McDonald’s Corp. and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that McDonald’s was recalling all Shrek Forever After 3D collectable drinking glasses late last week.  The designs on the glasses contain cadmium, which can cause adverse health effects with long-term exposure.

shrek-glasses-iphone.jpgApproximately 12 million of the 16 ounce Shrek Forever After 3D collectible drinking glasses which featured Shrek, Fiona, Puss n’ Boots, and Donkey characters, were sold at McDonald’s restaurants nationwide in May and June.

According to the McDonald’s Website, “The CPSC has said the glassware is not toxic and that they have far less cadmium than the children’s metal jewelry that CPSC has previously recalled.

“In addition, an independent third-party laboratory, accredited by the CPSC, evaluated the glassware and determined them to be in compliance with all applicable federal and state safety requirements at the time of manufacture and distribution.  However, in light of the CPSC’s evolving assessment of standards for cadmium in consumer products, McDonald’s determined in an abundance of caution that a voluntary recall of the Shrek Forever After™ glassware is appropriate.”

McDonald’s is asking consumers to stop using the Shrek Forever After 3D glasses.  Beginning June 8th, customers may access instructions to return the glassware and how to request a refund by visiting the McDonald’s Website or calling the company at 1-800-244-6227.

A local court in Seoul has convicted three people for supplying contaminated food to McDonald’s in South Korea.

Seoul Central District Court imposed suspended jail sentences on the three employees of the former supplier, named as McKey Korea, by United Press International (UPI). They were indicted without detention in 2018 for allegedly distributing 63 tons of beef patties that tested positive for E. coli. Suspended jail terms ranged from two to three years and were suspended for four years.

The Korea Herald cited judicial sources who said the prosecution has appealed the court’s ruling.

The supplier was fined 40 million won (U.S. $36,000), according to the Yonhap News Agency. McDonald’s Korea terminated its relationship with the company in 2017.

Yonhap reported a group of local consumers filed complaints with the prosecution alleging they or their families had suffered hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), after eating McDonald’s burgers. HUS is a type of kidney failure associated with E. coli infections.

About 5 percent to 10 percent of those who are diagnosed with E. coli infections develop HUS. Symptoms include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor. The condition can occur in people of any age but is most common in children under 5-years old, older adults and people with compromised immune systems.

In November 2020, prosecutors from Seoul searched McDonald’s Korea headquarters and seized documents as part of an investigation into illness caused by burgers served at the fast food chain.

The raid came almost two years after nine groups lodged a complaint with prosecutors against McDonald’s Korea, the food supplier and government officials.

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Opinion

Editor’s note: Each Spring, attorneys Bill Marler and Denis Stearns teach a Food Safety Litigation course in the LL.M. Program in Agricultural and Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law. This specialized program for attorneys brings together those who are interested in our food system, from farm to table. As a final assignment, students are asked to write an op-ed or essay on food safety, with the best to be selected for publication in Food Safety News. The following is one of the essays for 2020.


By Ksenia Epanchina

After WHO declared the COVID-19 pandemic, people all over the world were told to stay at home under quarantine in order to reduce the spread of the virus. Stress, associated with cardinal change of lifestyle and daily activities has emotional consequences, and reactions to it can be different depending on numerous factors. One of the most common stress reactions is overeating, and particularly craving foods rich in processed carbohydrates and fats, to put it simple – junk food. Weight gain, as a logical consequence to increased food consumption may not be a significant problem for people with healthy body mass index (BMI), what can’t be said about those, who have already faced obesity and diseases, associated with it, such as type-2 diabetes and heart disease. Gaining weight for obese people can be life-threatening under normal circumstances, but experts found that obesity also increases the risk for more serious complications of COVID-19, and excess body weight significantly raises the risk of hospitalization for young COVID-19  patients. 

Shift from healthy to “safe” foods.

The group of researchers from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health noted that “As households stock up on shelf-stable foods, they appear to be purchasing ultra-processed, calorie-dense comfort foods. Our own experiences in supermarkets show that along with the shelves that held flour, rice and beans, the shelves that held crackers, chips, ramen noodles, soda, sugary cereals, and processed ready to eat meals are quite empty”.  The researchers’ personal experience is confirmed by the data on sales increases of the foods they mentioned. Bloomberg reported, that by the middle of May 2020 the popcorn and pretzel sales rose almost 50%, the rise of potato chip sales was 30% compared to the same period in 2019.  Breakfast food, cookies and crackers are also in demand, according to Mondelez International Inc. Those who tried to choose fresh healthy foods before pandemic, are now buying the food that makes them feel safe, such as potato that had been ignored because of low-carb diets and red meat, that, together with the processed meat, had been linked to cardiovascular disease. 

