Kansas veterinary medicine researchers develop new method to improve food safety

From a press release, as if you couldn’t tell:

Faculty members from the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine have developed a faster, more efficient method of detecting “Shiga toxin-producing E. coli,” or STEC, in ground beef, which often causes recalls of ground beef and vegetables.

“The traditional gold standard STEC detection, which requires bacterial isolation and characterization, is not amenable to high-throughput settings and often requires a week to obtain a definitive result,” said Jianfa Bai, section head of molecular research and development in the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

The new method developed by Bai and colleagues requires only a day to obtain confirmatory results using a Kansas State University-patented method with the partition-based multichannel digital polymerase chain reaction system.

“We believe the new digital polymerase chain reaction detection method developed in this study will be widely used in food safety and inspection services for the rapid detection and confirmation of STEC and other foodborne pathogens,” said Jamie Henningson, director of the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

When ingested through foods such as ground beef and vegetables, STEC can cause illnesses with symptoms including abdominal pain and diarrhea. Some illnesses caused by STEC may lead to kidney failure and can be life-threatening.

“Some E. coli strains do not produce Shiga toxins and thus do not affect human health as much,” said Xuming Liu, research assistant professor. “Because cattle feces and ground beef can contain harmless or less pathogenic E. coli along with STEC, the most commonly used polymerase chain reaction cannot identify pathogenic E. coli strains in a complex sample matrix.”

The new digital polymerase chain reaction test was developed for research and food safety inspections that require shorter turnaround and high throughput, without sacrificing detection accuracy.

“While the current, commonly used testing method is considered to be the gold standard, it is tedious and requires many days to obtain results that adequately differentiate the bacteria,” said Gary Anderson, director of the International Animal Health and Food Safety Institute at the K-State Olathe campus.

The study, “Single cell-based digital PCR detection and association of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli serogroups and major virulence genes,” which describes the test design and results, was published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

New blood tests can detect prions

Tine Hesman Saey of Science News reports a new blood test can detect even tiny amounts of infectious proteins called prions, two new studies show.

prion-test-dec-16Incurable prion diseases, such as mad cow disease (BSE) in cattle and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in people, result from a normal brain protein called PrP twisting into a disease-causing “prion” shape that kills nerve cells in the brain. As many as 30,000 people in the United Kingdom may be carriers of prions that cause vCJD, presumably picked up by eating BSE-tainted beef. Health officials worry infected people could unwittingly pass prions to others through blood transfusions. Four such cases have already been recorded. But until now, there has been no way to screen blood for the infectious proteins.

In the test, described December 21 in Science Translational Medicine, magnetic nanobeads coated with plasminogen — a protein that prions grab onto — trap prions. Washing the beads gets rid of the rest of the substances in the blood. Researchers then add normal PrP to the beads. If any prions are stuck to the beads, the infectious proteins will convert PrP to the prion form, which will also stick to the beads. After many rounds, the researchers could amplify the signal enough to detect vCJD prions in all the people in the studies known to have the disease.

No healthy people or people with other degenerative brain diseases (including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) in either study had evidence of the infectious proteins in their blood. And only one of 83 people with a sporadic form of Creutzfeld-Jakob disease tested positive. Those results indicate that the test is specific to the vCJD prion form, so a different test is needed to detect the sporadic disease. 

In two cases, researchers detected prions in frozen blood samples collected 31 months and 16 months before people developed vCJD symptoms.

Except Salmonella “We’re a small business, so we can keep a little bit of tabs on things’

Ran-Cher Acres is recalling Ran-Cher Acres brand Goat Cheese (all flavours) from the marketplace due to possible Salmonella contamination. Consumers should not consume the recalled products described below.

salm-goat-cheese-nov-16Brand Name//Common Name//Size//Code(s) on Product//UPC//Additional Info

Ran-Cher Acres//Goat Cheese//170 g//Best Before: 20 NOV//None//Affected products: all flavours including plain, chive, dill, herb provence, garden herb, garlic & cayenne, Italian blend, onion blend, herb & garlic, peppercorn

This recall was triggered by the company. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. If other high-risk products are recalled, the CFIA will notify the public through updated Food Recall Warnings.

