Ya don’t know unless ya test

Ya can’t test your way to a safe food supply, but ya can test to verify your food safety plans are working.

Testing to Additional Raw Beef Products

AGENCY: Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA.

ACTION: Notice and request for comments.

SUMMARY: The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is announcing plans to expand its routine verification testing for six Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (non-O157 STEC; O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, or O145) that are adulterants, in addition to the adulterant Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7, to ground beef, bench trim, and raw ground beef components other than raw beef manufacturing trimmings (i.e., head meat, cheek meat, weasand (esophagus) meat, product from advanced meat recovery (AMR) systems, partially defatted chopped beef and partially defatted beef fatty tissue, low temperature rendered lean finely textured beef, and heart meat)(hereafter “other raw ground beef components”) for samples collected at official establishments. STEC includes non-O157 STEC; O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, or O145, that are adulterants, and E. coli O157:H7. Currently, FSIS tests only its beef manufacturing trimmings samples for these six non-O157 STEC and E. coli O157:H7; all This document is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on 06/04/2020 and available online at federalregister.gov/d/2020-12073, and on govinfo.gov 2 other aforementioned raw beef products are presently tested for E. coli O157:H7 only.

FSIS also intends to test for these non-O157 STEC in ground beef samples that it collects at retail stores and in applicable samples it collects of imported raw beef products. FSIS is requesting comments on the proposed sampling and testing of ground beef, bench trim, and other raw ground beef components. FSIS will announce the date it will implement the new testing in a subsequent Federal Register notice. Additionally, FSIS is responding to comments on the November 19, 2014, Federal Register notice titled “Shiga Toxin Producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in Certain Raw Beef Products.” FSIS is also making available its updated analysis of the estimated costs and benefits associated with the implementation of its non-O157 STEC testing on raw beef manufacturing trimmings and the costs and benefits associated with the expansion of its non-O157 STEC testing to ground beef, bench trim, and other raw ground beef components.

Food fraud: Connecticut meat supplier pleads guilty to fabricating E. coli test results

In the late 1990s, as on-farm food safety programs started to gain traction at the producer end – and a requirement by retailers – I had a couple of memorable conversations.

Genetically engineered Bt-corn was introduced in 1996 and growers loved it. But powerful technology requires powerful management so at least 20 per cent of a corn field had to be non-Bt-corn — a refuge — to stall the development of resistance. A grower told me he didn’t pay attention to that, his neighbor was his refuge.

At an informal meeting of chicken producers, one told me the paperwork wasn’t onerous, he sat down by the fire on Friday nights and filled out a week’s worth.

I told him it was supposed to be in real time.

But neither of these examples are as a Stafford Springs meat supplier who pled guilty to fabricating E. coli test results in federal court.

Officials told Doug Stewart of Fox 61 Memet Beqiri, also known as Matt Beqiri, 32, of Tolland, waived his right to be indicted and pleaded guilty Tuesday in Hartford federal court to a charge related to his meat processing business’s falsification of numerous E. coli test results.

Beqiri pleaded guilty to one count of making and using a false document and aiding and abetting, a charge that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years.  He is scheduled to be sentenced on November 12, 2019.  Beqiri was released on a $25,000 bond.

Ryan J. Woolf, the attorney for Matt Beqiri, said his client was made aware of the issue and worked to rectify the situation. He also said this will “never happen again,” and that “no injuries, illness resulted from this issue.”

Beqiri is the owner and general manager of New England Meat Packing, LLC, in Stafford Springs.

Officials said the company is required to perform one generic E. coli carcass swab for every 300 animals slaughtered and to periodically collect ground beef samples for E. coli testing.