Commenting on these numbers, Lisa Young, a New York dietitian, said that performing self-control is much harder when people are stressed, and eating comfort foods makes people feel good during stressful times, so she thinks that dieting is not a good idea right now. Dr. Quanta Ahmend believes on the contrary that “Now more than ever, getting into shape has become a matter of urgent national public health security”, because according to the recent data from NYU Langone, “body mass consistent with even early obesity in the setting of coronavirus infection makes a patient three times more likely to need intensive care medicine, suggesting a more severe clinical course”. Though the U.S. has been struggling with overweight and obesity epidemic for a long time before COVID-19, now its consequences are devastating, because “it is one of the biggest risk factors related to COVID-19 hospitalizations and critical illness,” researchers say.

Healthcare workers have to be careful. 

Cousins Subs, LaRosa’s Pizzerias, Fired Pie, Jersey Mike’s and many other fast food restaurants have announced that they are offering free meals or special offers to help medical workers get through the crisis. Every Monday from March 30 through May 11, all Krispy Kreme drive-thrus will give a free dozen (!) of doughnuts to everyone in the medical community; McDonald’s was offering free Thank You Meals through May 5 to health-care workers; Subway will donate 6-inch subs to health-care workers at participating hospitals.  It’s clear that COVID-19  crisis requires immediate response, and the community, including the fast food industry wants to thank and support healthcare workers, but donating junk food to hospitals in the middle of an obesity crisis can make the situation even worse.

Children are also in danger.

 Experts warn that due to schools closures the number of obese children may go up, as they will no longer receive school meals and will have to stay indoors, deprived of school activities.  Previously it had been noticed that children usually gain weight during summer recess, and extra pounds remain with them during the whole school year until the next summer when they gain even more weight. Now under quarantine kids will spend most of the time in front of the TV with its aggressive fast-food advertising or playing computer games, followed by snacking.  It has been proven that an obese child will most likely be an obese adult: according to the Bogalusa Heart Study, 77 % participants, who were obese as children, remain obese as adults, while only 7%, who were at healthy weight as children, became obese adults. So, the government is now facing new challenges, because adequate response is required to continue to support healthy eating patterns and active lifestyle of children, who are under quarantine.

What has been done by far.

After it was discovered that the death rate from obesity is 80 times higher than from foodborne illnesses per year (400,000 v. 5,000 respectively), it became clear that ultra-processed foods and foods, rich in sugar and saturated fats threaten our lives even more than foodborne parasites, disease-caused bacteria, toxins, unapproved additives or allergens, traditionally associated with food safety, and that FDA’s policy in that area should include initiatives addressing the quality of the food we eat and its calorie content.

Voluntary initiatives.

US policies and programs responding to obesity began in late 1990-s and addressed clinical, behavioral, or educational aspects, rather than environmental: the “Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults” by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (1998), the Weight-Control Information Network by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (1994). The goal of these initiatives were to educate public on the obesity and weight control, using scientific, evidence-based research papers. In 2002 President George Bush launched the HealthierUS Initiative to stimulate the nation to start exercising and make healthy food choices through “President’s Challenge”, then USDA set up “Team Nutrition Program” to teach students to differentiate between healthy foods and foods making them obese. 

Mandatory rues.

The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA) required that labels on food packages bear nutrition information, including calorie information, but didn’t cover food, served in the restaurants “for immediate human consumption’’. In  2014 FDA published the final rule for menu labeling, that required restaurants provide in the menu calorie information of the food they serve, and the Vending Machine Final Rule, requiring that vending machines declare calories in a manner, that would allow consumers read calories before purchasing it. FDA explained, that the goal of the rules is “to provide consumers with nutrition information in a clear and consistent manner to enable them to make informed and healthy dietary choices for themselves and their families when eating foods away from home”. 

The problem of child obesity was acknowledged by the government long ago, and several initiatives have been taken to protect children from the decease. In 2009 Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children, established by Congress, developed a set of voluntary standards, according to which all foods marketed to children of 2 to 17 years old should contribute to a healthy diet and have minimal levels of added sugar, saturated and trans fat and sodium. So, the goal was to reduce unhealthy food and beverage marketing to children. Because of the food industry opposition standards were released by the Federal Trade Commission in October 2011 in a significantly weakened version, applying only to children who are 12 years old or younger.