There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products

The company’s owners told the CBC they aren’t sure how their cheese became contaminated. 

“There’s salmonella in many, many places, it’s very common. So maybe someone didn’t wash their hands well and handled something else,” said Cheryl Hiltz co-owner of Ran-Cher Acres. 

We pasteurise the product so it was probably contaminated after the pasteurisation … we have a farm so there’s the possibility of cross contamination.”  

Hiltz said this is the first time in about 30 years that they have had any problems with their products. 

 “We’re a small business, so we can keep a little bit of tabs on things,” said Hiltz.

Bruno’s not-so Best with botulism risk: Advisory for customers of Canada’s Finest at Sea Ocean Products

Vancouver Coastal Health is warning customers of Finest at Sea Ocean Products not to consume certain ready to eat seafood products.

Four different varieties of fish products sold under the brand name “Bruno’s Best” have been recalled because they could potentially grow Clostridium botulinum. The products were sold at Finest at Sea’s 4675 Arbutus and 1805 Mast Tower, Granville Island locations in Vancouver, B.C., between June 1 and October 7, 2014. Customers are being advised to either throw the products out or return them to either of these stores.

During an inspection, inspectors discovered that these products were not processed using a validated method consistent with food safety standards. The retailer has stopped selling the items and is fully cooperating.

no illnesses associated with the consumption of the recalled products have been reported.

The following Bruno’s Best products, sold in various weights, are affected by this alert:


Cargill ground beef recalled after E. coli O157 positive in Western Canada

Cargill Meat Solutions (Est. 700) is recalling Your Fresh Market brand ground beef products from the marketplace due to possible E. coli O157 contamination.  Consumers should not consume the recalled products described below.

e.coli.O157.cargill.dec.14The following products have been sold at Walmart stores in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Recalled products

Brand Name: Your Fresh Market

Common Name: Extra Lean Ground Beef Sirloin

Size: 475g                        

Code(s) on Product:            Best Before 2014.NO.28

UPC: 6 05388 18363 7

Brand Name: Your Fresh Market

Common Name: Extra Lean Ground Beef         

Size: 475g                            

Code(s) on Product:            Best Before 2014.NO.28

UPC: 6 05388 18369 9

Brand Name: Your Fresh Market

Common Name: Medium Ground Beef 

Size: 475g                            

Code(s) on Product:            Best Before 2014.NO.28

UPC: 6 05388 18365 1

Brand Name: Your Fresh Market

Common Name: Lean Ground Beef       

Size: 475g                            

Code(s) on Product:            Best Before 2014.NO.28 and 2014.NO.29

UPC: 6 05388 18376 7

Brand Name: Your Fresh Market

Common Name: Extra Lean Ground Beef         

Size: 900 g               

Code(s) on Product:            Best Before 2014.NO.28

UPC: 6 05388 18372 9

Brand Name: Your Fresh Market

Common Name: Lean Ground Beef       

Size: 900 g               

Code(s) on Product:            Best Before 2014.NO.28

UPC: 6 05388 18378 1

Brand Name: Your Fresh Market

Common Name: Lean Ground Beef       

Size: 1.6 kg             

Code(s) on Product:            Best Before 2014.NO.28 and 2014.NO.29

UPC: 6 05388 18379 8

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.

Food contaminated with E. coli O157 may not look or smell spoiled but can still make you sick.

This recall was triggered by test results. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. If other high-risk products are recalled, the CFIA will notify the public through updated Food Recall Warnings.

The CFIA is verifying that industry is removing recalled product from the marketplace.

There have been no reported illnesses associated with these products.

Military food safety with mashed potatoes and ‘some stuff with lettuce’

Army Times reports that what began as a line of defense against biological warfare has been unleashed on unsuspecting victims in an Army laboratory — 150 mashed potatoes, to be exact.

