Friday, October 31, 2008

Another Ontario Restaurant Enmeshed in E. coli O157:H7 Outbreaks

North Bay-Parry Sound reported this afternoon that the number of E. coli O157:H7 cases has risen to 237, of which 46 have been lab-confirmed. All of the confirmed cases are linked directly to the Harvey's Restaurant on Algonquin Avenue in North Bay, and reported an onset of symptoms before October 22nd.

The District Health Unit has received lab reports on food samples up to October 25th. All of the food samples analyzed so far have been negative for E. coli O157:H7. Some tests, though, are still in progress.

The 237 cases include residents of North-Bay Parry Sound, nine other Ontario District Health Units, and two other provinces – Québec and British Columbia. All of the districts have supplied North Bay with information obtained from people who ate at Harvey's during the time period of the outbreak and who did not become ill. This information is being combined with information obtained from confirmed and suspected outbreak cases in the hope that the data will point to a probable source of the outbreak strain.

Meanwhile, the investigation into a separate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in the Niagara region is continuing. The number of cases in that outbreak has risen to 36 – 9 confirmed and 27 under investigation. Of the 36 cases, 20 have been linked to the Little Red Rooster restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and 12 to M.T. Bellies in Welland. Both restaurants have closed and are cooperating in the investigation.

Yesterday, yet another Ontario health unit reported a restaurant-associated outbreak of E. coli O157:H7. Halton Region is investigating five cases – 2 confirmed and 3 suspected – that have been linked to Johnathan's Family Restaurant, 4121 Fairview Street, Burlington. The restaurant has closed pending the outcome of the investigation. 

The Halton Health Department is asking anyone who ate at Johnathan's between October 13 and October 30, and who subsequently experienced symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 gastroenteritis (nausea, diarrhea (possibly bloody), stomach cramps or vomiting), to see their doctor and also to contact Halton Region at (905) 825-6000 or 1-866-442-5866.

It's too soon to know whether the Halton outbreak is due to the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 as the Niagara region outbreak. If all three restaurants – each located in a different town – have been victimized by the same strain of E. coli O157:H7, this would point to a common food source for the microbe.

It shouldn't take more than a week or so for Halton to obtain genetic fingerprinting of its outbreak strain. In the meantime, both the Niagara and Halton regions will be beating the bushes to find and interview additional victims.

Mars Petcare Salmonella Recall May Expand

We have the West Virginia Department of Agriculture to thank for detecting Salmonella in Special Kitty Gourmet Blend dry cat food. As a result of the state's findings, earlier this week, Mars Petcare recalled a "limited number of bags" of the the cat food, which had been distributed to Wal-Mart stores in 15 states. But that's not the end of the story.

According to today's news release from WVDA, in addition to the cat food contamination, the department detected Salmonella in samples of Ol' Roy Meaty Chunks 'N Gravy dog food, also manufactured by Mars Petcare for sale in Wal-Mart stores.

While Mars has not yet recalled the dog food, the Commissioner of Agriculture for West Virginia has issued a "stop-sale" order for Ol' Roy Meaty Chunks 'N Gravy, sold in 50-pound bags bearing lot number 1310292, a Best if Used By date of September 2, 2009 and UPC 681131696319. 

The Commissioner's authority is only effective within the state of West Virginia. Consumers elsewhere in the country are on their own. Anyone who has purchased Ol' Roy Meaty Chunks 'N Gravy should check the package to determine whether the lot number, date and UPC information correspond. 

The state has notified FDA, Mars Petcare and Wal-Mart of its findings, and FDA is reviewing the WVDA documentation. Wal-Mart has removed from its web site the recall notice it had posted on the cat food recall – perhaps in anticipation of a revised recall notice. According to WVDA, Wal-Mart has cooperated with the "stop-sale" order and has withdrawn the Ol' Roy item from store shelves.

Late last month, Mars Petcare announced an extensive recall of dry dog food and dry cat food, and the permanent closure of its production facility in Everson, PA as a result of a recalcitrant problem of Salmonella contamination in the plant. At that time, the company assured consumers that dry pet food produced at its other facilities around the United States were safe.

Are we on the verge of another major pet food recall?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Incipient E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak In San Diego County?

The County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency reported yesterday that two girls, aged 7 and 9, have been diagnosed with an E. coli infection. The children attend Carmel Creek Elementary School in North San Diego County. The girls, who have not been identified, have been hospitalized but are expected to recover.

While there is no indication that the school is the source of the infections, school officials are cooperating with the County investigation and also have notified parents of the illnesses.

There is not yet any indication of the source of these two illnesses, and no additional cases have been reported so far. 

This is just the latest in a rash of small outbreaks of E. coli illnesses, which have popped up in various parts of the United States and in Canada in the past couple of months. Jurisdictions as widely separated as Vermont, Michigan, Washington State, Kansas and Ontario have reported outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 in the last two months.

Where will this peripatetic pathogen pop up next?

Ontario E. coli O157:H7 Outbreaks Still Under Investigation

The news releases from the North Bay-Parry Sound District Health Unit are getting more terse as time passes without a breakthrough in the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak investigation. Today's release – except for the usual cautions about hygiene – reads:

"There are now 235 cases, of which 45 are lab confirmed for E. coli O157:H7. All confirmed cases are linked to Harvey’s North Bay and had an onset of symptoms before October 22, 2008. This includes cases from 9 other Ontario Health Units, Quebec and British Columbia. The investigation is ongoing, at this point; no product or process has been confirmed as the source of the outbreak."

Today's news releases from the Regional Municipality of Niagara was meatier. The total number of cases of E. coli O157:H7 in the Niagara region outbreak now stands at 31 – 9 confirmed, and 22 under investigation. Eighteen of the 31 cases have been linked to the Little Red Rooster restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake and 9 have been traced to M.T. Bellies in Welland. Both restaurants have closed, although the bar at M.T. Bellies remains open.

