Austrian officials have published results of different checks on raw milk, for antimicrobial resistance in meat and as part of Operation Opson.

A check on raw, unpasteurized milk looked at its microbiological status and for residues of cleaning agents. A total of 73 samples from across the country were taken and 23 were non-compliant.

Austria’s regulation states that aerobic mesophilic bacteria in raw cow’s milk must not exceed a count of 50,000 colony forming units (CFU) per milliliter. Officials said this count is a measure of hygiene during milking, filling and storage in the raw milk machine. It was exceeded in 23 samples and sometimes by a high amount. A note saying “raw milk, boil before consumption” must also be on vending distribution machines.

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) was present in two samples and Listeria monocytogenes in one. Small amounts of benzyldimethyldodecylammonium chloride (BAC 12) were found in one test.

Fruit, vegetable and meat controls
Another control analyzed 83 samples of fruits and vegetables for pathogens and viruses. One sample of okra was non-compliant with a presumptive Bacillus cereus level of 100,000 CFU per gram. Three other products had presumptive Bacillus cereus at 2,300, 11,000 and 24,000 CFU/g but were not for direct consumption and needed washing before eating.

Listeria monocytogenes was detected at a low amount in raspberries but below the 100 cfu/g level set in EU regulation so the sample was judged to be compliant, but measures to improve production hygiene and intensify self-monitoring were recommended.

Authorities also checked the domestic market for the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in chicken meat. Of 316 samples, extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL) and AmpC producing-E. coli were detected in 58 of them. Carbapenemase-producing E. coli was not found.

The monitoring did not assess the levels of contamination in meat samples but found although there has been a decrease since studies in 2016, chicken is more often contaminated than pork or beef.

An assessment of 71 samples of raw sausages and raw cured products for pathogens and nitrite levels found the maximum amounts of nitrites were exceeded in two products.

Listeria monocytogenes was detected in seven samples of these products that have low water activity, meaning it won’t grow, so they were found to be acceptable. Listeria innocua was found in five samples and Listeria grayi in four but both these types are not pathogenic to humans.

Erucic acid and honey authenticity
Elsewhere, official controls looked at erucic acid content in mustard oil with 15 samples taken. High amounts of erucic acid in food can be harmful to health so a maximum level of 50 grams per kilogram in mustard oils has been set.

Three samples had levels above the rules. One had an erucic acid content of 49.49 grams per 100 grams which corresponds to 494.9 grams per kilogram, another had 49.27 grams per 100 grams, corresponding to 429.7 grams per kilogram and the third was 18.32 grams per 100 grams which equates to 183.2 grams per kilogram. In another sample labeling issues were found, meaning it did not comply with the EU’s food information to consumers regulation.

Another campaign assessed 55 cocoa products on the Austrian market for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), mycotoxins such as aflatoxin and ochratoxin A, cadmium and aluminum.

In one sample of drinking chocolate powder, the maximum levels for benzo(a)pyrene and the sum of benzo(a)pyrene, benz(a)anthracene, benzo(b)fluoranthene and chrysene were exceeded and it was judged to be harmful.

A previous control in 2017 found two samples of cocoa powder had exceeded the maximum level for total PAHs based on their fat content.

Finally, officials published findings of testing on honey origin and authenticity, which was part of Operation Opson, an annual action coordinated by Europol and Interpol.

The aim was to check honey in Austria as part of the European Commission’s Opson X project. Twenty samples from across the country were examined and issues were found with eight including incorrect botanical origin, addition of sugars and high hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) content.

Two samples were judged to be adulterated, another two were misleading, a couple did not comply because of compositional reasons and five breached EU regulation on the provision of food information to consumers.

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This year’s Dirty Dozen list from the Environmental Working Group opens with a statement about COVID-19 and food safety, encouraging consumers to continue to eat fresh fruits and vegetables during the pandemic.

Officials with the non-profit organization also say certain leafy greens, including kale and spinach, are among the fresh produce commodities most contaminated with pesticides. First-timers on the list include collard greens, mustard greens, bell peppers, and hot peppers. Strawberries are in the No. 1 spot on the list, which was released on March 17. The Environmental Working Group’s data analysis is not peer-reviewed.

Despite the results of the organization’s analysis of pesticide data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the importance of eating fresh produce continues to be a top agenda item for the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The group also published its “Clean Fifteen” list on St. Patrick’s Day. Along with the “Dirty Dozen,” it is the basis for the annual “Shoppers Guide” from the EWG.

