in soil.

The soil of growing strawberry plants was inoculated with MNV-1 and TV at a level of 108 PFU/plant. Leaves and berries were harvested over a 14-day period, and the viral titer was determined by plaque assay. Over the course of the study, 31.6% of the strawberries contained internalized MNV-1, with an average titer of 0.81 ± 0.33 log10 PFU/g. In comparison, 37.5% of strawberries were positive for infectious TV, with an average titer of 1.83 ± 0.22 log10 PFU/g. A higher percentage (78.7%) of strawberries were positive for TV RNA, with an average titer of 3.15 ± 0.51 log10 RNA copies/g as determined by real-time reverse transcriptase quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR).

In contrast, no or little virus internalization and dissemination were detected when TV was inoculated into bell peppers grown in soil.

strawberryCollectively, these data demonstrate (i) virally contaminated soils can lead to the internalization of virus via plant roots and subsequent dissemination to the leaf and fruit portions of growing strawberry plants and (ii) the magnitude of internalization is dependent on the type of virus and plant.

 Evidence of the Internalization of Animal Caliciviruses via the Roots of Growing Strawberry Plants and Dissemination to the Fruit

Applied and Environmental Microbiology, April 2015, Volume 81, Number 8, doi:10.1128/AEM.03867-14

DiCaprio E, Culbertson D, Li J

http://aem.asm.org/content/81/8/2727.abstract?etoc

Say it ain’t so: Over 100 tourists got hep A from strawberries in Egypt, 2013

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

chocolate-food-luxury-strawberry-Favim.com-538433A 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.

An international outbreak investigation team interviewed a number of cases with a trawling questionnaire to generate hypotheses on potential exposures. Some of these exposures were further tested in a case–control study based on a more specific questionnaire. Both trawling and case–control questionnaires aimed to collect cases’ vaccination details as well as epidemiological information. Most cases participating in either questionnaire (35/43) had been staying in all-inclusive hotels located along the Red Sea.

The case–control study found cases associated with exposure to strawberries or mango (multivariable analysis p value: 0.04). None of the 43 cases interviewed in any of the two questionnaires had been vaccinated. The most common reasons for non-vaccination was unawareness that HAV vaccination was recommended (23/43, 53%) and perceiving low infection risk in all-inclusive luxury resorts (19/43, 44%). Vaccination had not been recommended to five of the six cases who sought travel medical advice before travelling.

Public health authorities should strongly reinforce measures to remind travellers, travel agencies and healthcare providers of the importance of vaccination before visiting HAV-endemic areas, including Egypt.

 

Multistate foodborne hepatitis A outbreak among European tourists returning from Egypt– need for reinforced vaccination recommendations, November 2012 to April 2013

Eurosurveillance, Volume 20, Issue 4, 29 January 2015

http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=21018

I loves me the berries, so do many others, so a kid from Japan decides it’s lucrative to pick strawberries in Australia

Sorenne was quick to the fruit at the compact market in Melbourne tonight: 2 punnets of strawberries.

Strawberries ripening on vineShe gets it from her father, who got it from his mother, except the strawberry season in Australia is almost year round, while in Ontario, it’s five weeks.

I do love my berries.

I’m not alone: according to statistics published by the United States Department of Agriculture and cited in the New York Times, percent since 2000.

But if you compare apples and oranges, you’ll find we now eat 9 percent less of each, and 11 percent fewer bananas. The decline in those three mainstays, which still account for 49 percent of the fresh fruit we eat, has made room in our diets for more berries, pineapples (up 99 percent), mangoes (up 42 percent), papayas (up 41 percent), tangerines (up 40 percent), lemons (up 56 percent) and avocados (up 139 percent), which, yes, the agriculture department says are fruit.

per capita consumption of fresh raspberries grew 475 percent from 2000 to 2012, the most recent year for which data are available. Blueberry consumption is up 411 percent, and strawberries are up 60 percent.

Before you pat yourself on the back for your healthy eating habits, you should know you’re probably not eating a lot more fresh fruit in total: The latest reading is 48 pounds per person per year, up just 1

If people are eating more of some kind of fruit, it’s probably because farmers have figured out how to deliver more of it, at higher quality, throughout the year.

raspberryOf course, there is the “superfood” factor: Both raspberries and blueberries have been praised for their nutrient value. But Chris Romano, who leads global produce procurement for Whole Foods, attributes the boom in berries largely to taste and availability.