In 2010 Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, developed by M. Obama,  according to which fruit intake should have been 2 times increased, 50% of grains must have been whole grains, gradually turning into 100%, fries must have been served at schools no more than 2 times a week. Later, however, the USDA under the Trump administration published the final rule that rolled back Obama’s heathy food initiatives: the 2018 rule “Child Nutrition Program Flexibilities for Milk, Whole Grains, and Sodium requirements” allowed flavored milk, lowered the required amount of whole grains to 50% per week, provided more time to reduce sodium levels in school meals. 

In January 2020 the Trump administration proposed new rule that alter provisions from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act: aimed at reducing food waste the proposal will allow schools to offer lunches for a la carte purchase, adjust fruit servings and offer more vegetable varieties. So, under the new rule schools will be able to purchase less healthy vegetables, and kids, having a la carte choice will obviously order burgers, french fries and other foods, high in saturated fats and refined carbohydrates.

Did the efforts work? 

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 1999-2000 30.5% among adults and 9.2% and 4.7 among children were obese in the United States. In 2015-2016 the numbers grew to 39.8% and 18.5% respectively, and they keep growing – in 2017–2018 the numbers were 42.4% among adults and 9.2 % among youth. It seems that whatever the government is doing, obesity lives its own life. Experts say that because the food environment is a key factor leading to overeating and obesity, without radical changing it – stop mass marketing, selling ultra-processed foods, all other efforts will not work. Dr. Aseem Malthora, a London-base cardiologist, believes that failure to tell the public to change its diet and reduce the availability, affordability and acceptability of ultra-processed food now during COVID-19  crisis, when we have evidence that  people with obesity are more likely to become severely ill, “would represent an act of negligence and ignorance”.

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To celebrate this year’s World Food Safety Day, June 7, Inside Sharing Knowledge group is hosting a special online event. The event will include interviews and workshops from some of the world’s top food safety professionals. 

Nuno F. Soares, food safety expert and host of the event, said, “I have to confess; planning, developing and hosting this FREE event is also my way to honor thousands and thousands of Food Safety Professionals that haven’t stop working during this pandemic crisis holding tight to their mission of providing safe food to consumers.”

The event is totally free. You can register to attend the event here.

The food safety professional lineup includes:

  • Barbara VanRenterghem (Editorial Director, Food Safety Magazine)
  • Marie-Claude Quentin (Senior Technical Manager, GFSI)
  • Bill Marler (Managing Partner at Marler Clark LLP)
  • Erica Sheward (Director Global Food Safety Initiative, GFSI)
  • Bizhan Pourkomailian (Global Restaurant and Distribution Food Safety Director, McDonald’s)

Workshops:

  • ISO 22000:2018 — Get to know the new version of this Food Safety Management System
  • Food Fraud Workshop — Soares’s framework to develop food safety programs.
  • FSSC 22000 Version 5 — An opportunity to get to know the new version of this Food Safety Program.
  • The Why of Food Safety – Soares’s advice on how you can lead people to do what they should because it is the right thing to do.
  • Managing Organizational Risks — Soares shares the framework he uses to support Food Safety Professionals developing Organizational Risks.

 More information can be found on Nuno F. Soares’s website.

You can also hear describe the event himself in the video below.

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Last week the Washington State Department of Health declared an outbreak of hepatitis A in multiple counties in people who are living homeless or who use drugs. The outbreak includes 13 confirmed cases: nine in Spokane County, two in King County, one in Snohomish County and one in Pend Oreille County. Nationwide, since this outbreak began in 2016, 23,978 people have been sickened, with 14,330 hospitalized and 236 deaths.

Yesterday, a food service worker positive for the hepatitis A virus was discovered at a Lynnwood restaurant prompting public health official to urge restaurant patrons to be vaccinated and shuttering the restaurant.  Hundreds of customers have been exposed in the days that ill worker may have handled food and are now at risk of contracting hepatitis A.  Patrons exposed in the last two weeks have been urged to receive a hepatitis A vaccine.

The hepatitis A virus travels in feces, and can spread from person to person, or can be contracted from food or water. In cases of contaminated food, it is usually the person preparing the food who contaminates it. The food handler will probably not know they have the virus, since the virus is most likely to be passed on in the first two weeks of illness, before a person begins to show symptoms.