Officials said, “Between November 3, 2016 and September 9, 2017, Beqiri authorized the preparation and submission in the company’s Lab Sample Report binder, which the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) reviews, a total of 36 documents relating to 52 separate carcass swabs and ground beef samples on behalf of New England Meat Packing.  The 36 documents were each on the letterhead of a certified laboratory that tests food product samples to ensure safety and wholesomeness and signed by the laboratory director.  The documents stated that the required E. coli testing of samples submitted by New England Meat Packing had been conducted and completed, and that all 52 samples tested negative for E. coli.  In fact, none of the 52 carcass swabs and samples had been submitted or tested by the identified laboratory, or any other laboratory, and the 36 documents were fraudulently prepared using laboratory letterhead obtained from previous testing that New England Meat Packing had conducted with that laboratory.”

Officials said  Beqiri admitted to an investigator with USDA’s FSIS that the documents were fraudulent, and that his business did not collect and submit the samples to the certified laboratory because he did not correlate the potential impact on food safety with his sampling program and wanted to create the appearance he was compliant with all USDA HACCP testing requirements.

There have been no known instances of illnesses reported by anyone who consumed the meat in any of the states where the meat was distributed, according to officials.

Fonterra fined $183m over contamination scandal

New Zealand’s Fonterra has been ordered to pay 105 million euros (NZ$183 million) in damages to French food giant Danone as a result of the Fonterra food safety failures of 2013.

Danone had sued Fonterra as a result of the whey protein concentrate contamination scandal in 2013, when Fonterra quarantined several batches over fears it was contaminated with clostridium bacteria. It later turned out to be a false alarm.

Danone launched a legal suit in New Zealand and arbitration proceedings in Singapore, seeking restoration for the costs of recalling the whey protein concentrate.

At the time, Fonterra said it expected any court action would show the Kiwi firm didn’t have any liability in the contract, and it recognised a contingent liability of just $14m over the recall.

In 2014, New Zealand’s Court of Appeal upheld an earlier decision that the Singapore arbitration proceedings should be the first avenue, as provided for in the contract, but refused to permanently stay the legal suit.

The result of the Singapore proceedings was released on Friday, and Danone says it “welcomes” the decision.

Faster, better way to detect salmonella in meat, chicken

In a newly published study, researchers artificially contaminated food with salmonella. They then tested the food samples using Salmonella-specific antibodies combined with a unique signal amplification technique. Their test found salmonella present after 15 hours and removed other microorganisms that sometimes clutter laboratory results. This is shorter than the two to three days it takes to detect salmonella in a culture, the study shows.

salmonella“The test has great potential as a simple monitoring system for foodborne pathogens in food samples, which can improve food safety and public health,” said Soohyoun Ahn, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of food science and human nutrition and lead author of the study. “Even with all the strategies used to minimize contamination of beef and poultry, they are still one of the major food vehicles for salmonella.”

The test would be suitable for any government research laboratory or industry that routinely tests for Salmonella, Ahn said.

Ahn sees the salmonella test showing similar potential for faster detection of other pathogens you can get from eating certain contaminated foods. A similar test has been developed for E. coli in milk and ground beef, and it performed well, she said.

The study is published in the Journal of Food Safety.


Testing beef trim: Yes, people try to do their best

The objective of this study was to determine the immediate source of Escherichia coli on beef trimmings produced at a large packing plant by analyzing the E. coli on trimmings at various locations of a combo bin filled on the same day and of bins filled on different days.

Beef-Trimmings-85-15Ten 2,000-lb (907-kg) combo bins (B1 through B10) of trimmings were obtained from a large plant on 6 days over a period of 5 weeks. Thin slices of beef with a total area of approximately 100 cm2 were excised from five locations (four corners and the center) at each of four levels of the bins: the top surface and 30, 60, and 90 cm below the top. The samples were enriched for E. coli in modified tryptone soya broth supplemented with 20 mg/liter novobiocin. The positive enrichment cultures, as determined by PCR, were plated on E. coli/coliform count plates for recovery of E. coli. Selected E. coli isolates were genotyped using multiple-locus variable-number tandem repeat analysis (MLVA).