“Techniques in growing raspberries, blueberries and blackberries have gotten much better over the last 15 years,” he said. Growers are planting better breeds of berry, with higher sugar content; they’re using pruning and growing techniques that extend the season, including growing berries inside greenhouse-like structures called tunnels that retain heat; and most important, they’re growing berries in places they didn’t used to, where production is possible at different times of year.

sorenne.strawberry.13Historically, blueberries needed to be grown in regions that get cold weather for part of the year, because rising temperatures bring the plants out of dormancy. But newer “low-chill” blueberry varieties have helped make berries available all year by expanding production to formerly inappropriate areas like coastal California. That helps make more berries available in months like November.

While the U.S. imports many of its fresh fruits, Australia is its own island.

So much so that on my flight back from Japan the other day I was sitting beside a 21-year-old Japanese kid who was going to pick fresh strawberries in Bundaberg (north of Brisbane), because it was that lucrative (and they probably can’t get locals to do the work).

Food safety, and microbial transmission are increasingly international.

Do you know what’s in your water? Proposed regs put responsibility on growers

Federal regulators have softened some proposed restrictions to farming practices in the name of food safety, but the Yakima Valley’s tree fruit industry officials say the proposal is still too much.

two fistin wilsonFruit trade officials plan to submit comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asking for additional allowances on proposed irrigation water quality standards called for by the Food Safety Modernization Act.

“It’s still complicated and still going to be costly for your grower,” said Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, a trade group that represents the fruit industry in federal affairs and international trade.

The Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA, is a 2011 federal law that mandated sweeping changes to the entire food production system to prevent the spread of food-borne illnesses, which kill 3,000 people a year nationwide and hospitalize 128,000, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It includes everything from hand washing to preventing acts of terrorism.

The FDA is charged with implementing the law and is taking public comments on its second attempt to impose the nuts and bolts of the regulation, spelled out in mind-numbing, scientific detail over several subsections that together would take up thousands upon thousands of pages.

“I don’t think any normal person can understand it,” Schlect said. “George Orwell would roll over in his grave.”

Growers objected most to a suggested stipulation that would prohibit any fruit from contact with water that does not meet the swimming quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency and would also require farmers to periodically test their water. If the test came back negative, the growers would have to shut off irrigation.

Most of the Yakima Valley farms rely on open canals and though many orchards use low sprinklers that water under the tree canopy, they also employ overhead sprinklers to cool fruit during the scorching peak of summer.

In the first round of public comments last year, Schlect and other grower groups argued the proposed rules would hold orchardists responsible for contamination upstream, and treat fruit that hangs on the trees the same as produce grown in the dirt.

While FDA officials didn’t soften the water quality standards in their revised proposal, they have suggested granting allowances for the time between the last round of irrigation and harvest. They also might allow growers to test water collectively, maybe at certain points in the canal.

Meanwhile, The Produce News reports that different standards for packinghouses under the Food Safety Modernization Act based on their location will cause confusion within the industry and are not science-based, produce industry groups told officials at the Food & Drug Administration during a Thursday public meeting on FSMA changes.

Under the FDA’s current interpretation of FSMA, on-farm packinghouses would need to meet produce safety standards, but off-farm operations, which must register with the FDA, would have to meet more extensive and costly preventive control requirements.

Registered facilities that only handle raw agriculture commodities and don’t conduct further processing should be covered under the produce safety rule, Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, argued during the meeting held in College Park, MD. Food safety and public heath benefits are likely to be best served by a single rule, he said.

My friend and collaborator, farmer Jeff Wilson addressed this issue over 10 years ago, long before youtube existed. We found the video.

 

 

Survival of Escherichia coli on strawberries grown under greenhouse conditions

One of the benefits of living in Brisbane is the four seasons of strawberries, unlike the three weeks in Canada.

sorenne.strawberry.13We eat endless amounts.

There has been the occasional outbreak, usually due to ruminant contamination with shiga-toxin producing E. coli.

Strawberries are soft fruit that are not recommended to have a post-harvest wash due to quality concerns. Escherichia coli O157:H7 has been linked to outbreaks with strawberries but little is known about the survival of E. coli during the growth cycle of strawberries.