The two lists are based on USDA’s pesticide analyses, which EWG says “are not comprehensive.” The government agency rotates which fruits and vegetables it tests each year, and it doesn’t test for all pesticides. Still, the EWG says, overall the best diets include fresh produce.

“Whether organic or conventionally grown, fruits and vegetables are critical components of a healthy diet,” said EWG toxicologist Thomas Galligan. “We urge consumers who are concerned about their pesticide intake to consider, when possible, purchasing organically grown versions of the foods on EWG’s Dirty Dozen, or conventional produce from our Clean Fifteen.”

The group’s 2021 “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce” ranks the pesticide contamination of 46 fruits and vegetables. It is based on results of USDA and Food and Drug Administration tests of more than 46,000 samples of produce.

“This year, the USDA’s tests found residues of potentially harmful chemical pesticides on nearly 70 percent of the non-organic fresh produce sold in the U.S. Before testing fruits and vegetables, the USDA washes, scrubs and peels them, as consumers would, according to the EWG.

Nearly 99 percent of the products sampled through the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program had residues below EPA tolerances, according to the agency’s 29th annual report issued in October 2020. Ultimately, if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determines a pesticide is not safe for human consumption, it is removed from the market, according to the USDA report.

The key to the difference in the percentages reported by the EWG and the USDA is that the government only includes samples that test positive for levels of pesticides that exceed federal limits. The EWG numbers include positive tests for samples with lower levels as well.

Both the USDA and the EWG have said the coronavirus pandemic shouldn’t influence consumers’ decisions about eating fresh fruits and vegetables. “There is no evidence that people can be exposed to COVID-19 through food,” according to the EWG’s officials.

There is, however, a danger to human health, the EWG’s announcement says, because of pesticide residues — even if they are within EPA tolerances. 

“EPA’s tolerances are often far higher than what many scientists believe is safe – particularly for pregnant women, babies, and young children,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “EWG releases our Shopper’s Guide each year so consumers can make informed decisions that will let them reduce their family’s exposure to toxic pesticides while allowing them to eat plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables.”

Fresh produce commodities that deserve extra caution from consumers include leafy greens, peppers, and citrus fruit. Citrus didn’t make the Dirty Dozen list, though. The EWG focused on the commodities as follows.

Leafy greens
A total of 94 different pesticides were found on leafy greens, including neonicotinoids, or neonics. One sample of mustard greens had 20 different pesticides, and some kale and collard samples had as many as 17. Spinach came in second overall on the Dirty Dozen list.

On kale, mustard greens, and collard greens, the pesticide most frequently detected by the USDA was DCPA, sold under the brand name Dacthal. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies DCPA as a possible human carcinogen, and the European Union banned it in 2009.

Neonics are the fastest-growing class of insecticides, despite a decade of research making it clear that they are highly toxic to honeybees and other pollinator species. Some studies on human health also suggest that exposure to neonics may be harmful to the developing fetus and to children.

Peppers
Bell peppers and hot peppers, tested for the first time since 2012 and 2011, respectively, are included in this year’s list at No. 10. The USDA found 115 pesticides on peppers — the most, by far, on any item.

Bell peppers and hot peppers contain concerning levels of acephate and chlorpyrifos, respectively, which are organophosphate insecticides that can harm children’s developing brains and are banned from use on some crops in the United States and from all uses in the European Union.

Citrus
Although no citrus fruits landed on the Dirty Dozen, this year’s Shopper’s Guide highlights the concerning levels of toxic pesticides found on these fruits, not only in USDA tests but also in independent laboratory tests commissioned by EWG.

Imazalil, a fungicide linked to cancer and hormone disruption, was detected on more than 95 percent of tangerines tested by the USDA in 2019. In independent tests commissioned by EWG, nearly 90 percent of all the oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, and lemons sampled contained either imazalil or thiabendazole, another endocrine-disrupting fungicide. More than half the samples had both. Almost all of the tests were conducted on conventionally grown fruit.

About the EWG: The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment, according to the group’s website. Through research, advocacy, and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. Visit www.ewg.org for more information.

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— 

The Food and Drug Administration uses import alerts to enforce U.S. food safety regulations for food from foreign countries. The agency updates and modifies the alerts as needed.

Recent modifications to FDA’s import alerts, as posted by the agency, are listed below. Click on the links to view the full alerts.