Potato Head2The result could speed up the Army’s food-testing process, and even help save lives in the event of an outbreak caused by a foodborne pathogen. Which brings us back to the potatoes: 75 of them were infected with Salmonella for a recent test, and researchers at the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center found all of them using a Mass Spectrometry Proteomics Method.

Tests that try to grow cultures of suspected pathogens to determine their presence take at least three days, said Mary Wade, head of ECBC’s Point Detection Branch — sometimes up to a month. Spectrometry takes four hours, at most. The test itself, after the questionable foodstuff is prepped for examination, takes minutes.

And unlike other methods that focus on a particular suspected toxin, this one can target any invader that’s been “genomically sequenced,” Wade said, including thousands of types of bacteria and viruses, even fungi and parasites.

The project began as a way to gauge environmental samples — air, water, even blood — for exposure to bacteria, Wade said. That was before the Army’s Public Health Command expressed interest.

“We were not, at the time, necessarily doing food work,” Wade said. “Some stuff with lettuce.”

Initial tests on spuds, a favored subject because of its consistency, showed promise four or five years ago, she said. That eventually led to the larger-scale potato testing, and the recent test led to further program expansion, according to a June 9 ECBC release, including sending the MSPM equipment to Camp Zama, Japan.

Statistics for foodborne illnesses are kept at the Defense Department level, a spokeswoman for PHC said: According to DoD figures, more than 2,700 service members came down with salmonellosis from 2002-2012, and more than 12,300 suffered from “other bacterial food poisoning.”

Tracking such illnesses isn’t an exact science — many service members likely wouldn’t report mild symptoms of food poisoning, and those who do report stomach or intestinal problems are grouped in categories that may or may not involve foodborne pathogens. More than 61,000 troops had “ill-defined intestinal infections” from 2002-12, DoD data show, and almost 380,000 reported suffering from diarrhea.

Device speeds concentration step in food-pathogen detection

Researchers have developed a system that concentrates foodborne salmonella and other pathogens faster than conventional methods by using hollow thread-like fibers that filter out the cells, representing a potential new tool for speedier detection.

The machine, called a continuous cell concentration device, could make it possible to routinely analyze food or water samples to screen for devicespeedspathogens within a single work shift at food processing plants.

“This approach begins to address the critical need for the food industry for detecting food pathogens within six hours or less,” said Michael Ladisch, a distinguished professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University. “Ideally, you want to detect foodborne pathogens in one work shift, from start to finish, which means extracting the sample, concentrating the cells and detection.”

Findings are detailed in a research paper to appear in November in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. The paper was authored by doctoral student Xuan Li; LORRE research scientist Eduardo Ximenes; postdoctoral research associate Mary Anne Roshni Amalaradjou; undergraduate student Hunter B. Vibbert; senior research engineer Kirk Foster; engineering resources manager Jim Jones; microbiologist Xingya Liu; Arun K. Bhunia, a professor of food microbiology; and Ladisch.  Findings showed the system was able to concentrate inoculated salmonella by 500 to 1,000 times the original concentration in test samples.

Martine likes horse; so do some Brits; FSA raids meat plant involved in alleged supply of horse meat

Martine’s as hungry as a horse.Martine et les lasagnes

So she opens the fridge.

And now she has a horse in her stomach.

Martine is not only the middle name of daughter Courtlynn, but apparently the title character in a series of books for children written in French by the Belgians Marcel Marlier and Gilbert Delahaye and edited by Casterman. The first one, Martine à la ferme (Martine at the farm), was published in 1954, followed by over 50 other books, which have been translated into many different languages.

Frenchy Amy says we have one of those books for Sorenne.

But friend of the blog Albert Amgar sent us this satirical one, Martine Likes Lasagna, and Amy translated his note, above.

Sometimes when I read about food issues or outbreaks, I begin to crave that food: horse sounds delicious.

I’m not alone.

