337 sick from salmonella in sausage, France, 2011

Those supermarket loyalty cards helped pin down an outbreak of salmonella in sausage in France last year.

Researchers reported in Eurosurveillance last week that an outbreak of the monophasic variant of Salmonella enterica serotype 4,[5],12:i:- occurred in November and December 2011 in France. Epidemiological investigation and food investigation with the help of supermarket loyalty cards suggested dried pork sausage from one producer as the most likely source of the outbreak. Despite the absence of positive food samples, control measures including withdrawal and recall were implemented.

Between 31 October and 18 December (week 44 to week 50), a total of 337 cases of Salmonella enterica serotype 4,[5],12:i:- were identified. The median age was 10 years (range: 0–90 years) with about 30% of children under five. A majority of women were affected (female to male sex ratio: 1.22). Cases were reported throughout France.

An epidemic of Salmonella enterica 4,[5],12:i:- was already observed about three months prior to this outbreak. Between 1 August and 9 October, 682 cases were reported (Figure 1), of whom 100 cases were interviewed at the time but no common vehicle of infection could be identified. In comparison, 212 cases with this serotype had been isolated during the same period in 2010.

Epidemiological investigations pointed to a dried pork sausage purchased principally at supermarket chain A and consumed after week 44, 2011. Therefore purchases of pork delicatessen at supermarkets A and B up to four weeks prior to symptom onset were investigated by the DGAL using data recorded through supermarket loyalty cards.

The use of the loyalty card from supermarket chain A was important to identify the vehicle of infection and the local producer involved in this outbreak. These cards are used more and more and prove helpful in the investigation of food-related outbreaks. Nevertheless we should keep in mind that they do not necessarily reflect the consumption of cases perfectly. For instance, the card may not be used systematically, the household can purchase foods in additional shops and markets for which they have no loyalty cards, many food products are consumed outside the household and not recorded on the card, and the central database of the supermarket does not always contain data on all foods sold such as foods directly purchased by the retailers. For these reasons the data have to be interpreted together with the results from epidemiological and microbiological investigations.

That the producer and microbiological analysis did not find Salmonella does not exclude contamination. The limited number of samples and the processing of the food (especially salting and drying) reduce the likelihood of isolating the bacteria. Implementing checks earlier in the process (before salting and drying) and using additional methods of testing such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) should be considered.

This is the second described outbreak in France involving dried pork sausage, and indicates that this food item might be a likely vehicle of infection and further outbreaks in humans may be expected.

Given the limitations to detect Salmonella in dried sausages, the ability of the standard reference method to detect of monophasic variant strains in dried sausages is questionable. Additional methods should be explored in order to improve monitoring protocols.

The complete report is available at http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=20071.

Australian supermarkets racing to the hormone-free gutter

Another Australian supermarket chain has gotten into the BS business by claiming the lamb on its shelves is hormone-free.

This despite hormones never being used in lamb production in Australia.

Melbourne supermarket chain Maxi Foods has signs on the meat shelves of its Blackburn and Upper Ferntree Gully stores advertizing that "All our beef, lamb and pork are Australian grown with no added hormones."

The chain is following Coles, which began advertising HGP-free beef last year.
The advertising has angered the Sheepmeat Council, which said hormones have never been used in lamb production in Australia.

President Kate Joseph said growth hormones were never used because they were not needed.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority confirmed no hormones were registered for use in lamb production in Australia.

Australia has just as much foodborne illness as everyone else. Retailers get drunk on the profit margins for specious claims like organic/natural/local/sustainable or hormone-free, which have nothing to do with people barfing.

Market microbiologically safe food – and back it up with meaningful data.

Food poison risk from poultry packaging

Food safety types in Birmingham, U.K. have found that 40 per cent of all plastic packaging containing chicken in Birmingham contained food poisoning bacteria.

In a survey of 20 supermarkets, convenience stores and butcher’s shops throughout the city, food safety officials found that eight were contaminated on the outside of the packet.

They also found seven chickens were contaminated inside the wrapping, while one tested positive for salmonella. There was no link between those infected inside and outside the packaging.

Team manager Nick Lowe said, “Our message to consumers is that handling the packaging should be regarded as just as likely to cause food poisoning and touching the raw meat.”

Once handled in a supermarket the bacteria can be passed on through trolley handles, shopping bags and transferred to other foods. In one supermarket a pool of juice collected on the chiller shelf was also contaminated.

UK supermarket sells squirrel meat

In Jan. 2010, Michelle blogged about the popularity of squirrel meat in the U.K. and someone commented,

“I live in the U.K. and have never ever seen squirrel being sold in any supermarket or shop and would be quite surprised if I ever did! As far as I’m aware its not popular at all.”

The Daily Mail reports this morning that a British supermarket has started selling squirrel, and is reporting "huge interest" in the cheap and healthy meat.

Grey squirrel meat is high in protein and low in fat, and is selling for just £3 ($5.25) at budget supermarket Budgens, reports.

Once a staple of English cooking, squirrel is said to have a nutty flavour and can be cooked in soups, pies and casseroles.

The North London branch of the supermarket selling the meat said there had been "huge interest" but admitted that more customers were looking rather than buying so far.

Animal welfare group Viva has accused Budgens of cashing in on a "massacre" by putting grey squirrel back on the menu, with founder Juliet Gellatley saying,

"If this store is attempting to stand out from the crowd by selling squirrel, the only message they are giving out is that they are happy to have the blood of a beautiful wild animal on their hands for the sake of a few quid.”

How I buy meat – Powell hazardous waste version

A blogger named Jenny called me last week and asked me how I buy meat.

