Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Florida Dept. of Agriculture Nixes New York Fish

NY Fish Inc. (Brooklyn, NY) has voluntarily recalled four production lots of its I NY FISH brand Imperial-European Style Smoked Salmon after the Florida State Department of Agriculture found Listeria monocytogenes in samples of the smoked fish purchased from retail stores in that state.

The recalled items are packaged sliced in 3 oz., 8 oz., 16 oz., or  as whole sides (i.e., not sliced) on aluminum-coated cardboard in clear, plastic vacuum-packed bags. Each package carries a red, black and gold sticker label with gold labeling and a small, white sticker label with the lot number. Lots 513 1340, 514 1340, 515 1340 and 516 1340 are the only lots that have been recalled.

The recalled smoked salmon was distributed to wholesalers and retail food stores in six states - New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Washington, and California. It's clear, however, that at least one more state – Florida – also received some of the recalled fish.

No illnesses have been linked to this recall. But the risk of illness associated with consuming food that contains Listeria monocytogenes should be taken very seriously. The elderly, young children, pregnant women, and people with reduced immunity to disease are very susceptible to life-threatening illness as a result of infection with this pathogen.

Anyone who has purchased the recalled product should return it to the store for a full refund. For more information, contact NY Fish Inc. at (718) 342-4100

The China Syndrome: Cadbury Dodges Bullet, Lipton Less Lucky

Unilever Hong Kong has recalled four batches of Lipton Milk Tea Powders after internal tests carried out by the company detected melamine in the products.

The contaminated batches were distributed in Hong Kong and Macau, and are described as follows:

  • Lipton Milk Tea Powder Original: 17g x 20 sachets, best before date 17112009
  • Lipton Milk Tea Powder Gold: 18.5g x 10 sachets, best before date 17112009
  • Lipton Milk Tea Powder Gold: 18.5g x 20 sachets, best before date 18112009
  • Lipton Milk Tea Powder Gold: 18.5g x 20 sachets, best before date 19112009
Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety has indicated that it will sample the products and carry out its own melamine testing. Meanwhile, the agency has asked retailers to withdraw the products from sale and is advising consumers not to drink the implicated Lipton tea powders. 

While Lipton has become enmeshed in the melamine affair, Cadbury appears to have been reprieved. 

We reported yesterday that Cadbury had ordered a precautionary recall of eleven products made in its Beijing, China facility after preliminary tests indicated possible contamination with melamine. The chocolates were exported to Hong Kong, Australia and Taiwan.

But an Associated Press report carried this morning by USA Today indicates that the Centre for Food Safety has not found melamine in the Cadbury chocolates. Why the confusion?

As with many analytical programs, melamine testing is probably carried out in two steps. First, samples can be screened using a rapid test based on an immunoassay. These tests are relatively easy to perform, are less expensive, allow most "clean" products to be identified quickly. Then, samples that test positive using the immunoassay test would be retested using a more accurate "gold standard" method based on chromatography

We don't know whether that's what happened with Cadbury, but it's a feasible explanation. The company made an ethically appropriate decision to issue a precautionary recall based on the preliminary result, knowing that its reputation could be damaged. Cadbury management should be applauded for that decision, made in the best interests of its customers.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hold The Lettuce: Update

The Illinois Department of Public Health has added its voice to the contaminated lettuce alert issued last Friday by the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Six residents of Illinois were infected in late August and early September by E. coli O157:H7. The cluster of illnesses all were caused by the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 and the source was traced epidemiologically to chopped and shredded lettuce distributed by Aunt Mid's Produce Company (Detroit, MI).

The same strain of E. coli O157:H7 also is responsible for 26 illnesses in Michigan – including the outbreak cluster at Michigan State University – and an unspecified number of cases in New York, Ohio and Oregon.

Federal and state authorities are working with Aunt Mid's to trace the source of the contaminated lettuce, which was supplied to restaurants, institutions and food service operations. The company has suspended production and sale of its iceberg lettuce product line until the source of the problem has been found and corrected.

The China Syndrome: Cadbury Recalls Chocolates

Cadbury has announced a recall of eleven chocolate items that were manufactured in its Beijing, China plant and exported to Hong Kong, Australia and Taiwan.

The British chocolate maker did not officially state a specific reason for the recall, saying simply that tests had cast doubt on the safety of its Chinese-made products. But an unnamed Cadbury spokesperson told Associated Press that preliminary tests revealed the presence of an undetermined level of melamine in the chocolates.

The eleven recalled Cadbury products have been identified as follows:

  • Dark Chocette, 45g
  • Dark Chocette, 80g
  • Eclairs, 180g
  • Dairy Milk Chocolate, 150g Pumpkin
  • Dark Chocolate, 40g
  • Dairy Milk Chocolate Bulk Pack, 5kg
  • Dark Chocolate Bulk Pack, 5kg
  • Dairy Milk Hazelnut Chocolate Bulk Pack, 5kg
  • Dairy Milk Cookies Chocolate Bulk Pack, 5kg
  • Hazelnut Praline Chocolate, 312g 2008 Chinese New Year pack
  • Dairy Milk Chocolate, 300g 2008 Chinese New Year pack

No recall advisories have been issued yet by Australia or Taiwan food safety authorities. But consumers in those countries should take note of this recall and avoid consuming the chocolates listed above until further notice.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Breaking News: Salmonella Alert – Canada and USA

The Public Health Agency of Canada and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating an outbreak of salmonellosis that straddles the US-Canada border.

The outbreak strain, identified as Salmonella Poona, has been blamed for 48 cases of salmonellosis across the United States and 20 cases in Canada – 14 of them in Ontario. The remaining 6 Canadian cases have been reported by Manitoba, Québec and Nova Scotia. The source of the international outbreak has not yet been determined.

Salmonella Poona was blamed for three consecutive outbreaks of food-borne gastroenteritis in 2000-2002. Those outbreaks, which also affected both the United States and Canada, were traced, eventually to contaminated cantaloupes from Mexico. 