According to the Globe and Mail, specialty meat suppliers in Britain have seen a surge in sales of horse burgers, with a scandal over the discovery of horsemeat in beef burgers and ready meals apparently piquing the curiosity of some shoppers.

Horsemeat, which has a sweet, gamey flavour, is cheaper and healthier than beef, containing half the fat, more Omega 3, and higher amounts of protein and iron.

Though none of Britain’s supermarkets sell horsemeat, it is available through specialty meat suppliers and is on the menu of a few notable restaurants, such lasagnaas L’escargot Bleu in Edinburgh.

Exotic Meats has seen sales of horsemeat burgers, steaks and mince increase ten-fold since the scandal erupted on Jan. 15.

Exotic Meats’ horsemeat is sourced from either France, Spain or Italy and processed in Britain by an EU-approved plant.

Last week in response to the Findus scandal the firm posted on its website a recipe for horsemeat lasagne.

Berwickshire, Scotland-based Kezie Foods, which sells horsemeat products alongside elk, kangaroo and crocodile, has seen horsemeat sales double over the last three weeks, with strong demand from restaurants as well as individuals.

But consumers should get what they pay for; and food fraud is as reprehensive as eating ___________.

The UK Food Standards Agency and police today entered two meat premises, one in West Yorkshire and the other in West Wales.

The plant in West Yorkshire is Peter Boddy Licensed Slaughterhouse, Todmorden, West Yorkshire, and was believed to supply horse carcasses to Farmbox Meats Ltd, Llandre, Aberystwyth. The Agency and the police are looking into the circumstances through which meat products, purporting to be beef for kebabs and burgers, were sold when they were in fact horse.

The FSA has suspended operations at both these plants. Both West Yorkshire and Dyfed-Powys police have entered the premises with the FSA. The FSA has detained all meat found and seized paperwork, including customer lists from the two companies.

Andrew Rhodes, FSA Director of Operations, said: ‘I ordered an audit of all horse producing abattoirs in the UK after this issue first arose last month and I was shocked to uncover what appears to be a blatant misleading of consumers. I have suspended both plants immediately while our investigations continue.’

But weren’t there inspectors at those plants?

Woolworths, the largest retailer in Australia, got it right when they announced it would use DNA tests to verify what’s in their meat.

“While we have a robust traceability process in place, we will be testing Woolworths-branded ready meals and other meat lines for customers’ peace horse.o.brotherof mind,” spokesman Benedict Brook told News Limited last night.

“We expect them to all come back correct.”

Rival Coles said it had strong quality control – but would contact its suppliers just to “make sure.”

The New South Wales Food Authority noted measures the feds and state uses to keep horse meat out of human food.

  • The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, which controls quarantine, advises Australia does not import any lasagna from Europe or beef patties from the UK or Ireland. 
  • There is a low risk of the EU substitution issue being experienced here, as Australia imports negligible amounts of raw meat. 
  • Horse meat is not processed for human consumption in NSW. 
  • Horse meat is processed for pet food at NSW knackeries. Strict laws are in place that requires knackeries to stain horse meat with a bright blue dye and to prevent it from entering the human food supply chain. 
  • The Authority conducts routine inspections of knackeries to assess compliance with the staining laws. 
  • The Authority conducts random species testing of meats sold at butchers in NSW. 
  • Food labelling laws in Australia require food to be correctly and truthfully labelled. 
  • There are significant penalty provisions under the Food Act 2003 for substitution and deceptive labelling of food. 

Reform falters in Europe after 53 deaths from E. coli O104 in sprouts

In May, 2011, the delayed reporting of cases between agencies due to a decentralized government and its agencies was a contributing factor in the Germany-based E. coli O104 outbreak that led to 53 deaths and over 4,000 sick people. The E. coli strain responsible for the outbreak was unusually virulent, with high mortality and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) rates observed in healthy adults.

A year later, Marian Turner writes in Nature that governments have made little progress towards improving the monitoring and reporting systems that allowed the crisis to drag on for weeks.