Symptoms of hepatitis A infection usually appear around 28 days after infection but can start as early as two weeks after exposure to the virus. Only 30 percent of children with hepatitis A actually develop symptoms. Early symptoms of hepatitis A infection include muscle aches, headache, jaundice, fever, loss of appetite, weakness, and fatigue. After a few days of experiencing these symptoms, 70 percent of patients develop jaundice, a yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. Jaundice also causes dark urine and light, clay-colored feces.

Symptoms usually last less than two months, although they sometimes last up to six months, and jaundice can linger for up to eight months. Patients can also experience severely itchy skin for a few months after symptoms first appear.

An acute hepatitis A case can develop into Fulminant Hepatitis A. This is a rare but severe complication of Hepatitis A, in which the toxins from the hepatitis virus kill an abnormally high number of liver cells (around ¾ of the liver’s total cells), and the liver begins to die.  Fifty percent of patients with this condition require an immediate liver transplant to avoid death. Fulminant hepatitis A can also cause further complications, including muscular dysfunction and multiple organ failure.

Hepatitis A is the only common foodborne disease preventable by a vaccine.

As a lawyer, I have seen first-hand the impacts on consumers exposed.  Here are a few examples of cases involving ill workers and the impact on customers and restaurants:

McDonalds in Skagit County in 1998 was implicated in a cluster of Hepatitis A illnesses linked to an exposure by a Hepatitis A positive assistant manager.

In 1999 nearly 40 became ill after being exposed to a Hepatitis A positive working at two Subway locations in the Seattle area.  Several of the patrons were hospitalized with one young boy suffering acute liver failure requiring a liver transplant.

A Carl’s Jr. was hit in Spokane in 2000 with a Hepatitis A cluster that sickened over a dozen after being exposed to an ill worker.

In 2001 a Massachusetts D’Angelo’s Hepatitis A ill employee was linked to several customers who became ill after being exposed to contaminated food served at the restaurant.

A Hepatitis A positive employee at Maple Lawn Dairy in New York sickened at least six customers in 2004, including one patron who suffered acute liver failure and died.

In July and August of 2009, public health officials in the Quad-City region of Illinois identified at least 32 confirmed cases of hepatitis A among residents of Rock Island, Henry, Mercer, Warren, and Woodford Counties. People became ill after eating food purchased from the Milan McDonald’s restaurant and then developing a Hepatitis A infection.

In 2017 Bartaco in New York at least 5 people sickened with Hepatitis A many of who were hospitalized with hundreds of thousands in medical bills and wage loss.

In 2017 a McDonald’s in Waterloo, New York was linked to the death of one woman who was exposed to a hepatitis A ill worker.

And, just last week, the New Jersey Department of Health announced that 23 people contacted hepatitis A after being exposed to an ill worker at the Mendham Golf & Tennis Club.

The restaurants above have collectively paid (or will pay) millions in damages to customers either exposed or who became ill. Many governments paid thousands of dollars for vaccines.

No doubt each restaurant and the local health authorities – after the fact – wish that worker had been previously vaccinated.

And, it is not just those that contract the potentially deadly virus.  At times, hundreds, and at times thousands, of customers are required to receive the vaccine to prevent the illness and to prevent the further spread of the disease.

In 2000, I wrote this:

In light of the recent, large-scale Hepatitis A exposure in the San Francisco Bay Area, food safety attorneys of the Seattle-based law firm of Marler Clark, are asking restaurants and food manufacturers to voluntarily vaccinate all workers against Hepatitis A. “In the last six months Hepatitis A exposures have been linked to two Seattle-area Subways, a Carl’s Jr. in Spokane, WA, Hoggsbreath, a Minnesota restaurant, and three restaurants in Northwest Arkansas, IHOP, U.S. Pizza, and Belvedeers…” Marler continued, “Restaurants and food manufacturers must take action and voluntarily vaccinate all of their employees.”

Usually, after an ill food worker is recognized, restaurants rush to vaccinate their other employees and to clean the restaurant.  Generally, this is too little, too late.  Few restaurants ever consider proactively offering hepatitis A vaccinations, and just as many governments consider ordering the vaccinations of food workers as a way to prevent the spread of the disease.