Niagara also reports that preliminary genetic fingerprinting of their outbreak strain indicates that it is not the same as the North Bay strain. There has been no confirmation of this from North Bay, which has remained silent on the progress of genetic fingerprinting, even though eFoodAlert has questioned them directly on more than one occasion.

According to the news update, the Niagara region outbreak is not associated with municipal drinking water supplies. Lab tests are in progress on food samples from both restaurants, but no results have been released. The owners of both restaurants are reported to be cooperating in the investigation.

The Niagara Region Public Health authorities are asking any residents or visitors who have experienced bloody diarrhea on or after October 11, 2008 to visit their family physician or a walk-in clinic, as they may be suffering from an infection with E. coli O157:H7. 

The China Syndrome: Trick or Treat?

The UK Food Safety Agency advises that Lucky Dip (Nottingham) Ltd. has recalled two batches of novelty chocolates because of melamine contamination. The chocolates were manufactured for Lucky Dip by Le Bang Chocolate Food Company (Zhongshan, China) and distributed to retail stores in the UK. 

Le Bang also manufactured the "I Love You" body pens and other adult novelty candies recalled two weeks ago by Scobie (Llarn) Ltd.

Today's recall covers the following two items (follow the link for pictures of the recalled candies):

  • Lucky Dip Delicious Christmas Treat Chocolate Pop, 25g; Batch code 228; Best before 30/09/09
  • Lucky Dip Delicious Halloween Treat Chocolate Pop, 25g; Batch code 358; Best before 30/09/09

The recalled items were found to contain 28.9 ppm and 46.2 ppm of melamine, respectively – more than 10 times the provisional international maximum acceptable level of 2.5 ppm for this type of product. Anyone who has purchased one of the recalled items should either discard it or return it to the store for a refund.

FDA Issues Warning Against "Bargain" Vanilla from Mexico

FDA is advising US consumers not to purchase bargain "Mexican vanilla" either at home or while traveling in Latin America. The pseudo-vanilla often is extracted from tonka beans, and contains the blood-thinner coumarin.

Coumarin, which was banned in foods in the United States in 1954, can cause serious harm to individuals who are on anti-coagulant medication or who regularly take low dose aspirin – also an anti-coagulant. Nevertheless, "Mexican vanilla" has found its way to some ethnic food stores and Mexican restaurants in the United States.

Not all imitation vanilla from Latin America is made from tonka beans. FDA has published a list of companies that use tonka beans to manufacture an imitation vanilla extract. Those companies using tonka beans are on "Import Alert" for automatic detention at the border.

FDA advises that consumers take the time to read ingredient labels carefully when purchasing inexpensive or imitation vanilla, especially when traveling in Latin America or when patronizing an ethnic food store.

Second Importer of Lithuanian Ears & Tongue Roll Recalls Product

Lituanica UK Ltd. has recalled all date codes of Samsono brand Ears and Tongue Roll due to contamination with Listeria monocytogenes, according to an announcement released yesterday by the UK Food Standards Agency.

The recalled deli meat, bearing the identification code LT 84-07 EB, was imported into the UK by Lituanica and distributed to 22 retail outlets in England.

This recall follows a similar recall – announced one week ago  – undertaken by Lignesa Foods Ltd., another importer of specialty food from Lithuania. At the time of the first recall, FSA reported that samples of the Ears and Tongue Rolls contained as many as 2.8 million Listeria monocytogenes/gram. This level of contamination is in gross violation of the EU limit of 100 Listeria monocytogenes/gram.

Consumers who have purchased this product should either discard it securely or return it to the store for a refund. Infections with Listeria monocytogenes most often produce no more than mild gastrointestinal or flu-like symptoms. But the elderly, young children, pregnant women and immuno-compromised individuals are at risk of developing severe – even life-threatening – illness as a result of an infection with Listeria monocytogenes.

To access the retail distribution list for this recall, and to see a picture of the product, please click on the links in the second paragraph, above.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pesticide Found in Nestlé Cereal Made in Brazil

The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection warned today that Nestlé's Farinha Lactea toddler's cereal, imported from Brazil is mislabeled and also contains unacceptable levels of Pirimiphos-methyl, a pesticide used to fumigate grain.

Connecticut food inspectors first found the cereal at Mercearia Brasil, 107 Triangle Street, Danbury. The product was ordered removed from store shelves due to the absence of English labeling on the package. The Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station Laboratory detected the pesticide as part of the state's routine examination of the mislabeled cereal.

No US standard exists for pirimiphos-methyl residues in foods, according to the CDCP, so the State is erring on the side of caution, and has taken the position that no amount of this pesticide is acceptable in a toddler cereal. 

Connecticut is cautioning consumers not to use the cereal. CDCP is now working to find out which stores stocked and sold the product, and will make this information available to consumers as soon as possible. We'll add the retail distribution list to this posting as soon as we receive it.


USDA Releases Retail Distribution List for Nicaraguan Meat

UPDATED October 29, 2008

Earlier this month, USDA issued a series of notices advising the public that beef trimmings imported from Nicaragua were contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and had been recalled. At that time, the agency promised to furnish a list of recall establishments that were supplied the Nicaraguan meat.

USDA, at last, has posted the promised information. It would appear that most of the meat was supplied to wholesalers and processors. Very little of the meat seems to have reached the retail market – as opposed to the restaurant trade, for example – in identifiable form.