Although the panic has sparked some proposed policy changes, these have become mired in political debate at both German and European levels.

Under Germany’s current system, it can take up to 18 days for local and state health departments to relay case reports to the Berlin-based Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German federal agency for disease surveillance. Legislators have proposed a law to bring the country’s disease-reporting schedule into line with the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations. The law would require local health authorities to report cases of notifiable diseases to state authorities on the next working day; the states would then have another day to relay the information to the RKI. “We’ve been waiting almost a decade for this,” says Alexander Kekulé, a microbiologist at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg in Halle, Germany.

The draft law has been passed by Germany’s federal parliament but is stuck in negotiations at the legislative council that represents Germany’s 16 states. For scientists, though, this change would still not be enough. “What really delayed the detection of this outbreak was the irregularity with which patients were referred for microbiological follow-up,” says Gérard Krause, an epidemiologist at the RKI. Like many European countries, Germany does not require that a patient with bloody diarrhoea or haemolytic uraemic syndrome (a life-threatening complication of some E. coli infections) be tested for the causative bacterial strain. The same is true of the United States.

After the outbreak, German diagnostic laboratories were provided with kits to test samples for genes belonging to certain pathogenic strains of bacteria, such as those expressing particular toxins, or proteins involved in adhesion or invasion.

But physicians are responsible for requesting the tests, and the cost is not covered by German health-insurance companies. “The problem is mostly getting the money to use these kits,” says Angelika Fruth, a microbiologist at the RKI, “and that situation is just the same as before the outbreak.”

In the wake of the outbreak, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that sprouted seeds pose a particular food-safety concern, and recommended that a standardized test for sprouts be developed and adopted across the European Union (EU). But EU member countries are still discussing the proposal, and scientists have yet to develop reliable methods to isolate pathogenic bacteria from seeds or sprouts.

Government warns plants not to alter practices during listeria testing

Anyone can clean up for a day. I’m proof.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is warning meat and poultry processing plants to cut it out: how else will the government-types know what goes on – listeria-wise — the rest of the year, or every four years?

"By altering routine practices, establishments may make changes that are not consistent with their documented food-safety system and that impede FSIS’s ability to assess the safety of the product," FSIS said in a notice signed by Daniel Engeljohn, assistant administrator for the Office of Policy and Program Development.

The notice warns processing plants to avoid making changes in their procedures in food manufacturing during testing and says that a Noncompliance Report (NR) could be issued to a plant that changes its practices without good reasons during LM testing. Permission to use the equipment involved in making the product could also be denied, the notice says.

Every four years, FSIS conducts a Food Safety Assessment (FSA) and routine sampling for listeria (RLM) at any plant that produces ready-to-eat meat and poultry products, such a frankfurters or chicken nuggets. Intensified Verification Testing (IVT) is conducted anytime LM is found in the product or on a food contact surface, the notice said.

"A recent analysis of data from FSIS LM verification programs showed that some establishments have altered routine production, sanitation, or food safety practices during RLM or IVT sampling," Engeljohn wrote. "These changes typically are temporary, in that they are applied only during FSIS RLM or IVT sampling, and normal production processes are resumed at the completion of the RLM or IVT sampling," he wrote.

The changes have included increasing the use of sanitizer during testing; "drastically" reducing the length of the production shift, the lot size, or the number of employees handling the product; skipping production of product with a higher level of risk, such as sliced product; and failing to use equipment that had previously been shown to be contaminated.

"Such practices can interfere with FSIS’s assessment of routine conditions or corrective actions at the establishment and may limit FSIS’s ability to determine whether post-lethality exposed RTE meat and poultry products are not adulterated as required by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA)," Engeljohn wrote.

If the plant cannot provide a "supportable rationale" for making changes in its processes during the scheduled testing period, the test should be rescheduled and FSIS enforcement personnel should inform their district offices, the notice said.

Does zero tolerance promote such practices?