The survival of E. coli on strawberry plants during growing under greenhouses conditions was evaluated. Soil, leaves, and strawberries (if present) were artificially contaminated with an E. coli surrogate either at the time of planting, first runner removal (4 wk), second runner removal (8 wk), or one week prior to harvest. At harvest E. coli was recovered from the leaves, soil, and strawberries regardless of the contamination time. Time of contamination influenced (P < 0.05) numbers of viable E. coli on the plant. The highest survival of E. coli (P < 0.0001) was detected in soil that was contaminated at planting (4.27 log10 CFU g soil−1), whereas, the survival of E. coli was maximal at later contamination times (8 wk and 1 wk prior to harvest) for the leaves (4.40 and 4.68 log10 CFU g leaves−1) and strawberries (3.37 and 3.53 log10 CFU strawberry−1). Cross contamination from leaves to fruit was observed during this study, with the presence of E. coli on strawberries which had not been present at the time of contamination.

These results indicate that good agricultural best practices to avoid contamination are necessary to minimize the risk of contamination of these popular fruit with enteric pathogens. Practices should include soil testing prior to harvest and avoiding contamination of the leaves.

Food Microbiology, Volume 46, April 2015, Pages 200–203

Angela Laury Shawa, Amanda Svobodaa, Beatrice Jiea, Gail Nonneckeb, Aubrey Mendoncaa

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0740002014001658

e.coli.O157.strawberry

Does E. coli persist in strawberry fields (not forever)

Irrigation water quality is one of those nagging issues for on-farm food safety and fresh produce: it’s difficult to model how persistent E. coli is and just how much of a threat is present. Or as my farmer friends say, if I’m going to lose the crop, I’m going to irrigate.

beatles-strawberry-fields-foreverA two-year field experiment was conducted in order to evaluate the persistence of generic Escherichia coli in strawberry after irrigation with naturally E. coli-contaminated surface water. Sixteen experimental plots representing actual field conditions were set, including two methods of irrigation (overhead and subsurface drip) and two mulch types (straw and plastic). Two irrigations were performed each year with water having an E. coli content varying between 460 and 2242 CFU per 100 ml. Strawberries were harvested before irrigation and 1, 4 and 24 h following irrigation. E. coli counts could not be determined in any of the 256 strawberry samples. Enrichment procedure revealed more positive samples under straw mulch (6.4%) compared to plastic mulch (4.3%), but this difference was not statistically significant (P = 0.3991). Higher strawberry contamination was also observed in overhead irrigation treatments (8.6%) compared to drip irrigation (2.1%) (P = 0.0674). The risk to detect E. coli in overhead-irrigated strawberries was 4.5-fold higher than in strawberries under drip irrigation. Four hours following irrigation, the risk to detect E. coli in fruits was 4.0-fold lower than the risk observed 1 h after irrigation. Increasing the delay to 24 h led to a 7.4-fold lower risk. In actual conditions that may be encountered in strawberry productions, this study showed a limited persistence of E. coli in strawberries following irrigation.

Persistence of Escherichia coli following irrigation of strawberry grown under four production systems: Field experiment

ScienceDirect

Mylene Genereux, Michele Grenier, Caroline Cote

Food Control, Volume 47, January 2015, Pages 103–107, DOI: 10.1016/j.foodcont.2014.06.037

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713514003661

Nottinghamshire fruit growers hit back at health scare as crops are given all-clear

From the I’ve-been-doings-things-this-way-all-my-life files comes word that strawberry growers across Nottinghamshire, UK, say their product is “perfectly safe” in light of a report from  the European Food Safety Agency which described frozen strawberries, along with raspberries, as an “emerging public health risk” after being linked to cases of the potentially fatal norovirus in Europe.

strawberryIIn 2012, almost 11,000 people in Germany were struck down by Norovirus.

The Food Safety Agency report warned that fruits could be contaminated by dirty water used in irrigation or to dilute fertiliser, or a lack of hygiene in the packing and freezing processes.

However, there have not been any confirmed outbreaks in Britain.

Maybe theirs some confusion between frozen and fresh.

Suzannah Starkey, of Starkey’s Fruit in Southwell, said, “We don’t want the British people to fall out of love with strawberries – you can’t get better anywhere else. They are at their very best at the moment.

“All the Starkey family have eaten the strawberries all their lives, straight from the bush, and have never had a single problem.” Our strawberries are subject to very stringent hygiene standards. The pickers always wash their hands before picking and are subject to spot checks by health inspectors. The punnets are heat-sealed and rapidly chilled, and are maintained at that level until they are taken off the shelf by the customer.”

Responding to the European Food Safety Agency report, Laurence Olins, chairman of British Summer Fruits, the UK body dedicated to the promotion of British-grown soft and stone fruits, said: “The UK fresh fruit crop does not pose a public health risk.

“This report is based on out-of-date references relating to a very specific issue with frozen berries from developing countries, imported into other parts of Europe in 2012.”