The original recall notices indicated that the Nicaraguan beef had been shipped to five states – California, Indiana, Wisconsin, New York and Pennsylvania – and to Puerto Rico. According to USDA, the following retail locations probably received the recalled meat. The agency cautions that other retailers may also have been recipients of the beef.
  • Alcoba Supermarket, Carr. 164 Km 16.5, Bo. Palmarejo, Corozal, PR
  • Colmado San Miguel, Carr. 842 Km 4, Bo. Caimito Alto, San Juan, PR
  • Supermercado Dorabel, Calle 1 #266, Urb. Vives, Guayama, PR
  • Supermercado Umbo, San Patricio Ave., Centro Comercial Umbo, Las Lomas, San Juan, PR
  • Inclema's Market, 1337 N. Goodman Street, Rochester, NY
  • Sensenig Meats, 6999 Cannery Road, Hanover, PA
  • Hawk's Grocery and Smokehouse, 13087 Main Street, Hydetown, PA
  • Trawka's Market, 712 Payne Avenue, Erie, PA
  • Urbaniak Brothers, Inc., 310 E. 24th Street, Erie, PA
  • County Market, 49 Pine Grove Plaza, Grove City, PA
  • Kevin's Quality Meats, 451 N. Grant Avenue, Kittaning, PA
  • Nichol's Meats, 1011 Bechtel Street, Monaca, PA
  • Paul's Market, 310 Madison Street, Sligo, PA
  • G/K Glendale Kozonian Ranch, 356 N. Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale, CA
  • Paradise Pastry, 1815 W. Glenoaks Blvd., Glendale, CA
  • Pacific Food Mart, 1008 N. Pacific Avenue, Glendale, CA
  • Farmers Ranch Market, 7811 Sepulveda, Van Nuys, CA
  • Jerry's Produce, 9043 Reseda Blvd., Reseda, CA
  • Tropicana Produce, 1406 Huntington Dr., Duarte, CA
  • Selin Market, 1427 W. Glenoaks Blvd., Glendale, CA
  • Easchbach Meats, 18045 S. Western Avenue, Gardena, CA
  • Glendale Ranch Market, 1122 S. Central Avenue, Glendale, CA
  • Kozanian Super Meat & Retail, 1240 S. Glendale Blvd., Glendale, CA
  • Cutullo Prime Meats, 7127 Tiffany Blvd., Boardman, OH

These lists may be updated if USDA obtains additional information from the importers. If so, we'll provide an update to this consolidated list.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Canadian Desco Deli Meat Consolidated Recall List

UPDATED October 28, 2008

Two weeks ago, we reported that Les Salaisons Desco (Boisbriand, QC) had recalled two batches of Dunn's Famous brand Smoked Meat due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. Earlier this week, we learned that Desco roast beef also has been contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

Following is a consolidated list of recall information on all Desco meat products since the beginning of October. All of the recalled meat packages bear the CFIA inspection ID number "Est. 501". We'll update this list as additional notices are released by CFIA.

  • 1 KG packages (6 x 175-gram pouches/package)
  • UPC 4 00007 55699 7; Best before dates of 2008 NO 01 and 2008 NO 02
  • Sold in Costco stores in Ottawa, ON and in the provinces of Québec, Nova Scotia, New Brunskwick, PEI and Newfoundland & Labrador.

The following Savco brand sandwiches were sold through vending machines in and around Sarnia, ON. The sandwiches described below may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes and should not be consumed. The expiry dates, which are embedded in the lot codes, are highlighted in green.
  • Roast Beef and Monterey Jack Cheese - Lot code 013310/15/08012 and 013310/26/08012
  • Philly Roast Beef Onion Bun - Lot code 006710/20/08012 and 006710/21/08012 
  • Roast Beef Sandwich - Lot code 007810/23/08012 
  • Philly Beef Submarine Sandwich -  Lot code 020110/20/08012 and 020110/26/08012 
  • Roast Beef Cheddar Cheese Bun - Lot code 004210/16/08012 and 004210/26/08012 
  • Roast Beef Cheddar Sesame Bun - Lot code 003210/20/08012
  • Roast Beef Au Jus - Lot code 010910/21/0801B 

Roast Beef Sold in variable-weight deli-style plastic bags
Deli counters in the following locations may have sold Desco roast beef during the indicated time periods. Check with your retailer before consuming sliced roast beef purchased from in-store deli counters.

Metro GP (Les Supermarchées GP Inc., 1050 avenue Larue, Quebec, QC)
  • Sous-marin rosbif 6" / 6" Roast beef sub, 145g (expiry dates up to and including 2008-10-23)
  • Kaiser roti boeuf /Roast beef Kaiser, 190 g (expiry dates up to and including 2008-10-23)

Supermarché Ferland Metro (Supermarché Claka Inc., 1625 rue du Marais, Québec, QC)
  • Sous-marin rosbif / Roast beef sub (expiry dates up to and including 2008-10-23)
Oickles has recalled two varieties of Oickles Tasty Bites brand sandwiches. The following sandwiches were sold at Oickles Auto Service, 5354 Hwy 10, New Germany NS and Getson Convenience, 3916 Hwy 325, Newcombville, NS
  • Roast Beef Sandwich, Best before dates up to and including Oct 25, 2008 and Oct 26, 2008
  • Roast Beef Sub, Best before dates up to and including Oct 25, 2008 and Oct 26, 2008
Fruits & Légumes Mercier (217, boulevard Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Mercier, QC)
  • Rosbif de Ronde ANC Coorsh, sold in variable weight packages up to and including October 24, 2008
The following sandwiches, labeled with "Best before" dates up to and including the dates shown below, were distributed in unspecified retail locations in the province of Ontario.

  • Roast Beef - White Sandwich, 10/24/08 (October 24, 2008)
  • Roast Beef - Brown Sandwich, 10/24/08 (October 24, 2008)
  • R. Beef & Hot Peppers Kaiser Bun, 10/30/08 (October 30, 2008)
  • R. Beef & Cheese Kaiser Bun, 10/30/08 (October 30, 2008)
  • R. Beef & Gravy Kaiser Bun, 10/30/08 (October 30, 2008)
  • R. Beef & Baconator Kaiser Bun, 10/30/08 (October 30, 2008)
  • R. Beef, Bacon & Cheese Kaiser Bun, 10/30/08 (October 30, 2008)
  • Assorted 8" Sub, 10/30/08 (October 30, 2008)
  • Beef & Cheese 8" Sub, 10/30/08 (October 30, 2008)
  • Hoagie 8" Sub, 10/30/08 (October 30, 2008)
(updated Oct 27 with more precise date information)
Mainline Market Best Picks brand roast beef and sandwiches
The following items, labeled with the indicated "Best before" inclusive dates ranges, were sold at one or more of: Mainline Market (1101 King Street, Bridgewater, NS), A&B Country Corner Convenience Middlewood (Bridgewater, NS), Bordons in the Woods (1225 East Dalhousie Road East, Dalhousie, NS).
  • Mainline Market Best Picks Roast Beef (vacuum-packaged) - Oct 6 to Nov 21, 08
  • Mainline Market Best Picks Beef & Cheddar Kaiser - Oct 6 to Oct 26, 08
  • Mainline Market Best Picks Beef & Cheddar Sub - Oct 6 to Oct 26, 08
  • Mainline Market Best Picks Roast Beef Sandwich - Up to and including Oct 26, 08