Import Alert

Description

URL

IA-12-03

Detention Without Physical Examination of Imported Soft Cheese and Soft Ripened Cheese from France

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_7.html

IA-16-105

Detention Without Physical Examination of Seafood and Seafood Products from Specific Manufacturers/Shippers Due to Decomposition and/or Histamines

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_19.html

IA-16-119

Detention Without Physical Examination Of Fish And Fishery Products For Importer And Foreign Processor (Manuf) Combinations

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_23.html

IA-16-120

Detention Without Physical Examination of Fish/Fishery Products from Foreign Processors (Mfrs.) Not in Compliance with Seafood HACCP

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_25.html

IA-16-39

Detention Without Physical Examination of Processed Seafood and Analogue Seafood (Surimi) Products for Listeria Monocytogenes

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_44.html

IA-16-81

Detention Without Physical Examination of Seafood Products Due to the Presence of Salmonella

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_49.html

IA-20-03

Detention Without Physical Examination of Dried Fruits Due To Lead

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_55.html

IA-22-01

Detention Without Physical Examination of Cantaloupes from Mexico

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_67.html

IA-28-13

Detention Without Physical Examination of ***Spices and Spice Products*** Due to Lead Contamination

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_1143.html

IA-33-10

Detention Without Physical Examination of Candy Due to Lead

http://cms.fda.gov
/vts/imports_publish/private/importalert_102.html

IA-36-01

Adulteration of Honey – Firms on Red List

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_108.html

IA-45-02

Detention Without Physical Examination and Guidance of Foods Containing Illegal and/or Undeclared Colors

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_118.html

IA-45-07

Detention Without Physical Examination of Food Products Containing Illegal Undeclared Sweeteners

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_120.html

IA-66-40

Detention Without Physical Examination of Drugs From Firms Which Have Not Met Drug GMPs

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_189.html

IA-66-41

Detention Without Physical Examination of Unapproved New Drugs Promoted In The U.S.

http://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_190.html

IA-99-05

Detention Without Physical Examination of Raw Agricultural Products for Pesticides

http://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_258.html

IA-99-08

Detention Without Physical Examination Of Processed Human and Animal Foods for Pesticides

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_259.html

IA-99-19

Detention Without Physical Examination Of Food Products Due To The Presence Of Salmonella

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_263.html

IA-99-21

Detention Without Physical Examination and Surveillance Of Food Products Containing Sulfites

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_265.html

IA-99-35

DWPE OF PRODUCE THAT APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN PREPARED, PACKED OR HELD UNDER INSANITARY CONDITIONS WHEREBY IT MAY HAVE BEEN RENDERED INJURIOUS TO HEALTH

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_1128.html

IA-99-37

DETENTION WITHOUT PHYSICAL EXAMINATION OF LOW-ACID CANNED FOODS AND ACIDIFIED FOODS WITHOUT FILED SCHEDULED PROCESSES

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_1131.html

IA-99-38

DETENTION WITHOUT PHYSICAL EXAMINATION OF LOW-ACID CANNED FOODS OR ACIDIFIED FOODS DUE TO INADEQUATE PROCESS CONTROL

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_1132.html

IA-99-39

DETENTION WITHOUT PHYSICAL EXAMINATION OF IMPORTED FOOD PRODUCTS THAT APPEAR TO BE MISBRANDED

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov
/cms_ia/importalert_1144.html

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Health officials say four infants in Texas have developed botulism poisoning after consuming honey. The children, all less than a year old, had all been given pacifiers containing honey before they became sick.

The first baby became ill in mid-August, with the most recent having symptom onset at the end of October. Texas officials say all four babies had to be admitted to hospitals for life-saving treatment. Botulism poisoning attacks the nervous system and often paralyzes muscles used to breath, causing death quickly if the patient does not receive immediate medical attention.

“Honey can contain spores of Clostridium botulinum, an organism that produces a potent neurotoxin known to cause severe illness in infants,” according to a notice from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“Infant botulism occurs when C. botulinum spores in food, dust, or other materials are inhaled or ingested and germinate in the gut of infants who have not yet developed mature intestinal flora. For this reason, parents are advised not to feed honey — raw or otherwise — to children younger than 12 months old.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and have long advised that children less than 12 months old should not consume honey.

The four infants reported sick yesterday are not related and live in West Texas, North Texas and South Texas. Each had been given a honey-containing pacifier purchased in Mexico. However, the warning from Texas health officials, and another posted the same day by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, both say such pacifiers are available in the United States and from online retailers.