A few weeks ago, I challenged a large restaurant chain to offer vaccinations to all food service workers and I would never sue them again – an offer that has yet gone unaccepted.  And, since then, that restaurant in fact was linked to a hepatitis A positive ill worker.  That same scenario has repeated itself nearly daily over that last few weeks at restaurants across the country.

However, there are some spots of hope.  A local government in Missouri that is seeing a spike in hepatitis A cases, and has experienced three recent exposure events at restaurants, has now ordered all food service workers to be vaccinated.  And, a restaurant in Florida – which is experiencing its own increase in disease – offered vaccination to all employees before there was a problem in that restaurant.

So, hey, Washington State health authorities and restaurants, make me proud and lets vaccinate food service workers against Hepatitis A – before the problem gets any worse.

A McDonald’s in Johnson City, TN, and a Little Caesar’s Pizza in Newark, OH, put their customers at risk of exposure to hepatitis A by permitting an employee with the liver disease to report for work.

They are the latest in a long list of hepatitis A developments that are examples of what the Mississippi State Department of Health is calling a “national epidemic.” Mississippi on Wednesday acknowledged that state has joined that epidemic.

“An outbreak occurs when we see an increased number of cases greater than what is normally expected over time,” explained MSDH State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers. “Since April we’ve seen 23 cases in Mississippi. We investigate all reported cases to identify their contacts and provide vaccination.”

Anyone who is not vaccinated is at risk from the contagious liver disease from contact with an infected person experiencing jaundice and other symptoms. And it happens all too frequently in restaurants when an employee comes to work while infected with the virus,

That’s what happened in both Johnson City, TN, and Newark, OH. One employee carrying the virus for one shift at Tennessee McDonald’s potentially exposed 500 customers to hepatitis A. Health officials this week offered a two-day vaccination clinic.

Pot-exposure vaccination must be administered within two weeks after exposure to be effective.

The Little Caesar’s in Newark, OH, closed and held a vaccination clinic for its employees. It also conducted extensive cleaning and facility repairs, according to the Licking County Health Department. The risk to the public from the exposed employ is considered low.

The hepatitis A fire is burning hottest in Florida. From Jan. 1, 2018, through July 27, 2019, there have been 2, 582 hepatitis A cases reported in the state. In all of 2018 there were 548 hepatitis A cases reported. This year, thru July 27, 2019, there’s been 2,034 hepatitis A cases reported.

Florida’s main strategy for combating hepatitis A is vaccination. More than 4,000 vaccinations a week are being provided.

Other states that are not putting up those numbers are none-the-less concerned about the increase in hepatitis A cases over historical levels. Philadelphia, for example, recorded 19 hepatitis A cases in 2017; and 21 for 2018.

To date for 2019, Philadelphia reports 117 hepatitis A cases.

Like many cities, Philadelphia finds most hepatitis A cases involve homeless people and drug users. However, transmission through food and beverages is also a source.

Also this week, 13 hepatitis A cases were reported in Washington State. Ten are in Spokane, and three are in the Seattle metro area. Like Mississippi, Evergreen State health officials there said they are declaring a hepatitis A outbreak.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta says there are two ways to transmit the hepatitis A virus (HAV) :

  • Person-to-person transmission through the fecal-oral route (i.e., ingestion of something that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person) is the primary means of HAV transmission in the United States.
  • Exposure to contaminated food or water can cause common-source outbreaks and sporadic cases of HAV infection. Uncooked foods contaminated with HAV can be a source of outbreaks, as well as cooked foods that are not heated to temperatures.

Symptoms of hepatitis A include nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting; jaundice or the yellowing of the skin and eyes; and stomach pain, low appetite, and fever.

“In Mississippi, our most at-risk populations are those who use those who use recreational drugs, are currently in jail or were recently in jail, men who have sex with men, and those with unstable housing or who are homeless,” said Dr. Byers. “Other states are seeing similar trends.”

In addition to the vaccine, other prevention measures include practicing strong hygiene habits such as thoroughly washing your hands after using the bathroom.

“We are strongly recommending that all persons who are at higher risk get hepatitis A vaccine,” said Byers. “Hepatitis A vaccine can be obtained through your provider, pharmacist and at all county health departments for uninsured or underinsured persons,” said Dr. Byers.

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Almost as many food companies this year have been caught up in California’s Proposition 65 cancer and toxic warnings than during all of last year.