Clerk-served sliced roast beef in wax paper (no labels)
Sold in the following stores, during the indicated inclusive date ranges.
  • Bonnar's Meat, 13 McInnis Drive, North Sydney, NS; Oct 2 to Oct 24
  • R&D Retail Meats (formerly Chris Brothers Meat & Deli), 69 Cow Bay Road, Dartmouth, NS; Oct 7 to Oct 24
  • R&D Retail Meats (formerly Chris Brothers Meat & Deli), 984 Cole Harbour Road, Dartmouth, NS; Oct 7 to Oct 24
  • R&D Retail Meats (formerly Chris Brothers Meat & Deli), 754 Main Street, Dartmouth, NS; Oct 7 to Oct 24

Cooked Roast Beef Sliced (vacuum-packaged)
Packaged on October 11th to October 24th, inclusive, and sold only at: Old Time Meat Market, 121 Pine Glen Road, Riverview, NB.

Fresh-made roast beef sandwiches served in plastic bags (no label)
Sold in the following stores, during the indicated inclusive date ranges.
  • R&D Retail Meats (formerly Chris Brothers Meat & Deli), 69 Cow Bay Road, Dartmouth, NS; Oct 7 to Oct 24
  • R&D Retail Meats (formerly Chris Brothers Meat & Deli), 984 Cole Harbour Road, Dartmouth, NS; Oct 7 to Oct 24
  • R&D Retail Meats (formerly Chris Brothers Meat & Deli), 754 Main Street, Dartmouth, NS; Oct 7 to Oct 24
Marché J.D. Gélinas, Inc. (695 rue des Forges, Trois-Rivières, QC)
Variable weight portions of sliced, cooked roast beef, sold at the service counter between October 6 and October 23, inclusive.

Please check back from time to time for further updates to the recall list.

Mars Petcare Recalls Dry Cat Food for Salmonella

Mars Petcare is in the news today with another Salmonella problem – this time in dry cat food.

Mars, which closed its Everson, PA production facility less than a month ago due to a recalcitrant Salmonella contamination problem, has announced a recall of a "limited number of bags" of Special Kitty® Gourmet Blend dry cat food after Salmonella was detected in a sample of the product.

The recalled items were distributed only in Wal-Mart stores in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, and West Virginia. 

If you have purchased Special Kitty® Gourmet Blend Dry Cat Food from a Wal-Mart store in one of these states, check the packaging to see whether it matches the following description:
  • Best if Used By Date: AUG 11 09 (located on the back of the bag)
  • Production Lot Code: 50 XXXX X (located on the back of the bag, just after the date. "50" is the first pair of digits on the second line)
  • UPC Codes (located underneath the bar code): 3.5 lb bag, UPC 81131 17546; 7 lb bag, UPC 81131 17547; 18 lb bag, UPC 81131 17548.

Cats can become infected with Salmonella and pass the microbe to their human companions. If you have purchased the recalled cat food, Mars and Wal-Mart ask that you discard the contents of the bag in a secure container (such as a trash can with a tightly fitting lid) and return the empty bag to the store for a refund.

For more information on the recall, contact Mars Petcare US at 1-877-568-4463.

Monday, October 27, 2008

E. coli Turns Up In Niagara-On-The-Lake, Too

The Niagara Region Medical Officer of Health is asking members of the public to contact the health unit if they experienced an onset of symptoms of E. coli  illness – severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea, possibly accompanied by fever – between October 11th and October 24th.

The request was made after two people were lab-diagnosed with E. coli . An additional three people are also thought to be infected with the microbe. Four of the five victims ate at the Little Red Rooster, 271 Mary Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake. The Health Unit's news release did not specifically mention E. coli O157:H7, but bloody diarrhea is a common symptom of this strain.

The restaurant's owners are cooperating with the investigation into these illnesses, including providing food samples for analysis and giving investigators unimpeded access to the restaurant. The link between this outbreak and the Little Red Rooster is not yet certain. The Health Unit is also investigating other possible leads, and hopes that more victims will come forward. With a larger data base, a source for the outbreak can be identified with greater confidence.

While the Niagara Region is focusing on its newly identified outbreak, the North Bay-Parry Sound District Health Unit continues to plug away at what is at risk of becoming another microbiological cold case. Forty-two cases have now been lab-confirmed in the North Bay outbreak, out of a total of 217 suspected and confirmed cases. Victims of this E. coli O157:H7 outbreak have been reported from eight other Ontario District Health Units, in addition to Québec and British Columbia.

Today's update from North Bay provided encouraging news about the child who was hospitalized in critical condition after developing hemolytic uremic syndrome. That child, while still hospitalized, has improved and is no longer in critical care.

Epidemiologists say that they received many telephone contacts from healthy people who ate at the Harvey's Restaurant that is the focus of this investigation, and have enough information to carry out their statistical study. 

As yet, "... no specific product or process..." has been identified as the source of the infections. The Ontario Ministry of Health is reviewing test results from this outbreak to determine whether it is linked to any other outbreaks or sporadic cases of E. coli O157:H7. 

Norovirus Revisited

Georgetown University marked the beginning of October this year with an outbreak of Norovirus. The virus struck down as many as 204 students – out of a student population of 6,000 – with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea during the first five days of the month.