Of the 200 enrichment cultures, 43 were positive by PCR for E. coli, and 32 of these cultures yielded E. coli isolates. Two bins did not yield any positive enrichment cultures, and three PCR-positive bins did not yield any E. coli isolates. MLVA of 165 E. coli isolates (30, 62, 56, 5, and 12 from B6 through B10, respectively) revealed nine distinct genotypes. MLVA types 263 and 89 were most prevalent overall and on individual days, accounting for 49.1 and 37.6% of the total isolates, respectively. These two genotypes were also found at multiple locations within a bin. All nine genotypes belonged to the phylogenetic group A0 of E. coli, suggesting an animal origin.

The finding that the trimmings carried very few E. coli indicates an overall effective control over contamination of beef with E. coli at this processing plant. The lack of strain diversity of the E. coli on trimmings suggests that most E. coli isolates may have come from common sources, most likely equipment used in the fabrication process.

Spatial and temporal distribution of Escherichia coli on beef trimmings obtained from a beef packing plant


Visvalingam, Jeyachchandran1; Wang, Hui1; Youssef, Mohamed K.2; Devos, Julia1; Gill, Colin O.1; Yang, Xianqin3

1: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Lacombe Research Centre, 6000 C & E Trail, Lacombe, Alberta, Canada T4L 1W1 2: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Lacombe Research Centre, 6000 C & E Trail, Lacombe, Alberta, Canada T4L 1W1, Department of Food Hygiene and Control, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Cairo University, Giza 11221, Egypt 3: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Lacombe Research Centre, 6000 C & E Trail, Lacombe, Alberta, Canada T4L 1W1;, Email: xianqin.yang@agr.gc.ca

Journal of Food Protection, August 2016, Number 8, Pages 1325-1331, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-15-598


Listeria: Is zero tolerance consistent with risk-reduction

Tom Karst of The Packer writes it doesn’t seem quite right that many fresh produce processors aren’t testing for listeria on food contact surfaces in their facilities. Aren’t belts and other parts of a processing plant that touch product an important place to look for pathogens that might be present on food? 

listeria4Yet, that is the way it is, based on industry’s evaluation of Food and Drug Administration Guidance. Because any finding of listeria on food contact surfaces could result in an immediate recall situation, many in the industry believe the FDA’s zero-tolerance policy inhibits companies from testing food contact surfaces. 

The FDA is considering changing some of their guidance on listeria testing. Industry experts a new version of the guidance by late this year or early next year.  Perhaps the FDA will give more flexibility for companies to test for the listeria species – indicating the presence of the family of bacteria, but not necessarily the dangerous Listeria monocytogenes strain. Perhaps the FDA will establish a tolerance level for Listeria monocytogenes, though that doesn’t seem likely.

Karst got some standard answers from government spokesthingies, but got a more proactive answer from Martin Bucknavage, a Pennsylvania State University Department of Food Science food safety extension specialist, who said fresh produce and other food companies have to do a better job of understanding the presence of listeria within their operations and take stronger corrective actions. Most of the testing now being done for listeria is pre-operational and on nonfood contact areas, which he said has limited use.

“They have got to get more proactive and get rid of it,” he said. “I think it is time to batten down the hatches, get aggressive on sampling and put this thing to bed.”

Measuring the old emperor’s clothes: Meta-audit of laboratory ISO accreditation inspections

Accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025 is required for EC official food control and veterinary laboratories by Regulation (EC) No. 882/2004.

emperor’s clothesMeasurements in hospital laboratories and clinics are increasingly accredited to ISO/IEC 15189. Both  of these management standards arose from command and control military standards for factory inspection during World War II. They rely on auditing of compliance and have not been validated internally as assessment bodies require of those they accredit. Neither have they been validated to criteria outside their own ideology such as the Cochrane principles of evidence-based medicine which might establish whether any benefit exceeds their cost.

