How’s Your Lettuce?

romaine_lettuce
Romaine Lettuce (public domain, ARS USDA)

The Centers for Disease Control has urged consumers to avoid eating Romaine lettuce because of a particularly nasty outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections. The warning involves multiple states. An opinion piece from the editor of Food Safety News reminds us:

Once not so long ago, we had a little unit called the Microbiological Data Program (MDP). Run by USDA, the MDP contracted with a dozen state agricultural labs to go out and test fresh produce.

In other words, the MDP sent the state ag labs out during the various harvest seasons to sample and test what’s coming out of the fields. The MDP existed from 2002-2012. It reached a point where it was responsible for 80 percent of the fresh produce testing in the U.S.

The MDP only cost taxpayers about $5 million. The New York Times called it “a tiny program that matters.” But the produce industry hated the MDP, and it apparently had a significant hand in killing it.

Letter From The Editor: Romaine, Reform and Revive
Food Safety News, April 28, 2018 by Dan Flynn

This is a very interesting editorial, well worth your time.

Food Safety: It’s for the Dogs (too)

Bluetick
Bluetick Coonhound, Public Domain

The Food and Drug Administration and the Washington State Department of Agriculture are investigating what FDA describes as a ‘pattern of Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes contamination in raw pet foods manufactured by Arrow Reliance Inc.’

FDA has received a total of six complaints of illness in animals who were fed the raw pet foods, including the death of one kitten. Salmonella recovered from the kitten was indistinguishable from the Salmonella found in a closed package of Darwin’s food from the same lot that was fed to the animal, according to the agency.

People who handle contaminated pet food and anything it touches, including counter tops, utensils and pet bowls, are at risk of contracting infections from pathogens such as Salmonella. Infected pets, which don’t always show symptoms, can transfer Salmonella infection to people.
FDA, State Investigate Darwin’s Pet Food after Illnesses, Death, Food Safety News, February 14, 2018 by Phyllis Entis

 

Another Blow to Food Safety

Codex

The U.S. Codex Office is moving from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to USDA’s Trade and Foreign Affairs Office and that may not be such a good thing.

The Codex Alimentarius, aka the “Food Code”, is a set of standards, guidelines and codes designed to protect food quality and safety. One example is the safe level of veterinary drug residues in meat and poultry.

Is the Trump regime again sidelining the food safety standards in the U.S.? That seems to be the case. The op-ed by Dr. Richard Raymond is well worth reading. Bit by bit our policy infrastructure is being pulled apart in insidious ways.

Are we emphasizing trade goals over food safety? Was the new USDA undersecretary for trade and foreign agriculture affairs the first announced USDA nominee after Secretary Perdue?

The answer to both questions is yes, and is confirmed by the lack of an Undersecretary for food safety who might have advised against this move, and even campaigned in the halls of Congress to maintain the status quo, a status that had very high international respect.
Moving Codex Out of FSIS Will Boost Trade, Not Food Safety
Food Safety News, Sept. 21, 2017, by Dr. Richard Raymond

Danger Zone: The Kitchen Sponge

kitchen_sponge
Kitchen Sponge, Public Domain, 2006

Your kitchen sponge is very likely the most contaminated object in your home. This is not news. What is news is the research reporting that trying to decontaminate it might result in allowing the proliferation of dangerous bacteria.

Regular cleaning of sponges, indicated by their users, significantly affected the microbiome structure. … Our study stresses and visualizes the role of kitchen sponges as microbiological hot spots in the BE (note: background environment), with the capability to collect and spread bacteria with a probable pathogenic potential.

Microbiome analysis and confocal microscopy of used kitchen sponges reveal massive colonization by Acinetobacter, Moraxella and Chryseobacterium species
Nature, July 2017

The New York Times picked up on this Nature research article and discussed it twice.

Stop. Drop the sponge and step away from the microwave.

That squishy cleaning apparatus is a microscopic universe, teeming with countless bacteria. Some people may think that microwaving a sponge kills its tiny residents, but they are only partly right. It may nuke the weak ones, but the strongest, smelliest and potentially pathogenic bacteria will survive.

Cleaning a Dirty Sponge Only Helps Its Worst Bacteria, Study Says
New York Times, Aug. 4, 2017, by Joanna Klein

The second New York Times article is worth reading. The author talks again with researchers whose paper was published last month in Nature, along with a several other experts in the world of food safety. The gist of the recommendations is that sponges are very difficult to clean well. If they start to smell, discard them. A Norwegian microbiologist recommends replacing them on the daily basis if someone in the house has cancer. The people most vulnerable to pathogens are infants, the elderly, and anyone with a compromised immune system. I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of this!