Salmonella infections typically are self-limiting and produce symptoms which include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and low-grade fever. Occasionally, some victims may later experience symptoms of arthritis as a result of the infection.

Anyone who has experienced symptoms consistent with Salmonella gastroenteritis should seek medical attention, and should be prepared to provide health authorities with information as to what they consumed in the days preceding the onset of symptoms. 

Salmonella is a reportable disease in both Canada and the United States. Any medical practitioners who examine patients with gastroenteritis should obtain a stool specimen and submit that specimen for lab testing. Salmonella-positive lab results must be reported to the appropriate state or federal health authorities.

The China Syndrome: The Next Recall

We're going out on a limb, here. According to the eFoodAlert crystal ball, the next North American recalls of a food from China will be Lotte Koala biscuits.

The Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety reported yesterday that it had detected melamine in three samples of Lotte Koala biscuits, manufactured by Lotte China Foods Co., Ltd. 

Hong Kong has advised stores to withdraw the following biscuits from sale, and the importer has recalled them.

  • Lotte Koala Biscuit Family Pack, Chocolate Filled, Double Chocolate Flavor, Exp. Jan 29, 2010 – 68 ppm
  • Lotte Koala's March Chocolate Biscuit Family Pack, Exp. Jan 29, 2010 – 57 ppm
  • Lotte Koala Strawberry Biscuit Family Pack, Exp. Sep 26, 2009 - 4.3 ppm

Lotte Koala biscuits can be purchased easily over the Internet – even through Amazon.com. They also are available in Asian and non-Asian supermarkets in the United States.

It will probably take a few days for the news to percolate through to US and Canadian health authorities. But – just like the Mr. Brown instant coffees and the White Rabbit candies – it will happen.

Please do not consume these biscuits. Please do not feed them to your children. And please think twice before knowingly consuming any food made in China, or containing an ingredient from China, until this mushrooming mess has been cleaned up.

Hold The Lettuce

As we reported on Friday, the probable source of the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that struck the East Lansing campus of Michigan State University earlier this month has been identified.

The cluster of victims at MSU are part of a larger outbreak that includes 26 cases in Michigan, in addition to an unspecified number of cases in Illinois, New York, Ohio and Oregon. Epidemiological investigations have pointed the finger at shredded and chopped iceberg lettuce distributed in institutional size packages. At least some of the outbreak victims consumed lettuce packaged and distributed by Aunt Mid's Produce Company (Detroit, MI).

According to the Michigan Department of Community Health, lab tests and trace-back investigations are still in progress. Additional wholesalers or distributors of lettuce may also be implicated. 

Meanwhile, Aunt Mid's has suspended processing and sale of its lettuce line, and has called in an independent lab to conduct tests and review the company's processing facility and procedures. Initial checks for E. coli O157:H7 have been negative, but additional tests are still in progress.

Based on the information available so far, the lettuce was sold nationally to institutions and restaurants – not to retail stores. Until the trace-back has been completed, and any remaining product recalled, it would be prudent to avoid shredded or chopped lettuce when eating out.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Other Powdered Milk Safety Problem

With all the focus on melamine in milk powder and other dairy products and ingredients from China, the international media have largely overlooked an old familiar food safety problem that has reappeared this year – Salmonella contamination of powdered milk.

Last month, Spain's National Reference Laboratory of Salmonella (NRLS) noted an unusually high number of isolates of Salmonella enterica serotype Kedougou – a type of Salmonella that is found rarely in Spain. In all, 29 people – 23 of them under one year old – had been infected with the identical strain of Salmonella Kegoudou. Six of the infants were hospitalized as a result of their symptoms. One of the adult victims was the father of an infected infant.

Spanish authorities were able to determine that at least 19 of the infants had been fed the same brand of powdered milk formula in the week before they began to exhibit symptoms of salmonellosis. The formula was manufactured by Santuri, and sold under the brand names "Confort" and "Natur." Five batches of the implicated milk formula were recalled and an alert was issued through the EU Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed.

Last week, the EU could be pardoned for experiencing a sense of déjà vu. Once again, an outbreak of salmonellosis among infants was traced to contaminated powdered milk formula. The venue was different – this outbreak was in France. The Salmonella serotype was different – Salmonella Give, this time. The manufacturer was different – Novalac. But the story was essentially the same.

The French outbreak isn't quite as large. It consists at the moment of five confirmed cases and six probable cases, which are still under investigation. At least 10 of the 11 victims were fed the same powdered milk formula. The epidemiological data were compelling and, without waiting for lab test results on the powdered milk, Novalac recalled the implicated batch of formula on September 23rd. The company extended its recall to include all batches the following day, because some consumers were having difficulty reading the batch numbers.

Salmonella outbreaks have been traced to milk powder several times in past decades – in the UK, France, Korea, the United States and Canada, and Australia, for example. I talk about some of those outbreaks – their causes and how they might have been prevented – in Food Safety: Old Habits, New Perspectives.

Intentional adulteration of food, such as has been taking place with the addition of melamine to milk and vegetable protein products in China, is unconscionable. But accidental contamination of food by a pathogen such as Salmonella can be just as dangerous. 

While we follow the evolution of the melamine adulteration affair, let's not lose sight of the more mundane, but equally important, food safety issues.

The China Syndrome: Canada Expands Mr. Brown Recall

CFIA has expanded its previous notice advising of the recall of three Mr. Brown instant coffee products. The recall now includes all date codes of the following items:

  • Instant Coffee 3 in 1 Mandheling Blend Coffee (UPC 4 710085 122523)
  • Instant Coffee 3 in 1 Blue Mountain Blend Coffee (UPC 4 710085 200597)
  • Instant Coffee 3 in 1 Arabica Coffee (UPC 4 710085 122509)

The earlier recall notice had been limited to certain date codes. At that time, the product was thought to have been distributed only in Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba. CFIA now advises that Mr. Brown products are available throughout Canada. 