We undertook a retrospective meta-audit over 14 years of internal and external laboratory audits  that checked compliance with ISO 17025 in a public health laboratory. Most  noncompliances arose solely from clauses in the standard and would not affect users. No effect was likely from 91% of these. Fewer than 1% of noncompliances were likely to have consequences for the validity of results or quality of service. The ISO system of compliance auditing has the performance characteristics of a poor screening test. It adds substantially to costs and generates more noise (false positives) than informative signal.

Ethical use of resources indicates that management standards should not be used unless proven to deliver the efficacy, effectiveness, and value required of modern healthcare interventions.

 Microbiology Open

Ian G. Wilson, Michael Smye, Ian J. C. Wallace


3 dead, 7 sick: Blue Bell OKed to start ice cream production at Alabama plant

Blue Bell, the iconic Texas ice cream gone from store shelves since April, has no sales restrictions in Alabama now that tests after a major plant cleanup there show no signs of listeria.

blue.bell.jul.15Blue Bell Creameries, which began test runs at its Alabama plant last month, said: “We are producing ice cream. The ice cream we are producing is being added to our inventory. At this time, we do not have a date when our products will return to market.”

It was not immediately clear how much product the small Alabama plant can supply or where it will be distributed.

The company has not said when plants in Texas and Oklahoma will resume production.

More fairytales: Kim Jong Un is paranoid about food safety

The Dalai Lama isn’t the only one relying on antiquated methods of food safety.

kim-jong-il-team-americaEvery leaf of lettuce headed for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s dining table must pass meticulous inspection, and new food tests require the use of microscopes – signs Kim is paranoid about what he eats, according to a source.

North Korea’s June 17 Farm in the Yongsong district of Pyongyang exclusively produces fruits and vegetables for Kim and North Korea’s privileged class, South Korean news outlet Daily NK reported.

The farm was a gift from the late Kim Jong Il to his father Kim Il Sung in the 1980s. The greenhouses surrounded by mountains are known to grow North Korea’s finest fruits and vegetables.

Quality control, however, has never been as rigorous as it has become after Kim Jong Un fully assumed power in 2012.

North Korea’s “highest authorities” now scrutinize fruits and vegetables cultivated in the greenhouses, the source told Daily NK.

“Produce headed for Kim Jong Un’s table undergo a thorough cleaning. It then undergoes general, then specific inspections at a factory,” the source said.

Kim Jong Un'sFood safety is a particular concern for Kim Jong Un and the farm only employs young, single North Koreans in their twenties of good class standing. Nearly all workers are graduates of elite universities in Pyongyang, and they are responsible for carefully inspecting the produce for “germs, toxins and health hazards,” according to the source.

Kim’s field guidance visits, however, have not always run so smoothly.

The manager of a terrapin farm was reportedly executed, after Kim expressed his displeasure with its condition.


‘No food is safe’ Blue Bell, industry, flout Listeria guidelines

I treat all food as a risk, because I know how it’s produced, I’m familiar with the outbreaks, and I don’t get invited to dinner much.

But I eat (probably too much).

blue.bell.creameriesBlue Bell Creameries, according to the Houston Chronicle, ignored critical parts of federal recommendations aimed at preventing exactly the kind of foodborne illness that thrust the Texas institution into crisis this year.

Among the most straightforward: If listeria shows up in the plant, check for it in the ice cream.

The draft guidelines for fighting the bacteria inside cold food plants were published seven years ago. They were optional and have yet to be finalized but nonetheless provide a road map for hunting and destroying the bug.

Ice cream companies large and small have flouted the guidelines.

Blue Bell “is no better or no worse than probably 90 percent of the rest of the companies,” said Mansour Samadpour, whose IEH Laboratories runs testing programs and crisis consulting for food producers.