Speaking last week in Chicago, Food Industry Counsel Shawn Stevens said so-called “60-day” notices were filed against 308 food companies so far in 2019, compared to 330 during all of 2018.

Amendments to Prop 65 that stem from 2016 took effect on Aug. 30, 2018, with changes involving the “clear and reasonable ” warning requirement for labels and signs that may be required to bring a business into compliance.

Adopted by voters with a 2-to-1 margin in 1986, Prop 65 or the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act as now amended requires the disclosure of the type of chemical and exposure on covered products. Notices must disclose whether the warning is about the risk of cancer, reproductive toxins, or both.

Stevens said Prop 65 casts a very large net. Any retailer of a product in California with 10 or more employees along with their brands, manufacturers, and distributors can all be subject to the labeling and signage requirements.

And Prop 65 enforcement is not entirely in the hands of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, commonly referred to as OEHHA. This is because private parties, which usually means attorneys and/or non-governmental organizations are able to bring a compliance action, which may trigger fines for non-compliance of up to $2,500 per day.

The retailer/brand/manufacturer might not be aware of a compliance issue until a 60-day notice is filed against them. The notice is a legal document that alleges violations of Prop 65’s warning requirements.

The notice also goes to public prosecutors who can opt to take up the case. More typically the 60-day notice results in settlement negotiations. After a settlement is reached, a mandated reformulation or defined limit may be suggested.

Last year, even before the new amendments took effect, the Seattle-based Starbucks Corp. was ordered by a Los Angeles judge to put a Prop 65 cancer warning on the coffee it sells in California. Roasting coffee — and burning toast — produces cancer-causing acrylamide. Not until 2002 was it known that some cooked foods contain the organic chemical compound.

About 90 other companies including McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts selling coffee in California fell under the same ruling.

Prop 65 experts like Stevens say food companies doing business in California should check their own products against the OEHHA list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. It’s updated at least once a year and includes about 900 chemicals. Businesses are also prohibited from knowingly discharging significant amounts of listed chemicals into sources of drinking water.

If there is a match, the next step is likely a full-blown “risk assessment.” After that, the warnings that do kick in might be satisfied by point-of-sale signage or even store shelf labeling. The new amendments require the signage or warnings to include the yellow triangle symbol, specific fonts, and the OEHHA website address for more information.

“The best way to look at it, ” says another Prop 65 expert, is that Prop 65 is a labeling exercise.”

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Editor’s note: Today Food Safety News  takes a look back at the Top 10 most important food safety news events for 2018. Since 2009 we’ve shared our rankings with our readers. As in past years, our Top 10 list for 2018 is not merely a list of individual stories by individual writers. Usually, a most important story is the other way around. Multiple stories by multiple writers are more likely to put a food safety “event” on top than any solo work. And, while reader intensity is important, the top food safety stories are chosen solely by the writers and editors of Food Safety News.

1. U.S. romaine repeatedly infected consumers with potentially deadly E. coli

In three consecutive outbreaks, romaine lettuce was named in 2018 as the source of nearly 300 infections that had sent 128 people to hospitals as of Friday. Six people have died. The U.S. and Canada food safety experts blame romaine for the E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks Some romaine was removed from store shelves two days before Thanksgiving Day, even though there weren’t any official recalls issued in relation to any of the three outbreaks at that time.

These are two examples of how produce companies are applying the voluntary harvest region and date labeling concept to romaine.
Click on the image to view a larger version.

In the first outbreak, declared over in the United States on Jan. 25, 2018, Canada identified romaine as the problem while U.S. officials weren’t sure enough to say it was “leafy greens.”

In the second outbreak, declared over on June 28, 2018, the Food and Drug Administration warned the public about romaine from the Yuma, AZ, growing region. Weeks later the FDA cited contaminated water in an open-air irrigation canal as a likely source of the outbreak strain of the E. coli O157:H7. This romaine crisis was the most serious threat experienced by the fresh produce industry since the deadly 2006 outbreak of E. coli O157: H7 traced to fresh bagged spinach.

At year-end, the third outbreak was winding down with some progress in the investigation by FDA and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They were able to name Adam Brothers Farm in Santa Maria, CA, as a possible source of the third outbreak. The outbreak strain of E. coli O157H:7 was found in the sediment of an irrigation reservoir on the family-owned farm in Santa Barbara County, CA.