The Canadian importer of these three products, Thai Indochine Trading Inc. (Markham, ON) has voluntarily recalled them. CFIA is monitoring the effectiveness of the recall.

CFIA has also alerted Canadian consumers that four other Mr. Brown products, which have not been imported into the country officially, may nevertheless be available for sale. These products, which have been recalled by King Car Food Industrial Co. Ltd. (Taiwan), include all date codes of:

  • Mr. Brown Caramel Macchiato Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
  • Mr. Brown French Vanilla Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
  • Mr. Brown Mandheling Blend Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
  • Mr. Brown Milk Tea (3-in-1)

Consumers should avoid using any of these instant coffee and milk tea products, due to the possibility that they may contain melamine.  

Friday, September 26, 2008

E. coli O157:H7: Grime Scene Investigation at MSU

A combined operation that involved investigators and staff from Michigan State University, Michigan's Departments of Agriculture and of Community Health, the FDA, the CDC and the USDA paid off today when the MSU outbreak was traced definitively to a nationally-distributed shredded and chopped iceberg lettuce.

The investigation was triggered by an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 among students of Michigan State University earlier this month. The outbreak was linked through genetic fingerprinting of the microbe to 26 cases in 8 Michigan counties, as well as to other cases in Illinois, New York, Ohio and Oregon.

By reviewing epidemiological data obtained from the outbreak victims at MSU and elsewhere, investigators have zeroed in on the source of the pathogen – shredded and chopped iceberg lettuce distributed nationally by Aunt Mid's Produce Company (Detroit, MI).

The report on MSU's web site does not indicate whether or not the outbreak strain was detected in a sample of Aunt Mid's lettuce. We can expect a report to be posted soon on the Michigan Department of Community Health web site. And a nation-wide recall of the contaminated lettuce may be in the works – if Aunt Mid can be convinced to go along with the idea.

Allergy Alert: Patak's Cooking Sauce

On September 4th, FDA advised consumers that ACH Food Companies, Inc. (Memphis, TN) was recalling Patak's® Dopiaza Cooking Sauce due to the undeclared presence of butter in the product.

The recalled items were labeled as Patak's® Rich Tomato and Onion Cooking Sauce Dopiaza (Mild) and Patak's® Dopiaza Curry Cooking Sauce Mild, and carry a Best By date of "on or before February 2010."

The undeclared butter was added to the products as a result of a co-packer error. The correct product formulations do not contain butter.

While no illness reports have been received, individuals who are allergic to dairy products may suffer a severe – possibly life-threatening – allergic reaction after consuming these products. Consumers who purchased one of the recalled items are encouraged to return it to the store for a full refund, or to contact ACH toll-free at 800-726-3648 to receive a coupon.

The China Syndrome: Heinz Recalls Baby Food Batch

The H.J. Heinz Company announced today that it was recalling one batch of baby food after the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety detected a 1.6 ppm of melamine in the product. All other Heinz products were found by the government's testing lab to be melamine-free.

The product being recalled is identified as:

  • Heinz Intelligence Many Many Vegetable Cereal (Product Bar Code: 6901642888480)

The prompt action taken by Heinz is in sharp contrast to the reaction of Nestlé after Hong Kong reported finding a similar low level of melamine in Nestlé Dairy Farm UHT Pure Milk 1L (Catering). 

The Swiss-based multi-national has issued two press releases to assure consumers that none of their dairy products were contaminated with melamine. Nestlé made the following statement on September 21st:

"The Hong Kong Government's Food and Environmental Health Department has just released a report declaring that Neslac Gold 1+, which was mentioned in the media reports, is safe and that no melamine was detected in the product."

That statement did not at all address the Dairy Farm UHT Pure Milk, in which melamine was detected by the Hong Kong Government. Nestlé followed up their first press release with a second statement, issued on September 23rd:

"No Nestlé milk products in China and Hong Kong are made from milk adulterated with melamine." 

Perhaps Nestlé should take some lessons in public relations and good corporate citizenship from H.J. Heinz.

The China Syndrome: US issues 1st Melamine Recall Advisory

The US Food and Drug Administration today issued an updated health advisory regarding the possibility of melamine contamination in foods imported from China.

According to today's notice, King Car Food Industrial Co. Ltd., has recalled the following Mr. Brown brand instant coffees and milk tea products due to possible melamine contamination.

  • Mr. Brown Mandheling Blend Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
  • Mr. Brown Arabica Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
  • Mr. Brown Blue Mountain Blend Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
  • Mr. Brown Caramel Macchiato Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
  • Mr. Brown French Vanilla Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
  • Mr. Brown Mandhling Blend instant Coffee (2-in-1)
  • Mr. Brown Milk Tea (3-in-1)

Readers may remember that the Taiwan government was the first to detect melamine contamination in Mr. Brown products. Canada issued a recall of Mr. Brown products earlier this week.

FDA also is advising US consumers that New Zealand has found melamine in White Rabbit Creamy Candies, and that these candies should not be eaten. Again, Canada already has issued a formal recall notice for these candies.

E. coli O157:H7 In Michigan

The outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 that has sickened several Michigan State University students also is being blamed for a number of other cases of illness in the state.

The Lansing State Journal reported yesterday that the strain of E. coli O157:H7 that was recovered from five MSU students matches the genetic fingerprint of the strain that has sickened 13 other people in seven Michigan counties, including five inmates of the Lenawee County Jail.

In addition to the five confirmed outbreak cases at MSU, a further 21 reported illnesses among students at the university are still under investigation. 

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The China Syndrome: Canada Recalls White Rabbit Candy

CFIA has announced a nation-wide recall of all White Rabbit brand candy. The agency has advised the Canadian public not to "... consume, distribute or sell..." any flavor or variety of White Rabbit candy, due to the risk that it may contain melamine.

In recent days, government labs in New Zealand, Singapore, and Hong Kong all have detected melamine in White Rabbit Creamy Candies, a made-in-China sweet. CFIA has determined that White Rabbit has been imported into Canada and is available for sale in retail stores across the country.

