Tag Archives: salmonella

A Startling Revelation

From a recent article on the Tomato/Salmonella outbreak from the UPI comes the following section. The emphasis is mine.

New York City health officials Wednesday said six more cases of salmonella poisoning caused by tainted tomatoes have been reported in the city.

They have been added to one previously reported case in New York, The New York Times said.

The new cases came as the head of U.S. food safety efforts said it’s possible the government will never track down the source of the outbreak. David Acheson, the Food and Drug Administration’s “food safety czar,” says that’s because fresh produce like tomatoes aren’t consistently labeled as to origin, and also because the outbreak, which sickened more than 277 people and hospitalized 43, is so widespread, the Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday.

So let’s see here – we have a nationwide outbreak of salmonella in our tomato supply, and the head of the FDA is saying that it’s likely that they they will never know it’s cause.

Two questions that I wish Mr. Acheson would answerimmediately pop into my mind:

  1. How is this acceptable?
  2. If it’s not acceptable, what plans are in the works to prevent it from happening again?

Of course most people who are even marginally familiar with the issues surrounding the ineffectiveness of the FDA have an answer – More effective oversight of America’s food producers and of food imports into the United States. But this requires both more money for the FDA and the political courage to embrace this very simple first step.

Let’s revisit food history over the past two years:

  • June 2008: A Nationwide Salmonella outbreak blamed on Tomatoes.
  • Feb 2008: 143,000,000 lbs of beef recalled due to poor lapses in inspections (to be fair, this is an issue for the USDA, but still reflects the state of our national food production)
  • September 2007: 21,700,000 lbs of beef are recalled due to E.Coli contamination
  • September 2007: Dole Fresh Vegetables recalls about 800 cases of salads shipped throughout the United States and Canada after Canadian government testing revealed contamination with a deadly strain of E. coli bacteria.
  • Auguest 2007 : Metz Fresh, a King City-based grower and shipper, recalled 8,000 cartons of fresh spinach after salmonella was found during a routine test of spinach.
  • June 2007: Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. recalled more than 40,000 pounds of ground beef shipped to Wal-Mart stores in 12 states after samples tested at a Sherman, Texas, plant showed signs of E. coli contamination.
  • February 2007: Carolina Culinary Food calls for a nationwide recall of Oscar Mayer ready-to-eat chicken breast strips with rib meat because they may be contaminated with listeria.
  • February 2007: Conagra has a nationwide recall of Peter Pan peanut butter that may contain salmonella.
  • September 2006: Nationwide recall of bagged spinach. Many store simply refuse to carry any Spinach due to inability of the FDA to say conclusively what brands are affected, and whether there’s a problem with non-bagged spinach or not.

It’s a simple question really, even if it may be rhetorical: How is this acceptable?

Outrage Fatigue – Realities in Food Safety

I have to say that it only took a year full of various e.coli outbreaks, spinach recalls, and a handful of other food safety news stories to make me feel resigned to the state of our food culture. There’s only so much bad news and unfortunate circumstances that one can take before these episodes become less of a news story and more of a common fact of life.

As the pet food story evolved from the recalls of the various pet foods to the discovery that the chemical Melamine had been used and is the root cause of the way too many animal deaths, I mentioned in passing to a friend that the odds of this chemical being fed to our food sources was an even money bet. I had hoped that it wouldn’t be so, but when my prediction turned out to be true, I wasn’t surprised.

Like a child who grows jaded upon learning the truth behind Santa Claus, so too becomes a person who hears repeated stories of the failures of an industry who’s primary purpose is to maintain the health and well-being of their consumers. At some point news reports of these types stop being the exception and instead become the rule.

Part of this cynicism sits at the feet of the instant news culture. Out of all of the news reports surrounding the Salmonella outbreaks last year, or the various E.Coli reports this year, very few outlets highlighted the fact that a typical American’s chance of catching these diseases from the products in question was practically zero. But this fact doesn’t sell newspapers or bring people to websites. However, the amount of people who were or could be affected by these diseases was only one of the messages meant to be heard. It’s the unintentional subtext to all of these stories that gets us riled up…

…that our quest for cheaper food is putting us at greater health risks.

The problem is that these two points are directly contradictory to one another. If it was unlikely, to a tune of almost zero percent probability, that we could get salmonella or E.Coli, how is our health at greater risk? The answer depends upon one’s perspective.

Some would argue that x amount of deaths versus y amount of illnesses is an acceptable risk. When deaths and illnesses due to food is compared against traffic injuries and fatalities, it’s easy to draw this conclusion.

Others would argue that there’s little to no excuse for allowing preventable illnesses from entering the food supply. Would we pay an additional 5 cents to a quarter more per pound of ground beef, head of lettuce, or jar of peanut butter if it meant saving one life or preventing 200 people from getting ill?

And still others would claim that all of the free market checks and government regulation in the word cannot completely prevent a company from behaving badly and putting people at risk.

None of these perspectives are illogical to take. But each one becomes more and more tiresome either to hear or to espouse with each new story of failure of oversight someone’s loved ones (be they friends, family or pets) becoming ill. Instead, we become inured to the stories.

And as we hear of melamine being fed to farmed fish and workers who need new lungs due to a chemical used in artificial butter flavor, we give a quick thanks that these stories haven’t affected us directly and then move on to Iraq or the Alberto Gonzalez hearings.

After Peanut Butter and Salmonella

When I’ve written about food borne illnesses in the past, whether it was Mad Cow or E.Coli, it was always in the abstract. Though the news stories surrounding both of the topics above seemed pervasive in the national media, I never seemed to know of anyone, or be contacted by anyone who had been directly affected by those diseases.

