Tracing back to the farm: E. coli O157 from 2007 still going

Jim Romahn writes that beef producers should watch an unfolding court battle dating back to a 2007 E. coli O157 outbreak in the U.S. because it’s becoming clear that they could be in for huge legal costs if suppliers can prove their cattle came to market carrying food-poisoning bacteria.

forensic DNAThis could be particularly true if the producers failed to use a vaccine that is available to reduce the shedding of harmful bacteria. A recent survey found that only two per cent of producers use the vaccine.

Romahn explains that Cargill Meat Solutions successfully sued Greater Omaha Packing Ltd. for $9 million over E. coli contamination of its ground beef, but now Greater Omaha is petitioning an appeal court to hear the case again.

Henry Davis, president and owner of Greater Omaha Packing Ltd., says his company tested every shipment of beef trimmings to Cargill and did not find any E. coli O157:H7.

Omaha was also not Cargill’s only supplier.

But when Cargill filed suit in 2011, it said it was able to identify Greater Omaha Packing Ltd. as the source of the E. coli contamination that led to a huge product recall. It sought about $25 million.

“Greater Omaha’s position is simply that you cannot mix its raw materials that tested negative for E. coli O157:H7 with other suppliers’ raw materials that have never been tested for E. coli O157:H7 or used a different testing protocol and then blame Greater Omaha when the end product is contaminated with E. coli O157:H7,” said Davis.

The case revolves around hamburger produced at Cargill over two days in August 2007. 

Greater Omaha argues while both days’ production had the same E. coli O157:H7 link, Cargill used Greater Omaha’s raw materials in only one of those days’ production while two other raw material suppliers were used both days. 

One of those suppliers was located overseas and never tested for E. coli O157:H7, according to Davis. 

Barriers to trace-back in a salad-associated EHEC outbreak, Sweden, June 2013

In June-July 2013, six counties notified the Swedish Institute for Communicable Disease Control of enterohaemorrhagic E.coli (EHEC) infections among attendees at a hotel in Dalarna, Sweden. An outbreak control team investigated to identify the source and implement control measures.

lettuce.skull.e.coli.O145We included individuals who attended the hotel between June 19th-25th in a cohort. We asked them about animal contact, swimming, and consumption of food items during this time using a questionnaire. A confirmed case was an EHEC O157:H7 outbreak strain positive individual who developed abdominal pain or diarrhoea between June 20th-July 2nd. We described the outbreak in time, place and person, calculated risk ratios (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI). We investigated the kitchen, tested and traced back implicated food items.

172 individuals responded. We identified 19 confirmed cases (Median age: 17 years, 64% female) with symptom onset between June 22nd-27th. Eating green salad on June 20th was associated with illness (RR:3.7;CI:1.3–11). The kitchen mixed green salads without records and destroyed leftovers immediately. Hence we could not conduct trace-back or obtain microbiological confirmation.

Green salad contaminated before entering the kitchen was the likely outbreak source. We recommended early collaboration with food agencies and better restaurant records to facilitate future investigations.

PLOS Currents Outbreaks

Michael Edelstein, Camilla Sundborger, Maria-Pia Hergens, Sofie Ivarsson, Rikard Dryselius, Mona Insulander, Cecilia Jernberg, Yvan Hutin, Anders Wallensten

German E. coli farm reopens, but is risk contained

The farm at the epicenter of the German sprout storm that has killed 53 and sickened over 4,000 from E. coli O104 is sparkling clean to reopen after testing and removal of all fenugreek seeds.

But as science-types have pointed out, the farm may function with the clarity and cleanliness of Marie Antoinette’s but that won’t prevent future outbreaks if the seeds themselves are contaminated.

As reported by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), despite the epidemic curve’s trending down, the outbreak can’t be considered over. The ultimate source — the contaminated seeds from which salad sprouts were grown — has been so widely distributed that no one really knows where they have gone or for how long they might remain for sale. One prediction, based on the probable package labeling, is that they could remain on shelves for 3 more years.

Wired magazine reported the first wave of cases, in Germany in May, arose from a firm that grew and sold sprouts at wholesale. The sprouts from that farm would subsequently be linked to 41 separate clusters of cases; all of them could be traced back to that facility’s sprouts, re-sold as a produce item somewhere in Europe.

A second wave, in France in June, initially confounded investigators. Out of those 16 cases, 11 had attended the same event. They did eat sprouts there — but not sprouts from the German farm. Instead, the sprouts had been grown by the event’s catering firm, from seeds the company had bought at an everyday garden center.

That shifted the focus from the German farm’s practices to the seeds that both the farm and the caterer used. The German farm sold two blends of grown sprouts, spicy (grown from fenugreek and radish seeds and black and brown lentils) and mild (fenugreek and alfalfa seeds, adzuki beans and lentils). The French caterer had used three seed types: fenugreek, mustard and rocket (or roquette; what Americans call arugula). The only type in common with both companies and all the mixtures was fenugreek.

That discovery sent EU investigators in pursuit of fenugreek seeds back down the European food chain, in a rapid-fire search that deployed personnel from eight countries’ food agencies as well as the ECDC, World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. They drafted a detailed 4-page questionnaire that fed data into Excel spreadsheets and a relational database. They crunched (and crunched and crunched) the numbers, and this is what emerged:

All of the seeds came from a single shipment that left a port in Egypt almost 2 years earlier, on Nov. 24, 2009.