The District of Columbia Department of Health issued its final report on the incident last week. Based on interviews with outbreak victims, DOH epidemiologists have pointed a statistical finger at the "Grab and Go" food station in O'Donovan Hall. According to their analysis "...  students who purchased food from the Grab and Go station on were 2.9 times more likely to become ill than those who did not purchase food from the Grab and Go station."

Coincidentally, Norovirus popped up at another university campus – University of Vermont – last week. As of last Friday, about 60 students have been reported ill. Once again, an on-campus dining hall is being fingered as the probable point of origin of the outbreak. The Vermont Department of Public Health is participating in the investigation.

Not to appear elitist, Norovirus also put in an appearance at an elementary school this month. Approximately 150 students at Tussing Elementary School in Colonial Heights, VA complained of stomach pains, nausea and vomiting on October 16th. Classes were cancelled on the 17th so that the school could be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. Lab analysis confirmed Norovirus as the culprit. According to the Chesterfield Health District, the source of this outbreak was person-to-person spread.

Meanwhile, Dunedin Hospital and Hutt Hospital in New Zealand continue their respective battles against separate Norovirus outbreaks. The Otago District Health Board estimates that the earlier outbreaks at Dunedin and Wakari hospitals cost the board NZ$276,000. That cost will rise with the new outbreak at Dunedin.

Two more hospitals in the UK also reported Norovirus outbreaks last week. Countess of Chester Hospital (Cheshire, UK) was forced to close a cardiology ward after seven patients began to suffer from nausea and diarrhea. Two of the patients were confirmed to have been infected with Norovirus. And two wards in Edith Cavell Hospital (Peterborough, UK) remain closed to new admissions in an effort to control an outbreak of Norovirus in that hospital.

Finally, just to show its fun-loving side is still intact, Norovirus turned up on a cruise ship last week. The Caribbean Princess arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia last week. Among the 4,250 passengers and crew on board the ship were 105 passengers and three crew members who were suffering from diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Norovirus can turn up on the best of ships. The Caribbean Princess aced its most recent inspection under the CDC's Vessel Sanitation Program.

Whether on a cruise ship, in a school dorm, or anywhere else large numbers of people are in close quarters, the best way to protect oneself against a Norovirus infection is frequent hand-washing and careful attention to personal hygiene. And it's not a bad idea to avoid buffet-service. You never know who has touched – or tasted – the food.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Allergy Alert: Prepared Sausage Meals Contain Sulfites

Tesco has announced a recall of some of its own brand of Prepared Sausage Meals, because the meals contain undeclared sulfur dioxide, according to an alert issued by the UK Food Standards Agency on Friday.

All "Use by" dates up to and including 1 November 2008 of the following three items have been recalled:

  • Tesco Classic Bangers and Mash, 500g
  • Tesco Classic Lincolnshire Sausage with Cheddar & Bacon Bubble Squeak, 450g
  • Tesco Finest Classics 3 Cumberland Sausages with Fresh Mash, 500g

While most people can consume these meals without ill effect, individuals who are sensitive to sulfites may suffer severe – possibly life-threatening – illness as a result of consuming one of the meals. People who suffer from asthma may be especially sensitive to sulfites.

Tesco has posted notices in its stores explaining the reason for this recall. Anyone who purchased one of the recalled meals is invited to return it to the store for a full refund.

The China Syndrome: The Way Forward

Two weeks ago, I posted "The China Syndrome: One Month Later" – a recap of the internal and international reverberations that resulted from China's melamine adulteration imbroglio. I wrote that article in the spirit of a philosophy espoused by my 90+ year old cousin, who believes that "you can't know where you're going if you don't know where you've come from." 

Now that we know where we've come from – at least as far as melamine is concerned – where should we, and China, be going? More specifically, how does China regain the trust of the international trading community?

The government of China already has taken several steps down the long road to recovering its international markets; including,
  • withdrawing from retail sale all milk and infant formula powder produced prior to September 14th, and testing samples for melamine contamination,
  • extensive melamine testing of infant formula and and dairy-containing foods manufactured after September 14th,
  • arresting numerous suspected perpetrators of the melamine adulteration,
  • acknowledging government responsibility for failing to supervise the dairy industry adequately, and
  • introducing stricter food safety laws.

If China's words and deeds are sincere, these are decent first steps in crisis management. But the government must still find a way to address the long standing issues that triggered and exacerbated the melamine fraud:
  • pressure on dairy companies to not "blow the whistle" before or during the Beijing Olympic Games, so as to avoid loss of face,
  • a mindset that allowed – and to some extent, encouraged – the adulteration, and
  • lack of press and internet freedom, which enabled both industry and government to delay the news of the problem from leaking to Chinese and international consumers.

Although the initial melamine adulteration story revolved around milk, infant formula, and dairy-containing foods, it's become increasingly clear that the problem has spread well beyond the dairy sector. With international food safety regulators hot on the contamination trail, we've learned that melamine can be found in non-dairy items, too: shell eggs, egg powderanimal feed, ammonium bicarbonate (a chemical leavening agent), and frozen fried chicken.

Melamine is an industrial chemical – used, for example, in the manufacture of plastics. It is also a breakdown product of cyromazine, an insecticide. Unless farmers around the world stop using cyromazine, we can expect trace amounts of melamine to migrate into food. Though unfortunate, this is unavoidable. But we must not tolerate deliberate, or even accidental, addition of melamine directly to a food or an animal feed.

International agencies and national food safety agencies around the world are attempting to differentiate between unavoidable and avoidable melamine contamination of food by establishing maximum levels for this contaminant – typically, 1 ppm for infant formula or foods meant for children up to 3 years of age, and 2.5 ppm for other food items. These are acknowledged to be provisional limits based on current toxicology data. The World Health Organization will convene an emergency meeting on December 1st to review existing knowledge of melamine toxicity.

China has "signed on" to the interim melamine tolerance levels of 1ppm and 2.5ppm, and has used those limits in its intensive screening of existing stocks of fluid milk, milk powder, infant formula and dairy-containing products. More importantly, China's Premier Wen Jiabao seems to have learned the need for a "farm to fork" regulatory system. 