Three ice cream makers got into trouble with listeria within the last year: Snoqualmie Ice Cream in Washington state, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Ohio and the much larger Blue Bell. It’s among the top purveyors of frozen treats in the United States. Of the other big companies, Unilever, which makes Breyers and Ben & Jerry’s, declined to say whether it follows the 2008 guidance. Nestlé S.A., which produces Häagen-Dazs and Dreyers, also wouldn’t say. Wells Enterprises Inc., maker of Blue Bunny, didn’t return messages.

The 2008 document, called “Guidance for Industry: Control of Listeria monocytogenes in Refrigerated or Frozen Ready-To-Eat Foods,” laid out a plan to attack one of the most ubiquitous and pernicious microbes in the environment. It lives in soil and animal feed. Refrigeration provides little deterrent to growth. It survives freezing. Once it enters a plant, it’s so hard to remove that, in extreme cases, entire facilities have been demolished to eliminate it.

When companies use the guidelines, they find that they work.

listeria4After the Nebraska Department of Agriculture found listeria in a random sample of Jeni’s, the CEO instituted a monitoring program as stringent as what the FDA prescribed in 2008. After destroying product worth $2 million and spending hundreds of thousands on thorough cleanings and plant upgrades, the company again found listeria in its product June 12 – illustrating the pathogen’s resiliency. But this time, Jeni’s caught it before it left the plant.

Blue Bell now is trying to follow suit, committed to becoming “first-in-class with respect to all aspects of the manufacture of safe, delicious ice cream products,” spokesman Joe Robertson said in an email. It now has a team of microbiologists and, like Jeni’s, will test and hold its ice cream until proven safe, once production resumes. He said the company “always tried to do the right thing to produce high-quality, safe products,” but pending lawsuits in the listeria outbreak prevented him from discussing whether Blue Bell previously followed any aspects of the 2008 guidance.

The FDA recommended that even the smallest companies regularly test food contact surfaces and the food itself for listeria. That may seem like an obvious strategy, but industry and consumer advocates have long fought over it.

FDA records show that Blue Bell had written plans to test its plant environments for pathogens. But they didn’t include sampling the surfaces that come into contact with food or the food itself, or finding the root cause of the contamination. From 2013 to early 2015, Blue Bell found listeria on drains, floors, pallets, hoses, catwalks and surfaces near the equipment that fills containers. But it never looked for listeria in the ice cream.

Mandatory microbial testing on plant surfaces and in food has long been viewed by industry groups as a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t work and costs too much, especially for small producers. Some have deemed it unnecessary when there are controls – like pasteurization – that kill pathogens. But consumer advocates say those arguments veil a deeper objection: Companies know that if they test for bugs, they will find them, and if they find them, the law says they must act.

If Blue Bell had followed the 2008 guidance, the first listeria positive would have set off an intense hunt for the source and likely triggered recalls or stopped shipment of potentially tainted products.

The list of foods at “high risk” for pathogens continues to grow, a fact that exasperates Samadpour. Peanuts and peanut butter, for example, weren’t on the radar until a series of outbreaks that caused hundreds of illnesses beginning in 2007.

“The way the food industry operates, they have an assumption that any food is safe until proven otherwise,” he said, noting that outbreaks of foodborne illness get detected by chance – Blue Bell’s was discovered only because South Carolina officials randomly tested ice cream early this year. “At what point are we going to say … no food is safe?”

The ultimate stopgap – testing food before it gets shipped – isn’t foolproof. The only way to detect everything is to test everything, which is impossible because the tests destroy the product. But Samadpour points to advances in the ground beef industry, which caused E.coli O157 infections to drop by half since 1997. After regulators declared the bacteria an unlawful “adulterant,” the industry ramped up testing.

Other food manufacturers balk at the cost, but there is a price either way. The FDA estimated the Food Safety Modernization Act will cost the food industry $471 million a year, while foodborne illness costs the nation $2 billion.

“One thing about food safety is it doesn’t regard the size of your company,” said Samadpour, who was hired by Snoqualmie. “You can be a tiny company and kill 50 people.”