CFIA has advised retailers to remove all White Rabbit candy from store shelves, and is working with importers to coordinate the product recall.

Allergy Alert: Giant Foods – USA

Giant Food LLC has announced a recall of several baked goods due to the possible presence of nuts that were not declared on the lists of ingredients.

The following Giant Bakery Products – sold on or before September 24, 2008 – have been recalled:

  • Giant Rainbow Cake (UPC 210725808991)
  • Giant Mundel Bread (UPC 201500305590)
  • Giant Rugalah, Raspberry (UPC 201575808453)
  • Giant Rugalah, Cinnamon Raisin Nut (UPC 201576000092)
  • Giant Rugalah, Chocolate Chip (UPC 201575500098)
  • Giant Hamantashen, Cherry (UPC 201760703297)
  • Giant Hamantashen, Prune (UPC 201577603292)
  • Giant Hamantashen, Poppy (UPC 201578001295)
  • Giant Hamantashen, Apricot (UPC 201576201291)
  • Giant Hamantashen, Assorted Varieties (UPC 201550003996)

The following 8-ounce packages of Grandma Taylor's Gourmet Dipping Cookies Mundel Bread – sold in Giant Bakeshops on or before September 24, 2008 – have been recalled:

  • Cinnamon Walnut (UPC 67073-00002)
  • Cinnamon Raisin (UPC 67073-00003)
  • Chocolate Chip (UPC 67073-00001)
  • Chocolate (UPC 67073-00004)
  • Marble Almond (UPC 67073-00005)
  • Cranberry Pistachio (67073-00006)

Individuals who are allergic to nuts should not consume these products, as they risk suffering a severe – possibly life-threatening – allergic reaction due to the undeclared presence of nuts in the products. 

Customers who have purchased recalled items may return them to the store for a full refund. For more information, contact Giant Foods at (888) 469-4426.

Allergy Alert: Soups and Sauces - UK

The UK Food Standards Agency is advising consumers of two allergy-related recalls today.

Sainsbury's Supermarkets Ltd. has withdrawn packages of its SO Organic Pumpkin & Sweet Red Pepper Soup (600g; Use by 7 October 2008), because some of the packages contain Organic Celeriac & Mushroom Soup instead. This product may be hazardous to individuals who are allergy to celery.

In a separate action, Jenks Sales Brokers have recalled five different sauce sachets, due to the presence of one or more undeclared allergens in the products. No date or product codes have been specified. Individuals who are sensitive to one or more of the indicated allergens should not consume the following five products, due to the risk of a severe – possibly life-threatening – allergic reaction.

  • Hammonds Vinegar (8g): gluten from barley
  • Hammonds Brown Sauce (10g): soya, gluten from wheat, barley, and rye
  • Hammonds Tartare Sauce (10g): mustard, egg
  • Hammond Mayonnaise (10g): egg
  • Hammonds Salad Cream (10g): mustard, egg, and gluten from wheat

Allergy Alert: HDH Grillin' Sauce Recalled

CaJohns Fiery Foods Company has recalled 103 bottles of HDH Grillin' Sauce, because the sauce may contain one or more undeclared allergens. The problem was detected during a routine inspection by FDA.

The recalled 16-ounce glass bottles were sold between 01/01/07 and 09/15/08 through retailers, web sites and by mail order throughout the United States. Six lot numbers – marked on the bottom of the bottles – are covered by this recall notice: 249242, 249298, 249304, 249154, 249181, and 249197.

The recalled bottles of sauce may contain undeclared anchovies, soy beans or wheat. Individuals who are allergic to one or more of these items may experience serious – possibly life-threatening – symptoms when eating a food containing the ingredient.

Consumers in need of more information about this recall can contact CaJohns toll-free at: 888-703-3473.

New Recall; Different Company; Same Problem: Listeria monocytogenes

Hygaard Find Foods Ltd. (Sherwood Park, Alberta) has announced a voluntary recall of a series of prepackaged ready-to-eat sandwiches due to the possibility of contamination with Listeria monocytogenes, after the company detected the microbe in an environmental sample.

The following items are included in the recall notice:

  • Super Donair/Notre Donair Super (251g)
  • Mini Pizza Sub/Sous-Marin à la Pizza Mini (140g)
  • Little John Sub/Sous-Marin Petit Jean (387g)
  • Hoagie (238g)
  • Mini Hoagie Family Pack/Paquet Familial de Hoagie Mini (822g)
  • Mini Pizza Sub/Sous-Marin à la Pizza Mini (156g)
  • Mini Pizza Sub Family Pack/Paquet Familial de Mini Sous-Marin à la Pizza (798g)
  • Super Pizza Sub/Notre Sous-Marin à la Pizza Super (380g)
  • Lumberjack Sub/Sous-Marin Bucherin (312g)
  • Mini Sub/Sous-Marin Mini (133g)
  • Salt & Pepper Dry Ribs/Flanc de Porc Sechées Entierment Sel et Poivre (164g)
  • Super Sub/Notre Sous-Marin Super (165g)
  • Mini Ham Sub Family Pack/Paquet Familial de Mini Sous-Marin au Jambon (738g)
  • Philly Steak Sub/Sous-Marin au Philly Bifteck (219g)
  • Spicy Donair/Donair épicé (155g)
  • Sausage & Egg Muffin/Muffin avec Saucisse et Oeuf (165g)

All of the above-listed items that are identified with Best Before dates of Oct 24 - Nov 16, inclusive are part of the recall. The products were distributed across Canada, except for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

This is the second major precautionary recall of prepared sandwiches by a Canadian manufacturer in less that a week. Last Friday, Smith's Snack Service Ltd. (Norman Cove, NL) recalled its entire outstanding production inventory after CFIA detected Listeria monocytogenes. It doesn't take much stretching of the imagination to deduce that CFIA has instituted a heightened surveillance of all deli meat and ready-to-eat sandwich producers across Canada.