So this is what I told her as documented in her blog, Dinner A Love Story.

My first guest is Doug Powell, associate professor, food safety, Dept. Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology, Kansas State University and the father of five girls. His entertainingly combative barfblog.com regularly takes Whole Foods and (no!!!) Michael Pollan to task.

So Doug Powell, how do you buy meat?

“I go to the biggest supermarket I can find — Dillons, Walmart, Krogers. I’ll buy a whole chicken at Dillons for some ridiculously low price, like 99 cents a pound. Because I know they have quality control measures in place to reduce microbial loads before they get in the store. I would never shop at any of those places like Whole Foods. What they are peddling is complete nonsense from a safety point a view. Whole Foods is so concerned about being natural and whatever else that they don’t pay attention to the basics like cross-contamination. They’re sloppy about that.

“It’s not about lovingly raising an animal which I’m sure lots of farmers do. It’s about testing. In separate USA Today stories last year, both Costco and McDonalds were highlighted for their rigorous safety standards. I’m not talking quality here, I’m talking safety. Given the number of things they serve, those places can’t afford to screw up.

“When I buy ground beef, I treat it like hazardous waste, and make burgers mixed with about 20 per cent ground turkey. A butcher grinding meat in front of me means nothing from a safety perspective. If there’s poop on the outside, it’s now on the inside, which is why I always — always — use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer to make sure any food is properly cooked. There’s just too many people out there getting sick.”

Should sell-by dates be thrown out?

The Independent reports that the U.K. Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says British consumers each year throw out 370,000 tonnes of food that has passed its "best before" date, and a further 220,000 tonnes that is close to, but still within, its "use by" date.

Yet last week, Approved Foods, announced that its sales for the final week of December were up a staggering 500 per cent year on year. At sites such as Approved Foods and Bargainfoods.co.uk, you can pick up four tins of pinto beans for £1, or a can of tuna for 59p. Or how about four Toblerones for 99p? There’s nothing wrong with the foods. They’re just coming up to their "use-by" dates or have gone beyond their "best before" dates.

Last year, Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, called on food manufacturers to consign to the dustbin date labels such as "sell by" and "display until", retaining only the crucial "use by" date.

A recent FSA study revealed a rise in the potentially deadly disease listeriosis due to people consuming chilled ready-to-eat foods — products such as pre-packed sandwiches, salads, cooked sliced meats, smoked salmon, soft cheeses and pates — that have been in their fridges too long. The findings highlight the potential risks involved in both our ignorance and our habits of going on gut instinct.

Roy Costa to star on Dr. Oz Tuesday; Powell dresses up and gets in a couple of zingers

In the beginning there was Oprah, and all was ideal.

Oprah begat Dr. Phil, and all was ideal, at least until his ratings started to fall.

Then Dr. Oz appeared – 55 times on Oprah – and Oprah eventually begated Dr. Oz.

The Dr. Oz show started in September 2009 and is syndicated throughout the U.S.

After hours of providing material to Dr. Oz producers about supermarket food safety, I got the call – be in New York City, Studio 6A where Conan used to shoot, we want you on the show.

On Monday, Oct. 19, 2009, Amy, Sorenne and I (I don’t like to travel without my family, that aging thing) drove from the Little Apple of Manhattan (Kansas) to Kansas City and then flew to the Big Apple of Manhattan (New York).

We got picked up by a big car and stayed at a nice hotel in Gotham.


The next morning, Amy, Sorenne and I ventured off to 30 Rock – Rockefeller Center – for the taping. My friend Roy Costa was also there, and they gave us a dressing room with muffins and water.

It soon became apparent that 10-month-old Sorenne was not going to be comfortable waiting around for the excess of television –lots of waiting around for a couple of minutes of screen time – so Amy and Sorenne went back to the hotel.

Roy got to share the stage with Dr. Oz because of his experience as an inspector and he did a great job bobbing and weaving, trying to keep the show on track. I got to be the expert in the audience with a couple of pithy statements.

Our supermarket food safety bit is competing with the National Sex Experiment — a 50-state, 90-day incentive challenging you to have the best sex of your life — and a bunch of D-list celebrities who need the help of Dr. Oz. It is scheduled to be broadcast Tuesday, Nov. 3.

And, as in TV, the show was done with us just like that. We walked around Times Square a bit, took in the sideshow, and then went home.

Cats shouldn’t hang out in supermarket meat cases

Cats like meat.

Even though we live in central Manhattan (Kansas), there’s a small greenbelt behind the house and we’ve had visitors such as deer, turkeys, and yesterday, a fox.

The raccoons, squirrels, birds and rabbits are everywhere.

My two black cats have had happy hunting since our 2006 arrival, and left me a pair of lucky rabbits feet the other day (the two black ones, as kittens in this pic, from 2003; the other one, named Lucky, wasn’t so lucky).

Because cats like meat, it’s a good idea to keep them out of supermarkets, especially those with a butcher shop, or a meat case with open doors.

A colleague sent along this video of a cat in a meat case in a supermarket, apparently, according to readers’ comments, in St. Petersburgh, Russia. Not good supermarket food safety practices.

Escaped bull shops for produce

No one was hurt when a bull escaped the clutches of its owner and ran into Cummins’ Super-Valu in Ballinrobe, Co Mayo, Ireland.

Independent.ie reports the bull had been at the local mart a few hundred yards away when it made its great escape.

Was it shopping for steaks?

By the time the bull was eventually recaptured by its owner, a local farmer, the only damage done was to fruit and vegetable stands.

"People were joking afterwards that our beef was fresh and fully traceable," said Mr Cummins. "He passed out Tesco to get to us. That tells its own story."