Concern with humans; FDA starts testing pet food for salmonella

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has begun a year-long nationwide effort to test pet food for salmonella contamination, but the key concern is not the health of dogs and cats — it’s of their owners.

FDA investigators began in October taking samples of dry pet food, pet treats and diet supplements from distributors, wholesalers and retailers like PetSmart, PetCo, WalMart, Costco, Sam’s Club and Target.

People turning to dog food for nourishment is "an urban legend," said Duane Ekedahl, president of the Pet Food Institute, but the FDA said in a memorandum released this week that it is "particularly concerned about salmonella being transmitted to humans through pet foods, pet treats and supplements for pets that are intended to be fed to animals in homes, where they are likely to be directly handled or ingested by humans."

The agency pointed to CDC data that show 70 people got sick from January 2006 through December 2007 in connection with salmonella-tainted dry dog food produced in Pennsylvania.

About $8 billion worth of dry dog food, $2 billion worth of dog treats, $3.7 billion worth of dry cat food and $427 million worth of cat treats were sold in the U.S. last year, according to Euromonitor International, a market research company.

From the achieves: Doug Powell and Randy Phebus talk about salmonella in pet food in 2008.

E. coli testing to be done at Wisconsin school

As many as 140 students will need to be tested for E. coli after a recent case matched a previous cluster of infections that occurred in August and early September, according to the Green County Health Department.

Three students at Abe Lincoln Elementary School, in the Monroe School District, have the E. coli infection.

In response, the Green County Health Department and the Wisconsin Division of Public Health have recommended stool testing for all pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students who attend Abe Lincoln Elementary School. Stool collection kits have been prepared for distribution.

My milkshake is better than yours; will government make spinach and lettuce safer?

The folks that produce fresh spinach and lettuce are channeling their inner Milkshake, dialing back to late 2003 when weblogs or blogs began to emerge in force, and launched their own blog – last week.

The awkwardly named Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement – LGMA for funksters – is starting a “new dialogue on leafy greens food safety” with at least two blog posts a month.

Lowered expectations is good, especially when LGMA is eight years late to the blogshpere and about 10 years late to the food-safety-in-produce thing. The worst is to start a web page or a blog and then not follow through. Listeria-stricken Maple Leaf Foods hasn’t posted anything new on its Journey-inspired Our Journey to Food Safety Leadership, since Nov. 2010. Maybe they are on other journeys, looking for that small town girl.

LGMA chairman Jamie Strachan wrote in the inaugural blog on April 14, 2011, that it’s been four years since this “first-of-its-kind program began. It hasn’t been easy, but the very fact that the LGMA exists today is proof that the challenges of implementing a comprehensive food safety system for an entire commodity can be overcome.”

LGMA didn’t invent it. Lots of groups have marketing orders. We did the whole food safety thing with the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Marketing Board – as it was called back then – in 2000.

Chairman Strachan also writes, “I’m often asked, ‘How do you know the LGMA is working?’

“The answer to that question is simple — the LGMA is working to establish a culture of food safety on leafy greens farms. Most farmers will tell you that leafy greens were safe before the LGMA came along, but what is changed today is the high level of attention food safety on the farm now receives. Everyone involved in operations, from the farmer to the harvesters, know and understand that food safety considerations are ALWAYS top of mind.”

That’s not verification. And people who write in all caps are YELLING to get attention, maybe because their writing sucks.

They’ve got the rhetoric; where’s the reality?

There have been many reinterpretations of history regarding fresh produce and microbial food safety. We have argued the tipping point was 1996, involving both the Odwalla E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in unpasteurized juice, coupled with the cyclospora outbreak which was initially and erroneously linked to California strawberries (it was Guatemalan raspberries). This led to the first attempts at comprehensive on-farm food safety programs for fresh produce because, these bugs ain’t going to be washed off; they have to be prevented, as much as possible, from getting on or in fresh produce on the farm.

For the growers of leafy greens, things apparently didn’t tip until the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in bagged spinach from California that sickened 200 and killed four, despite 29 previous outbreaks and years of warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

A table of leafy green foodborne illness outbreaks is available at:

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided proposed to take LGMA national.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is requesting comment on the creation of a voluntary National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement (NLGMA) that would assist all segments of the leafy green industry in meeting commercial food quality and safety requirements.”