Yesterday, in an address to the 7th Asia-Europe Meeting, held in Beijing, Premier Wen said, "Food involves a full process from the farmland to the table. It involves many links and many processes. In every link and every process, we need to put in place effective and powerful regulatory measures."

"The Chinese government," the Premier added, "attaches great importance to food safety because it is not only in the interest of the Chinese but also people in the world." 

"In the future," he said, "our food safety criteria will not only meet the international standard but that of the importer of our products."

And the most significant promise of all – one that, if kept, shows that China knows where it's going:
"We will gain the trust of the Chinese and people in the world via our behaviors and quality of our products."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Another Québec Recall for Inadequate Processing

The Québec Ministry of Agriculture (MAPAQ) is alerting consumers that Ferme du BON TEMPS brand "Macédoine de légumes"  and "haricot" has been recalled by the manufacturer because the foods were not processed in a manner that would ensure microbiological safety.

All lot codes and production dates of the following two products, which were packed in glass jars and sold at Ferme du Bon Temps at 884, route 138, Saint-Joachim, QC, are included in this recall.

  • Macédoine de légumes (mixed vegetables), 500 mL
  • Haricots (beans), 500 mL

Anyone who has purchased one of these items is strongly advised not to consume it. The recalled products should be returned to Ferme du Bon Temps for a refund.

North Bay, Ontario Outbreak: No News Is Bad News

Today's update from the North Bay-Parry Sound District Health Unit is singularly devoid of news – good or bad.

The number of confirmed and suspect cases has risen slightly to 209, of which 39 have been lab-confirmed as E. coli O157:H7. One of the victims is a child, who is hospitalized with symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome. Today's update describes the child's condition as "critical".

There still has been no break-through in finding the source – food, food-handler, or environmental – of the outbreak. And there is still no word on the results of genetic fingerprinting of the outbreak strain (or strains).

Unless something significant breaks over the weekend, it's likely that the next update from the District Health Unit will be on Monday, October 27th.

Happy Valley Dairies Locks Barn Door

Happy Valley Dairies (Tuatapere, NZ) has recalled 2L bottles of pasteurized milk after a "high E. coli count" was found in a sample of the milk, according to a notice posted by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority. The recall includes all 2L bottles identified with Batch 151008 and "Use by" 28 October, onwards.

The milk was sold in supermarkets and retail stores in the Invercargill region of New Zealand's South Island. Consumers who purchased the milk are urged to return it to the store for a refund.

Happy Valley Dairies, a family-owned and operated business, began production about 16 months ago as a vertically integrated boutique dairy. In a departure from usual hygiene requirements, the New Zealand authorities permitted the dairy to maintain its milking shed and processing facility under a common roof. The dairy's owners, Frans and Jeanine Venekamp, prided themselves on the quality and flavor of their dairy products, which included yogurts and cheeses in addition to pasteurized milk. 

The milk recall was Happy Valley's second brush with microbiological reality. Earlier this month, the dairy recalled two varieties of yogurt, due to Listeria monocytogenes contamination. According to Jeanine Venekamp, the Listeria finding spurred the couple to increase their testing frequency. She gave the following explanation for the E. coli result to the Otago Daily Times.
"We have been doing so much testing of our milk and that is why the samples were still warm and that in turn maybe why the E. coli bacteria bug was present."
It's clear from this statement that Ms. Venekamp lacks a basic understanding of the significance of E. coli in pasteurized milk. This microbe, a normal inhabitant of the intestinal tract, is destroyed by pasteurization. There are only three possible explanations for the presence of E. coli in a pasteurized milk sample:

  1. Inadequate pasteurization time or temperature (i.e., equipment failure)
  2. Contamination of the pasteurized milk after it leaves the pasteurizer (i.e., defective equipment, environmental contamination or poor sanitation)
  3. Improper sampling technique (i.e., operator error)

All of these are preventable in a well designed, well maintained, and well run dairy facility. And there is no excuse for a sample to still be warm, as Ms. Venekamp described, when it reaches the lab. A fundamental rule of microbiological sampling is to cool a sample immediately in order to preserve the "snapshot" of its bacterial load.

Ms. Venekamp also complained, during that same interview, that the government was overzealous in the way it disseminated information about the E. coli contamination – broadcasting the information on TV and radio, and publishing the notice in newspapers and online, rather than simply printing a public notice in newspapers. 

The Venekamps have decided to close down Happy Valley Dairies as a result of this incident. It's unfortunate that their boutique dairy experiment ended badly. But there are lessons to be learned. In hindsight, NZFSA should have insisted on a complete physical separation of the milking barn from the processing facility.

And all food processing facilities should be required to have at least one person on staff who has at least a basic understanding of microbiology, sanitation and sampling procedures.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Québec Warns About Mislabeled Perishable Foods

The Québec Ministry of Agriculture (MAPAQ) is advising the public not to consume certain perishable food items manufactured by Poissonnerie Bistro (445, chemin du Bord-du-Lac, Dorval, QC) if the foods have not been stored continuously in a refrigerator.

The following perishable items were not labeled "Garder réfrigéré" and should be discarded if they were not stored in a refrigerator after purchase. The products are packaged in glass jars in 250mL or 500mL sizes, and bear a label showing the brand name "La Poissonnerie Bistro" and a hand-written product description. All lot codes and dates are covered by this warning.

  • Corail pétoncle (scallop egg sac)
  • Palourde (clam)
  • Retailles de palourde (shredded clam)
  • Pâté de piment (pimento paté)

Consumers can return these items to the store for a refund. If the items have not been kept refrigerated, they should not be consumed under any circumstances.

Wild Boar Specialty Foods Recalled in Québec

The Québec Ministry of Agriculture (MAPAQ) is advising consumers that the following products have been recalled, because they have been prepared in a manner that may render them microbiologically hazardous.