Hygaard uses modified atmosphere packaging technology to extend the shelf life of its packaged sandwiches to 35 days. Their packaging system injects carbon dioxide gas into the packaging to suppress the growth of spoilage bacteria. Unfortunately, Listeria monocytogenes thrives on reduced oxygen/increased carbon dioxide atmospheres. And, unlike many other food-borne pathogens, it multiplies at normal refrigerator temperatures.

As usual, the recall notice does not indicate which grocery chains or convenience stores carry the recalled Hygaard sandwiches. Consumers who want more information can contact CFIA at 1-800-442-2342 during normal business hours.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Listeria in Canada: Touring the Provinces

The Public Health Agency of Canada has confirmed that – as of 4:00 pm today – 48 cases of listeriosis nation-wide are linked to contaminated meat from Maple Leaf's Bartor Road production facility. Another 10 cases are still under investigation. 

Eighteen deaths have been reported for which the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes was the underlying or contributing cause. Three other deaths have been reported in which the outbreak strain did not contribute to the death of the victims. An additional five deaths are still being investigated.

This Listeria monocytogenes outbreak is unprecedented in Canada both in the severity of the illnesses and the geographic distribution of the contaminated food. Here's a breakdown of the outbreak by province, traveling from east to west.

Newfoundland and Labrador
No confirmed or suspect cases of listeriosis.  Last week, Smith's Snacks announced a recall of 31  prepared, ready-to-eat sandwiches and deli meats after CFIA found Listeria monocytogenes for the third time. No illnesses were associated with the recall, and there was no indication that the strain of Listeria monocytogenes was the same as the Maple Leaf outbreak strain.

Nova Scotia
No confirmed or suspect cases of listeriosis associated with the outbreak.

Prince Edward Island
No confirmed or suspect cases of listeriosis associated with the outbreak.

New Brunswick
One fatal confirmed case has been linked to the outbreak. A second case of listeriosis has just been diagnosed. The elderly victim lives in a private residence and was hospitalized as a result of the illness. The strain of Listeria monocytogenes recovered from the patient has been submitted to PHAC's national laboratory for genetic fingerprinting.

This province had the dubious distinction of coping with a province wide outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes that was simultaneous with, but totally independent from, the national outbreak. Québec reported two confirmed cases associated with the national outbreak strain, including one fatality for which the Listeria monocytogenes infection was not the underlying cause of death. There is also one suspect case still under investigation.

Separately, Québec has reported 30 confirmed cases of listeriosis that have been linked to contaminated cheeses that were manufactured and sold in the province. One of the victims of that outbreak died, and one infant was stillborn. Four of the victims were newborns who were infected in their mothers' wombs, and survived.

By far the hardest hit of the provinces, Ontario has experienced 36 confirmed cases, with 7 more cases still under investigation. There were twenty deaths among the confirmed cases; in 14 of them, listeriosis was an underlying or contributing cause of death. There were 6 deaths for which a specific cause was not determined.

This province has experienced five cases of listeriosis so far in 2008. Just one of those cases, reported in August, was caused by the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes. Earlier in September, an infant died from listeriosis. But this infection was caused by a different strain. A new case of listeriosis has just been reported in the Winnipeg area. Lab tests are in progress to determine whether the victim, a woman in her 50's with an underlying medical condition, has been infected by the Maple Leaf outbreak strain.

Saskatchewan reported one confirmed case and one death. The death was not directly attributed to the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes.

This province has experienced two confirmed cases and one death. The death was attributed to infection by the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes.

British Columbia
This western-most province has reported five confirmed cases of listeriosis linked to the outbreak; a sixth case is under investigation. All five confirmed victims had already-existing medical conditions that might have contributed to their susceptibility to serious illness. The outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes was an underlying or contributing cause of two deaths.

Allergy Alert: Mom's Foods and Fine Land Corp. – USA

FDA has announced two separate recalls today due to the presence of undeclared allergens in certain foods.

Mom's Food Products, Inc. (Ft Worth, TX): Mom's has recalled all Tuna Salad sandwiches, Pimento Cheese sandwiches and potato salad, because the salad dressing may contain eggs. The salad dressing supplier made a change in the salad dressing ingredients without advising Mom's of the new formulation.

The following items have been recalled:
  • Mom's Pimento Spread 5.0 oz black wedge (UPC 83898 00114)
  • Race Trac Pimento Spread 5.0 oz black wedge (UPC 83898 00114)
  • Crosby Food & Vending Pimento Spread 5.0 oz black wedge (UPC 83898 00114)
  • Outtakes Pimento Spread 4.0 oz black wedge (No UPC)
  • Mom's Tuna Salad 5.0 oz black wedge (UPC 83898 00108)
  • Race Trac Tuna Salad 5.0 oz black wedge (UPC 83898 00108)
  • 2 Podner's Tuna Salad 5.0 oz Clam shell (UPC 83898 00108)
  • Canteen (Outtakes) Tuna Salad Croissant 4.5 oz Poly Sealed (No UPC)
  • Mom's Big Sub with 4.0 oz Potato Salad round opaque container (No UPC)

The recalled items were sold through retail stores and by direct delivery in Texas. Consumers who purchased the recalled products are encouraged to return them to the store for a full refund. For more information, contact Mom's Food Products toll-free at 1-800-743-0010.

Fine Land Corp. (Brooklyn, NY): Ying Feng Foodstuffs Brand Pumpkin Seeds have been recalled due to the presence of undeclared sulfites. The problem was detected during routine testing by New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

The recalled pumpkin seeds – a product of China – are sold nationally in 10 ounce, clear plastic packages, identified with the code EXP 03 25 2010. Consumers can contact the Fine Land at 718-714-1850 for more information on this recall.

Individuals who suffer from allergies to egg or sulfites may experience severe – even life-threatening – reactions after consuming a food item that contains the allergen to which they are sensitive. Fortunately, no illnesses have been reported in conjunction with either of these recalls.