Most such pacifiers aren’t designed for the honey to be consumed, public health officials reported, but some have a small hole so a child could eat the honey, or the pacifier could accidentally rupture or leak. Parents are warned to avoid pacifiers containing any food substance, because they could also pose a risk of botulism.

In addition to warning the public, Texas health officials also posted a warning for health care providers. It urges doctors and others treating sick infants to consider botulism poisoning if the children have symptoms associated with the illness. Some of the symptoms can mimic other illnesses.

Infants with botulism poisoning can have symptoms that often start with constipation and may include poor feeding and/or weak sucking, weakness, drooping eyelids, loss of head control and difficulty breathing. Severity can range from mild illness with gradual onset to paralysis, respiratory failure, and death.

“Prompt recognition of a suspect case, administration of antitoxin, and initiation of supportive care can halt progression of the disease,” according to the Texas health department alert for medical practitioners.

The department will coordinate confirmatory testing at its laboratory. To obtain the antitoxin (Baby BIG) for treatment, physicians can contact the Texas Emerging and Acute Infectious Disease Branch or the California Infant Botulism Treatment and Prevention Program.

In its warning, the FDA recommended that parents and caregivers do not give pacifiers filled with or dipped in honey to their infants or young children. Anyone who has purchased a pacifier filled with or dipped in honey should stop using it and discard it immediately. The FDA recommends online retailers discontinue sales of honey filled pacifiers.

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Bamboo Juice LLC in Palmetto, GA was inspected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Feb. 28 to March 2, 2018, and found serious violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

The inspection of the facility revealed serious violations of FDA’s juice Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulation, “These violations render your juice products to be adulterated, in that they may have been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth, or where they may have been rendered injurious to health.”

Additionally, the FDA reviewed product labels collected during their inspection and from the firm’s website; “Based on our review, we have concluded that certain products are in violation of sections 403 and 505(a) of the Act,and regulations implementing the food labeling requirements of the Act,” FDA’s Atlantic district director said in a warning letter to the juice processor.

According to the warning letter, FDA investigators found that in addition to selling raw (i.e., unpasteurized) juice directly to consumers, the firm also sells or distributes raw (i.e., unpasteurized) juice to other business entities. Accordingly, “your facility does not meet the definition of a ‘retail establishment’ and is not exempt from the juice HACCP regulation,” the warning letter said. A retail establishment is defined as “an operation that provides juice directly to the consumers and does not include an establishment that sells or distributes juice to other business entities as well as directly to consumers.”

FDA officials observed the following violations:

  • The firm’s HACCP plan entitled “Bamboo LLC HACCP and 5-Log Reduction Plan” that covers all their low acid and acidic juices, including “DANDELION”, “GINGERED GREENS”, “CARROT COCONUT”, “CARROT GINGER”, “CILANTRO CELERY”, “CINNAMON YAM”, “DARK GREENS”, “PINEAPPLE JALAPENO”, “SEASONAL GREENS” and “APPLE” does not include control measures that will consistently produce a 5 log reduction of the pertinent microorganism.

Additionally, the FDA noted that they reviewed the firm’s response received via email on March 16, 2018, and their revised “Bamboo LLC HACCP and 5-Log Reduction Plan”, dated March 14, 2018, and found them inadequate; “Your revised plans continue to not include control measures that will achieve a 5 log reduction in the pertinent organisms.”

  • The firm’s “Bamboo LLC HACCP and 5-Log Reduction Plan” that covers all the juices the firm processes fail to identify the food hazard of Clostridium botulinum growth and toxin formation that is reasonably likely in their low acid juice products.

The firm noted that it reviewed the firm’s response received via email on March 16, 2018, and their revised “Bamboo LLC HACCP and 5-Log Reduction Plan”, dated March 14, 2018, and found them inadequate; “Your revised HACCP plan continues to not list the food safety hazards that are reasonably likely to occur, including Clostridium botulinum.”

  • The FDA reviewed the firm’s product labeling, including product labels and their website in August 2018, where the firm takes orders for the juice and beverage products Vanilla Mint, Turmeric & Beets, Sweet Fennel, Cilantro Celery, Carrot Ginger, Honey Turmeric, Antibiotic, Feel Better, Decongestant, Anti-Inflammatory, Carrot Coconut, and Lemon Ginger. The claims on their labels and/or website establish that the products are drugs because they are intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease; “introducing or delivering these products for introduction into interstate commerce for such uses violates the Act.”