The seeds took a tortuous path. That initial shipment — which was immense, 15,000 kg (33,000 lbs) — was containerized at the port of Damietta in Egypt, shipped by boat to Antwerp in Belgium, went by barge to Rotterdam in the Netherlands where it passed customs, and then was trucked to Germany. There, an importer broke up the shipment:
10,500 kg to a single German distributor;
3,550 kg to nine other German companies;
375 kg to a Spanish company;
250 kg to an Austrian distributor that sold the entire lot to a single Austrian company;
and 400 kg to a company in England.

The German importer broke up the 10,500-kg shipment into multiple lots. Only 75 kg ended up at the German farm that sparked the first wave of illness. The rest went to 16 other companies. One of those 16 broke its shipment up further, selling the seeds on to 70 additional companies: 54 in Germany, 16 in 11 other countries within the EU.

A new report details the complexities of the E. coli O104 outbreak investigation. Thanks to Albert Amgar in France for sending it along.

Source food from safe sources; including seeds and other inputs.

Police investigation on E. coli deaths in Japan; still missing the point about risks of raw beef

In another example of Japan’s rapid response to food safety issues, the health ministry says it plans to begin imposing new penalties for food safety violations as early as October … as current guidelines are nonbinding.

The agriculture ministry urged restaurants to ensure the trimming of all raw meat and to remind customers of the higher risks of food poisoning for children and the elderly.

Foods Forus Co., operator of the Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu restaurant chain — four customers of which died after eating raw beef dishes at its outlets — admitted Tuesday to having taken a lax attitude toward food safety and that it had stopped trimming meat to remove surface bacteria at its restaurants since July 2009, despite being aware of government guidelines to do so.

”We thought the meat had already been trimmed (at Yamatoya Shoten) and that it was alright” to skip the step at the restaurants, a Foods Forus executive told Kyodo News. ”We were careless regarding food safety.”

Police have questioned the president of Tokyo-based meat supplier Yamatoya Shoten and The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned Yamatoya sold meat it claimed was wagyu to Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu but the meat also contained other kinds of beef.

Wagyu comes from native Japanese breeds of beef cattle, such as Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled and Japanese Shorthorn, or crosses of such breeds.

However, the ID number of the carcass from which the beef in question was taken showed the animal was raised by a dairy farmer in Fukushima Prefecture.
According to the farmer, "If the meat was sold as wagyu beef, it’s fraudulent labeling."

Yamatoya Shoten removed bones and fat from the meat, divided it into small portions, sterilized it with alcohol and sealed it in vacuum packs, according to the sources. It was then shipped directly to Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu outlets, they said.

The police said they plan to investigate the processes used in distributing the meat and whether proper hygiene was maintained.

Mystery Mexican-style restaurant chain ‘A’ source of Salmonella Hartford and Baildon; 155 sick across US since April

On July 12, 2010, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and research partners presented data and a press release that concluded nearly 1 out of every 25 restaurant-associated foodborne outbreaks with identified food sources between 1998 and 2008 could be traced back to contaminated salsa or guacamole, more than double the rate during the previous decade.

Today, CDC revealed there are two multistate outbreaks of Salmonella infections, each involving a different Salmonella serotype: Hartford and Baildon, and that the sick people have been showing up since April and the numbers peaked in June.

Salsa and guac must be on the CDC’s mind because they’ve fingered “a Mexican-style fast food restaurant chain, Restaurant Chain A,” as associated with some illnesses. And if it’s been narrowed to a single chain restaurant, it’s probably a supply issue; salsa safety begins with the ingredients, on the farm.

Among persons eating at Restaurant Chain A, no specific food item or ingredient was found to be associated with illness for either outbreak. The numbers of new cases for the Salmonella Hartford outbreak have declined substantially since a peak in early June 2010. The numbers of new cases for the Salmonella Baildon outbreak have declined substantially since a peak in late June 2010. The number of new cases of illness associated with these outbreak strains appears to have returned to baseline, indicating the outbreaks are not ongoing.

In both outbreaks, the FDA worked with CDC and state partners to conduct a traceback investigation. The tracebacks focused on produce that ill individuals reported eating and that had been implicated in previous outbreaks of salmonellosis. The extensive traceback effort was initiated to determine if a common source or supplier could be identified to help focus the epidemiologic investigations. No common food source was identified in either traceback. The FDA also sampled and tested produce items and did not find either outbreak strain. As with previous outbreaks in which contaminated produce may be the factor, produce tracebacks present substantial challenges because of the short shelf life of the product and the industry’s comingling of product from multiple sources.

CDC stressed:

• There are over 2,500 serotypes of Salmonella.Hartford and Baildon are very rare serotypes of Salmonella.

• CDC used its Emergency Operation Center facilities and mobilized employee and student volunteers to conduct two large case-control studies within several weeks of each other. These studies involve calling thousands of U.S. residents to screen them for eligibility into the study and, once determined eligible, interviewing them about the foods they had eaten during a certain period. These studies are not possible unless people who are called agree to be interviewed. CDC thanks every person who participated in these telephone interviews.

• The Mexican-style fast food Restaurant Chain A, as well as their food suppliers and distributors, were very cooperative in providing extensive information to public health officials as various leads were explored.