Allergy Alert: Ready-To-Eat Seafood Meals – UK

The UK Food Standards Agency is advising consumers that two ready-to-eat seafood meals sold at ASDA stores and at some smaller retailers contain undeclared allergens – nuts and ghee (milk).

The recalled products, which have a Best Before date of September 2009 are:

  • Secrets of the Sea Prawns Pulao, 285g
  • Secrets of the Sea Prawns Biriyani, 285g
The manufacturer has advised FSA that it is relabeling the recalled meals and has sent point-of-sale notices to retailers.

Individuals who are sensitive to either of these allergens should not consume the seafood meals.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What's New at MSU?

State and county health officials are working with Michigan State University to trace the source of an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that has sickened at least seven students, and possibly as many as 23. 

As of today, the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 was isolated from three of the students; genetic fingerprinting results are pending on four more. The remaining 16 cases are under investigation.

The outbreak began "officially" the week of September 8th, when 10 students reported experiencing symptoms of gastroenteritis. It appears to have run its course quickly. No new cases have been reported since September 13th.

In reaction to the outbreak, MSU has decided to suspend serving all cooked turkey products. While noting that turkey has not been determined to be the source of the outbreak, the university has declared it an "item of interest" – without specifying why that is so.

Investigators also have not ruled out the possibility that the source of the outbreak was a food handler. According to a report in the Lansing State Journal, one of the confirmed outbreak victims worked as a food handler. And another food handler is among the 16 cases still awaiting lab confirmation.

Today's MSU update suggested that the outbreak might be part of a larger problem. The campus outbreak strain matches a strain of E. coli O157:H7 that has been recovered from nine other people in the southern part of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, and from two individuals in another state. Federal officials are examining the possibility that all of these cases might linked to a common source.

The China Syndrome: Canada Recalls Non-Dairy Creamer

CFIA and Thai Indochine Trading Inc. have issued a recall notice for Mr. Brown 3-in-1 instant coffee products.

Three products, all sold in 450g packages containing 30 x 15-gram bags, have been recalled. The items were distributed in Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba, and are described as follows:

  • Instant Coffee 3 in 1 Mandheling Blend Coffee: UPC 4 710085 122523; Produced 2008/04/09 to 2008/09/12 inclusive; Expiry 2010/04/09 to 2010/09/12 inclusive
  • Instant Coffee 3 in 1 Blue Mountain Blend Coffee: UPC 4 710085 200597; Produced 2008/04/09 to 2008/09/12 inclusive; Expiry 2010/04/09 to 2010/09/12 inclusive
  • Instant Coffee 3 in 1 Arabica Coffee: UPC 4 710085 122509; Produced 2008/04/09 to 2008/09/12 inclusive; Expiry 2010/04/09 to 2010/09/12 inclusive

The Taiwan government detected melamine in samples of these non-dairy creamers, and announced a recall of the items on the weekend. Thai Indochine, the Canadian importer, initiated this voluntary recall after being informed by the manufacturer of the Taiwan findings. No associated illnesses have been reported.

CFIA has issued an updated consumer advisory on the melamine situation, and is continuing to monitor the Canadian marketplace for other potential melamine-contaminated products.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The China Syndrome: Where Will It End?

Four Mainland Chinese babies are dead, and close to 53,000 other babies and toddlers have been diagnosed with kidney stones. Nearly one-quarter of them  are still in hospital – 104 in serious condition. The head of China's food safety watchdog agency has resigned. And that's not all.

Two Hong Kong youngsters – a three-year old girl and a four-year old boy – also have been diagnosed with kidney stones. Fortunately, neither child is in any danger of serious illness. 

Hong Kong has systematically been testing all dairy products in its local market that originated in mainland China, or that were made using ingredients from the mainland. And it has found several melamine-contaminated foods, including a milk-based dessert product that also was exported to Canada. Singapore has reported finding melamine in White Rabbit Creamy Candy, a popular Chinese sweet. And Taiwan has detected melamine in several products containing vegetable-based, non-dairy cream substitutes.

In addition to torpedoing China's attempts to repair its tarnished food safety reputation, this scandal threatens to damage the names of some multi-national companies; notably Nestlé and Fonterra –whose Chinese subsidiary, Sanlu, was the first dairy implicated in the melamine adulteration.

Fonterra has been accused of being slow to blow the whistle on its Chinese subsidiary. The New Zealand company learned about the melamine contamination in early August, but elected to try to work through the "system" rather than go public with its information. When Fonterra finally advised the New Zealand government of the melamine health risk in early September, New Zealand pressured Chinese authorities to initiate a public recall.

Hong Kong reported finding a low level of melamine (1.4 ppm) in a sample of Nestlé Dairy Farm Pure Milk, imported from mainland China. The Swiss multi-national responded to the finding by stating its confidence that no Nestlé products were made using melamine-contaminated milk.

The next can of worms to be opened will be the presence of melamine in vegetable proteins from China. Taiwan's report is just the leading edge of that typhoon.

Allergy Alert: Québec Recall of Prepared Meals

MAPAQ has issued an allergy alert and recall notice for a variety of cooked dishes sold under the name Les Coquineries, as the dishes contain one or more undeclared allergens, including milk, wheat, eggs, soy, sulfite and sesame.

The recall includes products available for sale up to and including September 19th, at Les Coquineries, 995 avenue Bergeron, Saint-Agapit, QC. Following is a translated list of recalled products, and the undeclared allergen(s) contained in each one:

  • Beef with Jamaica pepper: soy
  • Pork meatballs with cranberry: soy, wheat
  • Stuffed crepes: soy
  • Pork with teriyaki sauce: sesame
  • Pig's feet stew: soy, milk, wheat, eggs, sulfite
  • Pork meatball stew: sesame, wheat, soy
  • Green pepper sauce: soy, wheat, sesame
  • Pickled garlic sauce: soy, wheat, sesame
  • Pork cassoulet: soy, wheat, sesame
  • Pork and beans: soy, wheat, sesame
  • Pork terrine with chestnuts: soy, wheat, sesame
  • Spaghetti sauce with pork: soy, wheat, sesame
  • Pork terrine with hazelnuts: soy, wheat, sesame
  • Butcher's soup (soupe repas): soy, wheat, sesame

Individuals with allergies to one or more of the undeclared ingredients should avoid consuming these items. 