Examples of some of the labeling claims that provide evidence that the firm’s products are intended for use as drugs include “Vanilla Mint”, with the product label and webpage “injury healing, respiratory healing,” and “Turmeric & Beets” with the product label and webpage “inflammation tamer, reduce inflammation, anti-inflammatory.” Additional claims include, “arthritis soother,” “best elixir for fighting and/or preventing illnesses,” “[its ingredients] are excellent for fighting candida or yeast found in the body,” and “this elixir helps heal the infection, knock out colds and reduce allergies.”

The FDA noted the firm’s products “are not generally recognized as safe and effective for the above-referenced uses and, therefore, the products are ‘new drugs.’” New drugs may not be legally introduced or delivered for introduction into interstate commerce without prior approval from FDA. FDA approves a new drug on the basis of scientific data and information demonstrating that the drug is safe and effective.

  • The firm’s Spinach Apple product is misbranded because the label fails to declare the statement of identity of the food; “Specifically, Spinach Apple is not an appropriate statement of identity for a food product, in that it is not appropriately descriptive of the foods.”
  • The firm processes products containing almonds, an allergen, as they process juice products that do not contain almond and during the FDA’s inspection, “your kitchen manager said that you only rinse the equipment with water between use with products containing almonds and products that do not contain almonds.”

The firm’s procedures do not ensure there is no cross-contact between allergen and non-allergen containing products.

The FDA asked Bamboo LLC to respond in writing within fifteen working days from their receipt of this letter.

“In your response, identify the steps you have taken or will take to correct the above-noted violations and prevent similar ones. In your response, please include the timeframes in which the corrections will be completed and provide any documentation that will assist us in evaluating whether the corrective actions have been made. If you are unable to complete the corrective actions within fifteen (15) working days, identify the reason for the delay and the timeframe within which you will complete the corrections.”

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Health inspectors have shut down a Minneapolis food seller because he was operating without a license, selling raw dairy products and uninspected meat, and refused to provide information on the origin of the products.

Armed with a search warrant, public health officials went into the unlicensed operation, doing business as Uptown Locavore, at 3137 Hennepin Ave. They where they found a variety of foods and beverages for sale in violation of several laws. Inspectors sealed all coolers and freezers that contained food, according to a spokesman from the city health department. The inspectors also documented some perishable food products stored at room temperature in the basement operation.

“Inspectors will work to determine the dispensation of those embargoed products, which could include returning the products to the farms that produced them or their other points of origin or condemnation and destruction,” the health department spokesman said.

The unlicensed operation is “a year-round drop site” that sells food direct from farmers to consumers, according to the Uptown Locavore website. It is a members-only “buying club” and offers delivery service. The operation was originally known as Traditional Foods Warehouse.

A complete inspection report is not yet available, but a complaint filed by the department states inspectors documented several violations, including finding foods and beverages without identifying labels as required by state law. Also, Minnesota law strictly controls the sales of raw dairy products. Only the farmers who produce unpasteurized dairy products can sell them, and only at specific locations such as farmers markets.

The raw dairy products being sold by Uptown Locavore are from a farmer whose dairy products sickened eight people with infections from E. coli bacteria in 2010, according to Daniel Huff, director of environmental health for Minneapolis. One of those victims developed kidney failure.

Officials condemned the raw dairy products on site at the basement retail operation. They can destroy the foods under Minnesota law, but Huff said the department would like to work with owner Will Winter to return the products to the farmers who produced them. If Winter does not cooperate, the city can obtain another warrant and destroy the products.

The operator of Uptown Locavore was offering a number of products for sale from his basement, including unpasteurized milk and cheese, fish, raw beef, raw pork, raw lamb, eggs, honey, coffee, and raw pizza dough. The owner and his attorney refused to provide officials with information about the origin of the products, according to the health department complaint.

In a Facebook post, the operator of Uptown Locavore said the public health officers are “bullies” when it comes to small businesses such as his. Winter’s website says the business has been operating since 2008 and sells high-quality food from local farmers.

“The policy at these agencies is clearly against small enterprise,” Winter wrote on Facebook. “Even without complaints we are GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT! They want to shut down anything except the big box stores that, in this case, support Big Ag.”