Full justification for the proposed rule is available at

When we were hanging out with greenhouse tomato growers, the joke we got familiar with was:

“What’s the worst thing you can say to a farmer?”

“Hi, I’m from the government, I’m here to help.”

If the government needs to be involved, things have really gone bad.

Should a federal food safety program be based on LGMA, a group that was dragged to the food safety party and is always behind?


Stop waiting for government. And stop channeling Kelis. Make test results public, market food safety at retail so consumers can choose, and if people get sick from your product, be the first to tell the public.

Food trial goes wrong at hospital; 10 sick

An investigation is under way at a U.K. hospital after 10 staff who took part in a food trial were struck down with illness.

Eight of the catering team at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness received treatment in the accident and emergency department.

The workers were testing a new food product aimed at patients with swallowing difficulties, such as stroke victims and dementia sufferers.

Symptoms ranged from temporary loss of vision to facial inflammation. None of the staff was detained in hospital and all are now back at work. No patients were affected and the kitchens were not shut down. It is believed that the illness was not food-related, a spokeswoman for NHS Highland said. The food packaging is the suspected source of the illnesses.

A source, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "Some had lost their vision because their eyes were so swollen, they couldn’t open them. It must have been frightening."

"I am surprised the kitchen was not closed down for a while to find out what was going on," the source added.

Raigmore has 577 beds and employs around 3,200 staff. The catering department has 60 staff who provide 2,500 meals a day to patients, staff and visitors.

US proposes mandatory test-and-hold for meat

The Obama administration will, according to the Wall Street Journal, unveil a proposal Tuesday to force companies to delay sending beef, pork and poultry to grocery stores while government inspectors complete tests.

The USDA, in a statement slated to be released Tuesday, said it "inspects billions of pounds of meat, poultry and processed egg products annually" and it believes that "44 of the most serious recalls between 2007 and 2009 could have been prevented" if the proposed "test and hold" rule it is unveiling Tuesday had been in place.

"We believe this will result in fewer products with dangerous pathogens reaching store shelves and dinner tables," said Elisabeth Hagen, USDA undersecretary for food safety.

Many large meat packers including Cargill Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. already hold back product while Agriculture Department inspectors perform tests for dangerous bacteria.

"While we don’t typically favor more government regulation, we believe it makes sense in this case to mandate ‘test and hold’ for the whole industry," said Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson Foods.

The tests usually take between 24 to 48 hours to conduct, but many companies won’t wait, sometimes resulting in recalls and serious illnesses.

"For Cargill, test and hold is a verification of our food safety interventions and processes," said Angie Siemens, vice president of technical services for Cargill Meat Solutions in Wichita, Kan.

The American Meat Institute, which represents most of the packing and processing industry in the U.S., said it strongly supports it.

High bacteria levels in bean sprouts

CBC News asked hockey goon and University of British Columbia microbiology type Kevin Allen to test 44 packages of sprouts for bacteria from across the country and he found lots.

There was no salmonella but Allen found 93 per cent tested positive for bacteria, and in some cases, high levels of enterococci bacteria, which is an indicator of fecal contamination.

"They [bacteria found] come from our intestinal tract and we don’t want the contents of our intestinal tract on our food," he said.

Sprouts are particularly susceptible to contaminants because they are grown in moist, warm environments, which are ideal for the rapid growth of bacteria, Allen said, adding that washing them before consuming them likely wouldn’t help.

"Personally, I don’t consume sprouts and I would not feed them to my children, either," Allen said.

Allen also tested 106 samples of bagged veggies and found 79 per cent of the herbs and 50 per cent of the spinach had similar bacterial contamination.

Allens report can be found at We all look forward to the results being published in a peer-reviewed journal before being further bandied about.

A table of North American raw sprout-related outbreaks is available at

Walmart’s Yiannas: ‘test the process, not the product’

Frank Yiannas, corporate vice president, food safety for Walmart says the focus of food borne illness prevention has to move earlier in the supply chain — long before processors are testing for it and product is getting into consumers’ hands. reports that Yiannas, told processors at the North American Meat Processors Association’s annual management conference in Chicago on Saturday retailers are willing to work with suppliers on reasonable cost increases related to improved meat product safety.

Yiannas, author of the aptly-titled 2009 book, Food Safety Culture, said the HACCP system is no longer applied in the way it was originally conceived and testing is ineffective, adding, “E. coli is present in such low levels, it can still cause illness but it’s hard to find. Even at N-120, a processor is going to be pretty sure [the tests will be] negative.”