Australia Sliced Meat Recall: Listeria monocytogenes

Coles Group Ltd. has recalled a single production batch of Coles branded sliced chicken breast 2 x 50g in plastic twin packs due to the possible presence of Listeria monocytogenes. The recalled meat bears a Best Before date of 07/10/08.

The products were sold in Coles, BI-LO, and Pick 'n Pay stores in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. Consumers should return the recalled merchandise to the store for a full refund.

Listeria monocytogenes causes mild flu-like or gastrointestinal symptoms in most of its victims. But the very young, the elderly, people with compromised immune defenses, and pregnant women are at heightened risk of serious – even life-threatening – disease. Listeria monocytogenes may trigger premature births and stillbirths, and can infect infants in the womb.

Anyone with questions about this recall can contact Coles at 1800 061 562.

The China Syndrome: Canada Recalls Imported Dessert

CFIA and Regent Long Marketing and Distribution Ltd. have announced that all date codes of Nissin Cha Cha Dessert sold in a 440g package (2 packs of 220g) bearing UPC 4 897878 550005 are potentially contaminated with melamine and are being recalled. The dessert is distributed in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

The milk-based dessert was manufactured in Hong Kong using Yili Pure Milk, one of the milk products in which the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety detected melamine.

The Centre for Food Safety issued a recall notice for this product in Hong Kong on September 19th. The Canadian action came after Regent – the Canadian importer – was advised of the recall by its supplier, Nissin Foods Company.

There have been no reported illnesses linked to this recalled product. Nevertheless, consumers who have purchased Nissin Cha Cha Dessert bearing the indicated UPC number should either discard the product or return it to the store for a refund.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The China Syndrome: Is Nestlé Being Straight With Consumers?

Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety has reported finding melamine in a sample of Nestlé Dairy Farm Pure Milk. The one-liter package, sold for use in catering, was found to contain 1.4 ppm melamine (1.4 mg of melamine per Kg). The melamine-contaminated milk was produced by Nestlé Qingdao Limited, in Qingdao, China.

Nestlé's corporate offices released a statement in response to the reports. The company expressed confidence "... that none of its products in China is made from milk adulterated with melamine." The press release goes on to say that the lowest concentration of melamine that can be detected by common lab tests is 2 ppm, and that, based on a 2 ppm level, "... a three-year old child would have to consume over 40 litres of milk every day to exceed ... safety limits." 

The safety limits referred to in the Nestlé statement are so-called "tolerable daily intake" levels of 0.5 mg of melamine per Kg body weight/day in the EU, and 0.63 mg/Kg in the US. Does the arithmetic make sense?

  • 2 ppm represents 2 mg of melamine per liter or kilogram of milk
  • 40 liters of milk x 2 mg represents a total of 80 mg of melamine
  • at a "tolerable daily intake" of 0.63 mg/Kg, a person would need to weigh 80 ÷ 0.63, or 127 Kg to tolerate 80 mg of melamine per day

Swiss 3-year old children might weigh 127 Kg (unlikely though it seems), but it's highly doubtful that Chinese children way one-tenth as much. In fact, even if one assumes that a 3-year old child weighs 15 Kg, the "tolerable daily intake" would be 15 x 0.63, or 9.45 mg of melamine. At 2 ppm, this still represents more than 4.7 liters of milk, but it's a far cry from the 40 liters claimed in the Nestlé statement. Younger children weigh less, of course, and would have a lower tolerance.

In any event, Nestlé's argument is specious. There is no excuse for melamine in milk. Instead of trying to minimize the problem, Nestlé should get busy checking on its Chinese operations. It will do this multinational company no good to be associated with China's adulterated milk scandal.

The China Syndrome: Won The Battle, Losing The War

China's food safety reputation is slipping away at a pace that would leave a nuclear meltdown in the dust.

The country's leaders promised that food served in the Olympic village and at the various venues would be safe. And they delivered. Now that the games are over, China finds itself the focus of an international food adulteration scandal.

Four infants have died, more than 40,000 have been taken to hospital for examination or treatment, and 12,892 of them remain hospitalized – 104 in serious condition. Melamine has been detected in powdered milk, fluid milk and other dairy products manufactured and sold by China's largest dairy companies, including Yili, Mengniu and Sanlu.

Melamine is an industrial chemical that is high in nitrogen. Standard food lab analytical methods to determine protein content simply measure the amount of nitrogen present in a sample. Therefore, food that is adulterated with melamine appears to have a high protein content. Special tests are needed to determine whether the apparent protein content is real, or is due to the addition of melamine.

The ripples from China's melamine adulteration scandal have spread well beyond the country's borders. Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous territory of China, has reported one confirmed illness in a 3-year old child who had been fed Yili brand high-calcium, low-fat milk for the past 15 months. Taiwan also has found melamine – in instant coffee, milk tea, and chicken-and-corn soup, all of which contain non-dairy creamer.

As melamine is detected in an increasing range of products, more countries are closing their borders to foods from China, and are removing Chinese foodstuffs from store shelves. Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Singapore, have all announced bans and recalls. The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Philippines are among those countries that have alerted their Asian communities to the problem, and are taking precautionary steps – including random sampling of retail products – to ensure that no suspect foods are available for sale.

The Chinese government has been in damage-control mode – both internally and internationally – since the melamine adulteration problem became public. Arrests, dismissals and resignations have been announced, government leaders have visited sick babies in hospital, and the government has instructed that no expense be spared in treating hospitalized victims.