Over the past several days, this has changed.

I’ve spent the weekend reading both e-mails and comments from people who were/are directly affected by the Salmonella outbreak from Conagra’s Peanut Butter. I’ve heard from wives who watched their husbands suffer after they had eaten an apple topped with peanut butter, to parents who were horrified that they fed this garbage to their children. I read about people blaming their water supply to people thinking that it was a bug going around. Everyone one of these people have communicated shock and dismay that it was a simple jar of peanut butter that has affected their lives so.

To these folks, I can only say a few things.

First, I am sorry you had to go through this. I realize that this may sound shallow coming from someone whom you have never met, but I do feel as frustrated as you do. As anyone who was near me can testify, I could not stop bringing this topic up this weekend. I understand that you had put your faith in a system, and that system has failed you.

Secondly, use this as a learning experience. Be mad, but be smart! If you have recently eaten the peanut butter, SEE A DOCTOR! Then, go home and wrap up the peanut butter and take it to a lawyer. Do not throw it away, as it is now evidence. Keep it out of the reach of children, and keep it stored in such a way that it will never be used, but keep it. This goes against what both Conagra and the government are telling you.

Long term: keep up to date with the producers of food, and ask yourself relevant questions regarding your food decisions that you make with these producers. How many recalls is too many for a company to have? Are you willing to pay more for brands that have a better track record with safety? Which companies own your favorite brands? Where is your food is coming from?

We are entering a new era of food production and distribution. And evidence is coming in that we cannot put blind faith in any company that puts food in our pantries and on our tables. It is up to us, as consumers, to hold them to the standards we want and to hold them accountable when they fail to meet those standards.

tags technorati : Peanut Butter Conagra Salmonella

Peanut Butter Salmonella outbreak


If you haven’t heard the news, then take a look at the following from the FDA:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers not to eat certain jars of Peter Pan peanut butter or Great Value peanut butter due to risk of contamination with Salmonella Tennessee (a bacterium that causes foodborne illness). The affected jars of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter have a product code located on the lid of the jar that begins with the number “2111.” Both the Peter Pan and Great Value brands are manufactured in a single facility in Georgia by ConAgra. Great Value peanut butter made by other manufacturers is not affected.

If consumers have any of this Peter Pan or Great Value brand peanut butter in their home that has been purchased since May 2006, they should discard it.

So far, almost 300 people nation-wide have been reported to have been affected by this. The number is probably larger due to the folks who didn’t seek out health care.

More later.

tags technorati : Food Safety,Salmonella,Peter Pan Peanut Butter

Salmonella in….Tomatoes????

Yes, according to the Center for Disease Control, there’s an outbreak of Salmonella. This outbreak has shown up in no less than 19 states and has involved 171 cases of infection since September 1st of this year.

This is nominally important news by itself. From a public health concern, it’s good that people are aware of it, but it doesn’t seem to be as troublesome as the recent E.Coli outbreak, as Salmonella is not as “vigorous” of a disease as E.Coli. To put it another way, there’s less of a chance of death from Salmonella than there is with E.Coli.

No, what makes this a truly big story is thus: The bacteria may have spread through some form of produce, possibly tomatoes.

First, the usual caveats. The CDC has NOT specified that this is the case, but have not discounted it either. It is speculation and one should be careful to keep that in mind. Add to that the fact that salmonella outbreaks ‘go through the system’ (so to speak) rather quickly, and it’s quite probable that this report of the outbreak is too late to have an affect upon short-term prevention.

If produce of any sort is the culprit, then the larger story here is how a disease that’s typically transferred through fecal matter of animals once again ended up in our fruits and/or vegetables. With the Spinach/E.Coli debacle, it was easy to simply state that the way bagged spinach is procured and produced is anomalous when compared against the processes of other fruits and vegetables bound for market. If the rumors surrounding the salmonella outbreak are true, then it becomes less of a ‘problem with spinach production’ and more of a ‘problem with the entire produce industry’.

Let me put this in a way that I believe to be obvious, but needs to be said anyways: When food borne illnesses typically associated with meat become regularly associated with fruits and vegetables, it’s a failure of the produce industries AND the meat industries. The companies who had to pull their products off the shelf are not the only problem.

via U.S. Food Policy

Technorati Tags: Food Safety, Salmonella

A Meat Quiz

Let’s say you have a problem with meat. The pesky bacterium that cause E. Coli and Salmonella have been gaining in strength and making you and your company look less that health conscious.

Do you…

a) Increase efforts at your various plants to educate your workers on cleanliness, institute stricter sanitary regulations throughout your company, and audit various cattle and poultry farms to ensure various health and safety requirements are being met?


b) Look for a bio-engineered solution that requires an application of a mixture of four different lactic acid bacterium to your meat.

I’m not sure what to make of this. There are several things that I believe to be certain with meat, once this becomes an option to various producers:

  • The Lactic acid solution (no pun) will most likely be effective.
  • The Lactic acid solution will also most likely affect the taste of the meat.
  • It will be recommended that Meat Suppliers use a combination of both Health and Sanitation Management as well as the Lactic Acid Bacterium bath to reduce E. Coli and Salmonella.
  • The less reputable meat producers will rely almost completely on the Bacterium wash, probably overly so.

I’ve come to no conclusions yet over this, but part of me can’t help but think that there are simpler solutions to E. Coli and Salmonella than evolving the meat industry into another “processed food” consortium.

Technorati Tags: Food, Meat, FDA, salmonella