And the industry can’t afford to put safety solely in the hands of the product’s final cook, he warned.

The best way forward is to “test the process, not the product,” he said. That is, if processors (and producers) work with a verifiably high level of safety, then the chances that the product is safe further down the line is exponentially higher.

Overseeing these efforts should be third-party certification programs, such as the Safe Quality Food program overseen by the Food Manufacturers Institute, Yiannas said. Their standards typically are more comprehensive and exacting than those issued by the government, and the third-party assurances carry weight in the market.

In answer to a question about the additional costs these programs and perhaps interventions require, Yiannas said, “Retailers are willing to share (in reasonable additional costs). There are always tradeoffs, but I have hundreds of example in which that made sense.”

B.C. meat plant covers up positive E. coli test; we’re sorry but it was a disgruntled ex

Who hasn’t used that line.

And why wasn’t Kevin Allen interviewed for this story?

CBC News reports that one of British Columbia’s largest meat processing plants (that’s in Canada) covered up lab results that showed a sample of its product was contaminated with E. coli O157.

The coverup came to light when Daniel Land, who oversaw the plant’s quality assurance, contacted CBC News, saying officials at Pitt Meadows Meats Ltd. told him to keep quiet about the positive test result obtained on Sept. 9.

Daniel Land says the Pitt Meadows plant manager ignored a positive test for E. coli.

"[The plant manager] said this does not leave the room … and I don’t want nobody talking about this," said Land. "He crumpled [the test finding] up and threw it into my garbage can."

Plant officials, however, say they didn’t report the test results because they suspected the whistleblower was trying to sabotage the plant and questioned his general sampling procedures. Officials also say later tests were negative for E. coli, suggesting the public was never in danger.

"Under normal circumstances, the CFIA would have been informed immediately," the plant said in a written statement. "But due to the suspect sample handling, the decision was made to handle this issue in house. If the second test result would have been positive, the CFIA would have been notified immediately."

Regulations require federally licenced plants to report positive findings of E. coli O157 strain to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

CFIA inspection manager Joseph Beres called the plant’s coverup a serious breach of regulations, but said no evidence of E. coli was found on subsequent tests of the plant’s products.

Sydney inspectors to swab kitchens in foodservice crackdown

Sydney restaurants and cafes will be subjected to random swabs of their kitchens and cooking equipment to test for the presence of bacteria under a new program to begin next year.

As part of new enhanced program to be conducted by the City of Sydney council, health inspectors will take samples for testing from food preparation areas including from chopping boards, bench tops and dish clothes as part of their routine inspections.

The swabs will be tested for Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria — two forms of bacteria which can contribute to food poisoning and illness.

City of Sydney chief executive officer Monica Barone told Hospitality magazine the sampling program reflects the high expectations of the million city workers, visitors and residents who rely on cafes, restaurants and sandwich shops every day, adding,

“As a global city and Australia’s leading culinary destination, people expect a high standard of cleanliness and hygiene at the restaurants and cafes where we all eat. … These sampling measures go above and beyond mandatory legislative requirements and provide customers with added reassurance that the kitchen surfaces used for the preparation of food are being monitored.”

The enhanced measures are part of the City of Sydney’s thorough inspection program of the 3,000 Central Sydney and inner city restaurants, cafes and food premises. Barone said not all premises will be tested, but random samples may be taken at anytime.

Premises found to have elevated levels will be re-inspected and staff given advice and training on hygiene practices. Premises found to continually return elevated readings may be issued with warning notices and fines – which are published on the NSW Food Authority’s website.

FDA tests confirm listeria at Texas food plant linked to 4 deaths

When state regulators closed SanGar Fresh Cut Produce of San Antonio after linking the plant with four, maybe five deaths due to listeria, on Oct. 20, 2010, Sangar President Kenneth Sanquist Jr. said in a statement,

“The state’s claim that some of our produce now fails to meet health standards directly contradicts independent testing that was conducted on the same products. This independent testing shows our produce to be absolutely safe, and we are aggressively fighting the state’s erroneous findings.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced this morning they found the same listeria at the facility, matching testing done by the Texas Department of State Health Services at SanGar.

The tests found listeria bacteria in multiple locations in the plant.

Messages left for an attorney for SanGar by The Associated Press were not immediately returned.