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Foodborne disease outbreaks and recalls usually dictate the foods we cover. We usually follow the pathogens without any other discriminating factor. So, if we are focused on beef, or spinach, or sprouts, or cantaloupe, or whatever, we just follow the story. Of course, there are always exceptions to rules. Food Safety News has been fortunate in the past five years to be associated with some extraordinary journalists. We were able, mostly in 2011, to bring on two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Andrew Schneider to work on some special projects for us. His job was to poke into some food dangers not related to bacteria and viruses. In his time with us, Andrew turned his spotlight on arsenic finding its way into juices and rice, nanoparticles in food, and, oh yes, honey. His series of investigative reports on honey remains very much alive on Food Safety News. They’ve attracted thousands upon thousands of readers and generated hundreds of comments. It continues to this day. The most popular of these reports was his story on the testing of honey purchased from retail stores all over the country: Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey: Ultra-filtering Removes Pollen, Hides Honey Origins. We call it the “bogus honey story,” and I caught up with Andrew about it because, this past week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came out with new “draft guidance” for the honey industry on “Proper Labeling of Honey and Honey Products.” His Pulitzers for investigative reports on organ transplants and the medical airworthiness of airline pilots are now in the journalism history books, but Schneider acknowledges that his article on bogus honey for Food Safety News is “the story that won’t die.” He still gets from six to 15 calls every month from consumers, packagers, and state and federal investigators about the quality of the honey they are dealing with. The crux of the issue is that when the pollen, those microscopic particles from deep inside the flower, are totally removed, there’s no way to tell if the “honey” came from a legitimate and safe source. Pollen is removed from honey by a process known as ultra-filtering, in which honey is heated, sometimes watered down, and then forced through micro-filters with high pressure. Once the pollen is removed, it opens the door to illegal dumping of honey measured by the tonnage. For years, the Chinese have illegally dumped into the U.S. market millions of dollars worth of their “honey,” which is often exposed to illegal antibiotics. They have a harder time getting their “laundered” honey into places such as Europe because many world food-safety authorities say that ultra-filtered honey missing its pollen is no longer honey. Those countries insist on being able to determine the origin of the honey being sold within their national boundaries. This is probably where you expect me to say that, with the new draft guidance, we are shortly going to know where our honey comes from. But, sadly, FDA has no intention of closing the bogus honey loophole. Schneider tells me that his sources who investigate these shipments say that “adulterated Chinese honey is still flowing into U.S. ports.” Nothing is going to change. Indeed, the main problem is that FDA simply will not define honey as containing pollen and, therefore, make it traceable to its country of origin. Instead, the agency goes off about how it accepts the “common usage” of the term “honey,” which is “a thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make as food from the nectar of flowers and store in honeycombs.” FDA’s “guidance” says that honey is a “single ingredient food” and the floral source need not be declared. In a nutshell, FDA is drawing its line at labeling issues and is not going to get involved in whether pollen is missing. In the unlikely event that some test results pop up showing positives for antibiotic residues of chloramphenicol or fluoroquinolones, FDA promises it will do its enforcement thing. The same people Schneider talks to down in the trenches say that those who trade in adulterated Chinese honey have powerful, well-financed lobbyists to keep FDA away from doing anything effective about laundered honey. They’ve been successful in their mission for a long time, too. Back on March 8, 2006, the American Beekeeping Federation tried to get FDA to adopt the world standard for establishing the identity of honey by filing a petition. It was formally rejected by the current administration on Oct. 5, 2011, which suggested – we kid you not – that the same goal could be achieved with “honesty and fair dealing.” In the month after that petition was denied, Food Safety News went on a shopping spree buying honey at retail all over the country to acquire the honey samples Schneider required for his independent testing story – when he found that three out of four jars or bottles of honey were missing their pollen. All those involved in Chinese honey laundering are probably still laughing over the line about “honesty and fair dealing.” Ultra-filtered Chinese honey that may be adulterated with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals is blindly accepted here in the U.S., but it’s blocked by less-trusting countries around the world. Safe, pure honey is important to those countries. But, apparently, we are not among them. P.S. Andrew Schneider first came to my attention about a decade ago when he was working for the late, great Seattle Post-Intelligencer writing about the asbestos poisoning of the little mining town of Libby, MT. Along with P-I editor David McCumber, he captured that amazing story in the book “An Air That Kills.”