The recalled products are packaged in glass jars, and were sold under the brand name "La Pointe aux Sangliers." All lots and date codes of these products are covered by the recall.
  • Cretons de sanglier (wild boar greaves), 225 ml.
  • Sauce à spaghetti au sanglier (wild boar spaghetti sauce), 450 ml.
  • Rillettes de sanglier aux bleuets (minced wild boar with blueberries), 100 ml.

The recalled items were sold at La Pointe aux Sangliers, 2370 route 112, Weedon, QC as well as at other retail outlets in and around Lévis and Thetford Mines.

Consumers who purchased any of the recalled items should either discard them safely, or return them to the store for a full refund. These items represent a significant health hazard. Under no circumstances should they be consumed.

North Bay E. coli O157:H7 Victim Hospitalized in Serious Condition

North Bay-Parry Sound District Health Unit announced today that one of the victims of the Harvey's Restaurant outbreak – a child – is hospitalized in serious condition with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

The child is one of 207 confirmed and suspect cases of E. coli O157:H7 illness, most of them traced to customers who ate at Harvey's Restaurant on Algonquin Avenue in North Bay, Ontario between October 1st and October 12th. Thirty-nine of the victims have been lab-confirmed.

Investigators have not yet determined a probable source of the pathogen. The District Health Unit has asked customers of Harvey's Restaurant, who ate there between October 1st and October 12th and remained healthy, to participate in an epidemiological interview. The interviews will help the District Health Unit to identify possible sources of the outbreak.

There is still no report from the Health Unit as to the results of genetic fingerprinting of the E. coli O157:H7 isolates that have been recovered from patients. This information, too, may help investigators to key in on a source.

At last report, eight other District Health Units in Ontario have reported one or more possible victims of this outbreak. One case also has been reported from Québec. Under the circumstances, it's surprising that the Ontario Ministry of Health hasn't taken a more active role in reporting the status of the outbreak investigation.

Allergy Alert: CFIA Warns About Greek Golden Peppers

UPDATED: October 23, 2008

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is alerting consumers to the presence of undeclared sulfites in Cedar Phoenicia brand Greek Golden Peppers. 

The peppers, which were imported from Greece, are sold in 1.5 L jars bearing UPC 0 62356 54160 6, and were distributed nationally. CFIA is working with the importer to ensure withdrawal of the peppers from the marketplace.

This recall has been expanded to include a second package size. In addition to the 1.5 L jars, the importer also has recalled Cedar Phoenicia brand Greek Golden Peppers packed in 1 L jars bearing UPC 0 62356 54159 0. NEW Oct 23rd

While sulfite sensitivity is not a true allergy, individuals who are sensitive to sulfites may, nevertheless, suffer severe – possibly life-threatening – reactions after consuming a sulfite-containing food. Asthma sufferers are at greatest risk of severe reactions.

Anyone who purchased the recalled peppers should return them to the store for a refund. For more information on this recall, contact CFIA toll-free at 1-800-442-2342 between the hours of 8:00 am and 8:00 pm (EDT), Monday through Friday.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Allergy Alert: Stuffed Artichokes Recalled For Undeclared Ingredients

FDA is advising consumers that Nonna's Real Italiana Cuccine brand Stuffed Artichokes have been recalled after the agency discovered that several ingredients were not declared on the packaging.

The 15 oz. packages of stuffed artichokes, produced by Nonna's Real Italiana Cuccine (Slidell, LA), contain undeclared milk, soy and wheat. The product was distributed through retailers in the Greater New Orleans area between October 8 and October 17, inclusive. No date code or lot code information was provided in the recall.

Individuals who are allergic to any of the three undeclared ingredients may experience a severe – possibly life-threatening – reaction after consuming the stuffed artichokes. Consumers who purchased the recalled item should contact Ruby Lovecchio of Nonna's at 214-253-7630 for instructions on how to return the product for refund.

Allergy Alert: Harry and David Moose Munch® Recalled

FDA advised US consumers today that Harry and David (Medford, OR) has recalled Harry & David Moose Munch Confection, Milk Chocolate Gingerbread, because some of the 1 lb, 4 oz. packages may contain a different Harry & David product. The other product, Dark Chocolate Butter Pecan Moose Munch Confection, contains pecans, which are not declared on the label.

The recalled packages are labeled with a "Best if used by" date of 06/28/09, and stock ID number RSD142014.  As many as 60 of the 400 recalled packages of Moose Munch may contain the incorrect confection.

Individuals who are allergic to nuts may experience a severe – possibly life-threatening – reaction upon eating the pecan-containing confection. Consumers who purchased the recalled item should return it to any Harry and David retail location for a full refund.

North Bay E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak: New Cases Come To Light

The North Bay-Parry Sound District Health Unit reported today that the total number of confirmed and suspect cases in this outbreak investigation now stands at 190 – up significantly from yesterday's total of 158. Thirty-six of the 190 cases are lab-confirmed as E. coli O157:H7. 

We've been told by the District that confirmed cases are defined as patients from whom E. coli O157:H7 has been isolated; suspect cases are patients whose symptoms match those expected from an infection with E. coli O157:H7, and who began to experience their symptoms during the outbreak time frame. As of today, no genetic fingerprinting (PFGE) results are available. 

The Medical Officer of Health believes that the sharp increase in cases is due to more cases coming out of the woodwork as the news of the outbreak continues to spread through the province. In addition to North Bay, suspect cases have been reported in eight Ontario health districts. Québec, too, has reported at least one case.

We've learned that the other districts reporting one or more cases possibly linked to this outbreak include Sudbury, Porcupine, Timiskaming, Simcoe-Muskoka, Hastings Prince Edward County and York Region. There is no indication whether any of these cases have been confirmed.

The investigation into the source of the outbreak seems an eerie parallel of the Oklahoma E. coli O111 outbreak investigation earlier this year. Most of the victims ate at the same restaurant – Harvey's North Bay – within a fairly narrow time frame. Tests of food and water samples so far have failed to detect the presence of E. coli O157:H7. The District has not yet released information on the investigation into food handlers as a possible source, except to say that the restaurant and its employees are cooperating.