Ironically, Beijing is playing host this coming week to the China International Food Safety & Quality Conference, and Bill Marler is one of the invited speakers. Marler reported receiving an email from the conference organizers the other day. The message read, in part,

"As a reminder, all speakers are expected to exercise diplomacy during your presentation. The CIFSQ Conference is intended to encourage healthy constructive dialogue and information exchange amongst industry players, government regulators and the scientific community to enhance food safety for consumers."

Perhaps the Chinese government should have invited the parents of some of hospitalized infants to join their constructive dialogue.

Cholera and Diarrhea by the Numbers – Iraq and Elsewhere

Everyone seems to agree that there is – or was – an outbreak of cholera in Iraq. But that's where the agreement ends.

The International Society for Infectious Diseases, in an unusual move, incorporated five different reports on Iraq's cholera outbreak into its September 15th "Cholera, Diarrhea and Dysentery Update." The official, government-provided data reported 5 deaths and 68 confirmed cases of cholera. But the Chairman of Iraq's Parliamentary Health Commission claimed that more than 1,000 people had died, and unnamed members of parliament have said that more than 10,000 people have been hospitalized with the disease.

To add to the confusion at the national level, a member of the Governorate Council of the province of Babil has accused Iraq's leaders of hiding the magnitude of the outbreak and has demanded that the province's Health Director be dismissed for mishandling the crisis. According to the report in the Al-Zaman newspaper (available on RedOrbit), Babil has suffered more than 15 deaths from cholera, and there are 50 victims hospitalized in two hospitals, alone.

Political considerations aside, it's understandable that officials at various levels can't agree on the scope of the outbreak. We saw reporting lags and misunderstandings in the United States during the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, and in Canada's recent Listeria monocytogenes outbreak, even though both countries maintain sophisticated reporting systems. Some of the reporting discrepancies in Iraq are probably due to logistic and bureaucratic delays; others may be due to confusion between "confirmed" and "suspect" cases of the disease. It will take some time before the true impact of this year's Iraqi cholera epidemic is known.

Iran, Bahrain and Kuwait are watching the situation in Iraq with unease. Iran has warned its citizens who are making pilgrimages to Iraq for Ramadan to take special precautions to guard against infection. So far, no Iranians who traveled to Iraq have developed cholera. Bahrain is monitoring food products and travelers entering the country from Iraq. And Kuwait has banned the import of foodstuffs from Iraq.

Meanwhile, cholera is carrying on its usual activities in other parts of the developing world.

A recent cholera outbreak in the Harare region (Chitungwiza) claimed 11 lives and sickened 80 more. That outbreak has been contained, in part thanks to the efforts of UNICEF

But the risk of new outbreaks is ever-present, due to the deteriorated water and sewage infrastructure in and around the country's capital city. According to the chairman of the Harare residents association, the population is "... sitting on a time bomb that can explode anytime as a result of the unavailability of a reliable source of water, the flow of raw sewage in residential areas and piling of uncollected garbage around Harare and surrounding areas." The Zimbabwe Health Minister, however, said that the situation was under control.

UNICEF representatives have been working with the local government in Guinea-Bissau to control and especially stubborn cholera outbreak. But the outbreak has resisted all efforts at containment and has spread to all 11 regions of the former Portuguese colony.

At least 6,461 people have contracted cholera since the outbreak began in May of this year. As of September 16th, the death toll stood at 122 – more than double the 59 deaths that had been reported as of August 21st. 

Health officials blame the difficulty in controlling the epidemic on "... rains, the lack of basic sanitation and the population's stubbornness in not following the authorities' instructions..." 

Flooding has triggered an outbreak of infectious diarrhea in the southeastern part Nepal, claiming 3 lives and sickening at least 22 people in the Susari district. The Saptari district, in southern Nepal has been hit even harder; cholera, pneumonia and fever have claimed 11 lives and sickened more than 13,000 victims living in a temporary camp.

The Kenya Broadcasting Corporation reported on September 12th that cholera was responsible for 23 deaths in the Bungoma and Homabay districts. As is so often the case, the outbreak was blamed on contaminated river water that is used by local residents for drinking, washing and cooking.

Separately, about 50 cases of infectious diarrhea – not confirmed as either cholera or dysentery – were reported in the Tana Delta District. The Tana river apparently changed its course, drying up the reliable water supply for approximately 40,000 people. 

Cholera has reappeared in northern Tanzania; 180 cases have been reported in two districts. Four people in the Tarima district, which borders Kenya, have died. The government has responded by sending medical personnel and medicines to the area and by arresting some individuals who violated health regulations.

Dhaka has been experiencing an increase in cases of diarrhea, now that flood waters are receding. During the rainy season, the rate of admission to the "cholera hospital" of patients with diarrhea was 400-450 per day. That number has risen to as high as 600 in a single day. The hospital has erected tents in the parking lot to increase its capacity to treat diarrhea patients.

An unchecked outbreak of cholera has killed at least 291 members of a Papuan tribe since April. Human rights organizations are expressing concern that, if left unattended, the outbreak may spread beyond the confines of Papua and trigger an international epidemic – as happened in 1961.

The Dagupan City Health Office is taking steps to prevent future outbreaks of cholera and other forms of infectious diarrhea in that northern Philippines city. Health officials are conducting education campaigns, and sanitation teams are sampling raw and treated water. The new campaign was triggered by reports of three new cases of cholera in the area.

Hong Kong
The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) has confirmed an isolated case of cholera. The victim is a 25-year old man from Tuen Mun. He is in hospital in stable condition. There is no obvious explanation for the man's illness. He has not traveled recently, and has not been in contact with anyone who was suffering from the disease. This is only the second confirmed case of cholera in Hong Kong in 2008.

Also this week, CHP issued a reminder to Hong Kong residents to pay attention to personal hygiene and hand washing, after receiving 19 reports of dysentery – 18 locally-acquired and one imported – so far this month. Five of the victims had eaten at a local fast-food restaurant. Shigella, the microbe that causes dysentery, has no known animal reservoir. It is spread human-to-human through fecal contamination of food, water or utensils. Dysentery is best controlled by scrupulous attention to sanitation and personal hygiene.