Five people and two U.S. honey processors were charged with federal crimes last week as a result of an investigation into illegal importation of honey from China, known as “Honeygate,” led by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations. The government is alleging that Chinese honey — which can be laced with illegal and unsafe antibiotics — was misdeclared when it was imported to the United States and routed through other countries to evade more than $180 million in anti-dumping duties. HSI and Customs and Border Protection said late last week they have stepped up efforts to combat commercial fraud that directly impacts the economy and public health. The charges come more than a year after an investigation by Food Safety News found that laboratory tests could not detect the origin of more than three quarters of honey purchased at retail locations because ultra-filtration methods remove naturally occurring pollen and make honey impossible to trace. Many in the industry say this practice contributes to honey laundering. As one honey producer put it: “It’s no secret to anyone in the business that the only reason all the pollen is filtered out is to hide where it initially came from and the fact is that in almost all cases, that is China.” According to the government, Honey Holding, which was doing business as Honey Solutions of Baytown, Texas and Groeb Farms Inc. of Onsted, Michigan — two of the country’s largest honey suppliers — have entered into deferred prosecution agreements. Honey Holding has agreed to pay $1 million and Groeb Farms has agreed to pay $2 million in fines. Both companies have also agreed to implement corporate compliance programs as part of their respective agreements. “These businesses intentionally deprived the U.S. government of millions of dollars in unpaid duties,” said ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale. “Schemes like this result in legitimate importers and the domestic honey-producing industry enduring years of unprofitable operations, with some even being put out of business. We will continue to enforce criminal violations of anti-dumping laws in all industries so American and foreign businesses all play by the same rules.” In a news release last week, the government said the individual defendants also include three honey brokers, the former director of sales for Honey Holding and the president of Premium Food Sales Inc., a broker and distributor of raw and processed honey in Bradford, Ontario. As reported in 2011, Ernie Groeb, the president and CEO of Groeb Farms Inc., which calls itself “the world’s largest packer of honey,” told Food Safety News that doesn’t have a specific requirement regarding pollen content for the 85 million pounds of honey Groeb Farms purchases. “We buy basically what’s considered raw honey. We trust good suppliers. That’s what we rely on,” said Groeb. The government started investigating allegations of circumventing anti-dumping duties in the honey trade in 2008. The investigation resulted in charges against 14 individuals, including executives of a German food conglomerate. Several people were charged with evading approximately $80 million in anti-dumping duties on Chinese honey and officials seized more than 3,000 drums of honey that illegally entered the U.S. The second phase of the investigation, announced last week, focuses on honey that was bought and processed by U.S. companies for domestic sale. “Some of that honey was adulterated with antibiotics not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in honey,” said DHS. “None of the charges allege any instances of illness or other public health consequences attributed to consumption of the honey. The investigation is continuing.” DHS did not return requests for more information about antibiotic residues in the illegally imported honey. “Trade fraud can have significant implications for the U.S. economy and consumers,” said Customs and Border Patrol Chief Operating Officer Thomas S. Winkowski, in a statement. “These products take jobs away from American workers and frequently violate U.S. health and safety standards, potentially endangering the public. CBP is committed to fighting these fraudulent actors alongside our government partners.” See Food Safety News‘ investigation on ultra-filtered and illegally imported honey by Andrew Schneider: Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey. 

The annual raw milk games are underway in state capitols around the country, with this year’s action centered in the Midwest and West. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibits the interstate sales of raw milk, each state is free to make its own decisions about raw milk sales within its own borders. Public health experts generally hold that people who drink raw or unpasteurized milk have an increased risk of contracting serious foodborne diseases. But the timeless product has many advocates who claim access to raw milk is a “food freedom.” Texas Senate ChambersState elected officials must decide where to draw the line. And at least half a dozen states are thinking about changing their raw milk policies. These included Hawaii, Iowa, Indiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming. About 20 states currently ban commercial sales of raw milk entirely, while the other 30 states allow it in some form. Bills introduced into state legislatures this year mostly include familiar measures like allowing on-farm sales or permitting so-called “cow-share” agreements that make it possible for someone in the city to own part of a dairy cow and share in the milk. So far this year’s “wild idea” award would have to go to State Sen. Kent Sorenson (R-Milo, IA) who is the sponsor of Senate File (SF) 61. His bill imposes a moratorium on the administration and enforcement of all of Iowa’s statutes and rules affecting unprocessed food. The moratorium –beginning July 1, 2014–would cover raw milk, eggs, nuts, honey, fruits and vegetables. The bill requires state departments to report on Jan. 1, 2014 to the Iowa General Assembly “outlining all statutes and rules affected by the moratorium and proposals to most effectively amend or repeal those statutes and rules.” Food Safety News asked Sorenson what he is trying to accomplish with the bill, but he did not take the opportunity to comment. Iowa’s system of allowing lobbyists to declare support or opposition to a bill indicates SF 61 maybe in for some rough sledding. The Iowa Public Health Association, Association of Business and Industry, Visiting Nurses Services, Iowa Medical Society, Iowa State Association of Countries and Iowa Dairy Association are among those who’ve already signed up against SF 61. Other proposals that are in the works by states include: Hawaii – On-the-farm sales of raw milk and raw milk products would be permitted under House Bill (HB) 99 and Senate Bill (SB) 364, companion measures. The sale of raw milk and dairy products made with raw milk are currently prohibited in Hawaii. (Copies of the bills were not readily available.) Iowa – In addition to SF 61, Sorenson is also sponsoring SF 77 to allow dairy farms producing raw milk to engage in retail sales and exempting them from regulations imposed on the state’s Grade A producers of pasteurized milk. Indiana – During its last session, the Indiana General Assembly ordered the state Board of Animal Health to study the raw milk issue and report back to lawmakers. In that report, BOAH recommended what would be required to assure some modicum of safety if raw milk sales were to be permitted in the Hoosier State. So far, there are two raw bill bills before the Assembly. SB610 is a cow shares bill. SB 513 is a broader raw milk bill, requiring a permit, adherence to sanitation standards, direct farm sales to the consumer, and is limited to cows. It is not known if it meets all he BOAH requirements. Oklahoma — Currently only on-the-farm sales of raw milk are permitted in Oklahoma.   HB 1541 would go a little further by allowing the raw milk producer to deliver the product to the consumer’s home. Texas —The Lone Star state also currently limits raw milk sales to those made on-the-farm. HB 46 would expand the locations where raw milk sales could occur to homes and other venues including farmer’s markets, farm stands, flea markets and fairs. Wyoming – No commercial sales of raw milk are permitted in the Cowboy State. SF 0112 provides regulatory authority for the state to issue “small herd permits,” that would allow holders to share in the herd’s  raw milk production.