The District Health Unit is continuing to interview suspect victims of this outbreak, in the hope of determining what food or foods might be the source of the infections. Investigators are actively seeking the assistance of anyone who ate at Harvey's Restaurant on Algonquin Avenue in North Bay between the dates of October 1st and October 12th. By comparing the items eaten by those who became ill and those who remained healthy, investigators might be able to determine the source of the E. coli O157:H7. People who fall into this category are asked to contact the North Bay-Parry Sound District Health Unit at (705) 474-1400 or (800) 563-2808.

Unfortunately, epidemiological analysis is chancy under these circumstances. In a fast food burger restaurant like Harvey's, most people order similar meals. And not everyone will remember what toppings they had with their burgers, or whether they had a salad. The longer it takes, and the more complex the investigation, the less likely that a definitive answer will be forthcoming.

The best chance of determining the source of the outbreak is if the outbreak strain can be matched genetically to a previously isolated E. coli O157:H7 from a recent food recall or a recent outbreak elsewhere. Otherwise, the North Bay outbreak may simply be added to a long list of "unexplained outbreaks."

Boobies and Bottoms Recalled In UK

The UK Food Standards Agency announced today that three chocolate novelty products imported from China were found to contain melamine and have been withdrawn from the UK marketplace.

The three items were manufactured by Le Bang Chocolate Food Company (Zhongshan, China) and imported into the UK by Spencer and Fleetwood. The following items are included in this recall:
  • Fifi’s Boobies, 80g; Lot number LB8202; Best before end 01/10
  • Lollipop Boobs, 30g; Lot number LB8202; Best before end 01/10
  • Cheeky Chocolate Milk Chocolate Bottoms, 42g; Lot Number LB8202; Best before end 01/10
The "Bottoms" were found to contain 17 ppm melamine; the other two items each contained 15 ppm. At present, the legal limit for melamine in foods not intended for infants and toddlers is 2.5 ppm.

While the UK Food Standards Agency believes that the level of melamine contamination in these products does not represent a significant health risk, consumers are urged to either return these novelty items to the store for a refund, or to discard them out of the reach of children.

"Ears and Tongue Roll" Recalled in UK

The UK Food Standards Agency notified consumers today that Lignesa Foods Ltd. is recalling all date codes of Samsono brand Ears and Tongue Roll, imported from Lithuania. The deli meat is contaminated with exceptionally high levels of Listeria monocytogenes, and presents a serious health risk.

Eighteen samples of this product were tested; seventeen exceeded the 100 Listeria monocytogenes/gram EU legal limit for this type of product. The most heavily contaminated sample contained 2.8 million Listeria monocytogenes/gram.

The recalled item was distributed to Lithuanian specialty food shops in the UK. Authorities are investigating whether the same product also was imported by other companies in addition to Lignesa Foods.

The Samsono brand Ears and Tongue Roll carries EC approval number LT 84-07 EB. All sizes and date codes of the product have been recalled. Consumers who purchased this item should either return it to the store or discard it safely. Under no circumstances should this product be consumed.

Roast Beef Sold At Ontario Deli Counters Recalled

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is warning consumers in Ontario that roast beef sold at some deli counters in the province may be contamination with Listeria monocytogenes and should not be consumed.

The roast beef, which was manufactured by Les Salaisons Desco Inc. (Est. 501), has tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. This meat also was the reason for yesterday's recall of Plaisirs Gastronomiques (PG) ready-to-eat sandwiches in the province of Québec.

The recalled roast beef was sold in Ontario in variable weight deli-style plastic bags at the following times and locations:

  • Sharpe’s IGA, 85 Front Street N. Campbellford - October 3 to 12
  • Lamantia’s Country Market, 50 William Street S, Lindsay - October 8 to 21
  • Fisher Foodland, 990 Division Street, Cobourg - October 8 to 17
  • Campbell Metcalfe Variety, 8196 Victoria Street, Metcalfe - October 2 to 21

Any of this meat that has not yet been eaten should be safely discarded out of reach of children. If you have been experiencing symptoms of listeriosis and you think you may have consumed some of this roast beef, contact your health care provider immediately. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

North Bay Outbreak Numbers Rise Again

The North Bay-Parry Sound District Health Unit reported this afternoon that the number of confirmed cases in this E. coli O157:H7 outbreak has risen to 35 lab-confirmed victims. The combined total of confirmed and suspect cases now stands at 158.

The total number of cases is now just one shy of the 159 total that was reported on Sunday. eFoodAlert has learned that the removal of 18 suspect cases from the Sunday total was due to the symptoms reported by those individuals not matching the typical symptoms associated with an E. coli o157:H7 infection. 

In addition to North Bay-Parry Sound, eight other health units in the province are investigating cases that may be part of this outbreak. The Ontario Ministry of Health, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Public Health Agency of Canada and Agency for Health Protection and Promotion are all involved in the investigation.

So far, investigators have not been able to key in on a single source. Food samples taken on October 12th, when Harvey's – the North Bay restaurant at the center of this investigation – closed, have all tested negative for E. coli O157:H7, according to a report by Colin Perkel of The Canadian Press.

The District Health Unit should soon be receiving the results of genetic fingerprinting of the E. coli O157:H7 recovered from the first batch of confirmed cases. If the outbreak strain matches a strain of E. coli O157:H7 recovered from another recent outbreak or from other sporadic cases elsewhere in Canada, this investigation will be on the road to success. But if the fingerprint does not match any other recently recovered E. coli o157:H7 isolate, the chances of finding the source of the North Bay outbreak will be considerably reduced.

As we found out during the Maple Leaf Listeria monocytogenes outbreak, Ontario does not have the capability of carrying out PFGE – genetic fingerprinting – analysis on bacteria. Unlike Québec, the province of Ontario relies on a federal lab, based in Winnipeg, for PFGE analyses. Even with overnight delivery of cultures, this can add days to the time required to obtain results.

Canada's largest province should invest in its own PFGE lab capabilities. In an outbreak investigation, time is always of the essence.