Burch Equipment LLC in North Carolina is expanding its recent recall of nearly 189,000 cantaloupes to now include all of this growing season’s cantaloupes and honeydew melons distributed in 18 states because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. In the U.S. Food and Drug Administration update, issued very early Saturday morning, the agency noted that here have been no illnesses reported to date — the recall expansion is based on FDA’s recent finding of Listeria monocytogenes on a honeydew melon grown and packed by Burch Farms. The original recall of cantaloupes was initiated on July 28 after a Microbiological Data Program in New York found contaminated cantaloupe. Two days later, the recall was greatly expanded and the FDA warned the public to not eat the recalled melons after agency officials reported unsanitary conditions at the company’s packing shed. Now, more than 10 days later, the company and FDA are casting a wider net on the potentially-contaminated melons, including honeydew, which were not previously part of the recall. Earlier this week, the company clarified that although it had originally identified Athena cantaloupes as the variety it was recalling, it was actually recalling Caribbean Gold variety. According to FDA the recalled whole cantaloupes are identified by a red label reading Burch Farms referencing PLU # 4319. All cantaloupes involved in the recall were grown by Burch Farms, however some of the cantaloupes may have been identified with a “Cottle Strawberry, Inc.” sticker referencing the same PLU, but Cottle Strawberry, Inc. did not grow or process the recalled cantaloupe. Cantaloupes from Burch Farms were shipped in both corrugated boxes, which contain 9 cantaloupe per case, and in bulk bins. FDA said that Honeydew melons involved in the recall expansion “do not bear any identifying stickers and were packed in cartons labeled melons.” The cantaloupes and honeydew melons involved in this expanded recall were sold to distributors between June 23 and July 27 in several states, including: FL, GA, IL, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, SC, and VA, VT and WV. FDA said that the melons could have further been distributed to retail stores, restaurants and food service facilities in other states as well. “Consumers who may have purchased these honeydew melons should contact the store where they purchased their melons, for information about whether those melons are part of this recall,” said FDA. The agency typically does not post a list of retailers who received recalled product, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture often does. The recall comes just weeks after the USDA decided to keep produce sampling at MDP up and running through the end of the year after the program had been slated for closure due to budget cuts and nearly a year after the deadly Listeria outbreak linked to Colorado cantaloupes last fall. Burch Equipment LLC is asking consumers who may recalled cantaloupes or honeydews to discard them. As the agency explained early Saturday, Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems, but can be less of a risk for those with healthy immune systems. “Healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea,” but the infection also poses a particular risk to pregnant woman because it can cause miscarriages and stillbirths. The incubation period, otherwise known as the length of time between consuming a product and becoming ill, for Listeria monocytogenes can be 1 to 3 weeks, but can also be as little as three days or as long as 70 days.