2. Tiger Brands polony named as source of largest listeriosis outbreak in history

Popping champagne corks probably isn’t the way to mark the end of the world’s worst listeriosis outbreak on record. However when South Africa declared that event over on Sept. 3, 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) sent its congratulations.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the outbreak ended with 1,060 cases and 216 deaths between Jan. 1, 2017, and July 17, 2018. The outbreak was linked to ready-to-eat processed meat produced by Tiger Brands in its Enterprise Foods production facility in Polokwane, South Africa.

The outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes, known as ST6, was contained in South Africa. Enterprise Foods exports to 15 other African counties. Tiger Brands facilities in Polokwane and Germiston that closed because of the outbreak, reopened this month. Meanwhile, attorneys for the victims and Tiger Brands moved forward with a class action lawsuit that will sort of liability and damages in South Africa’s court as early as next March.

3. JBS USA spreads Salmonella across 28 states; posts first multi-million-pound beef recall in years

With foreign shareholders who are crooks, and plans to spin-off JBS USA from its Brazilian parent company through an initial public offering as early as 2019, the last thing JBS needed was a recall of more than 12 million pounds of beef from its Tolleson, AZ, facility. The related Salmonella outbreak has revived consumer calls in the United States for declaring as adulterants the more dangerous strains of Salmonella.

Al Almanza

Among those who have not stepped forward with an opinion in the adulterant debate is Al Almanza, who headed USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service for a decade before being named as leader of worldwide food safety for JBS.

Meanwhile, the multistate Salmonella Newport outbreak has put 91 people in the hospital out of 333 confirmed cases to date.

4. McDonald’s, Fresh Del Monte Produce among brands discovering parasite problems in U.S. produce 

In July, McDonald’s was forced to pull salads from 3,000 restaurants in the United States out of fear they were infected with Cyclospora parasites. More than 100 customers were infected with cyclosporiasis from eating McDonald’s salads.

While that 14-state outbreak was being investigated, FDA and CDC were also busy with parasites being found in a Del Monte brand pre-cut vegetable and dip tray product.

The CDC declared the cyclosporiasis outbreak associated with the Fresh Del Monte Produce over on Sept. 5, 2018, reporting that 250 people had been infected across four states. Eight of the patients had to be admitted to hospitals. The FDA reported 2018 marked the first time the Cyclospora parasite had been found in produce grown in the United States.

5. FDA announces plans to release retail recall lists

Telling consumers the names of retailers where recalled food was sold might seem like a no-brainer. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has been doing it for years. But only this past September did FDA publish draft guidance saying it too would be publicly disclosing retail locations that may have sold or distributed recalled human or animal food where there is a “reasonable probability” of causing serious adverse health consequences of death.

The FDA has long held that a clause in federal law that protects confidential corporate information (CCI) has blocked the agency from releasing such information.

In announcing the policy change, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said most recalls involve enough information for the consumer to identify and avoid the recalled product. But, he also said, some do not have any specific information, such as UPC numbers or barcodes, to help consumers.

Deli cheeses, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables sold individually and for animals, pet treats and rawhide chews are all examples of recalled foods where the consumer needs more information. That’s where FDA’s new policy to release the “retail consignee” lists will come into practice.

“Knowing where a recalled product was sold during the most dangerous food recalls can be the difference between a consumer going to the hospital or not,” Gottlieb said in the announcement, which he released between 2018’s spring and fall romaine outbreaks

6. Under-lying threats to food safety in Britain because of  Brexit

The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union on March 29, 2019. It’s the law, regardless of whether there is a transition deal with the EU or not. That’s because U.K. voters decided by a 51.9 to 48.1 margin on June 23, 2016, in favor of Brexit, aka whether Britain should exit the EU. During 2018, however, considerable attention focused on whether food safety in the U.K. will be diminished moving forward.

A so-called “hard Brexit,” without an EU-UK transition agreement would pose the greatest safety concern, according to some. For example, the U.K. would be open to importing U.S poultry that has been subjected to the chlorine-washing. The EU banned the practice in 1997. Differences in allowable pesticide levels are another stumbling block. Likewise, U.S. pork may contain Ractopamine, but its use is banned in the E.U. Likewise, the U.S. is freer with food additives and using chlorinated water to disinfect leafy vegetables.

To be sure, the E.U. is as motivated by moves to keep the United States out of its agricultural market as it is to ensure food safety. In the House of Commons, the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee wants any Brexit-related trade deal to meet or exceed British standards for production, animal welfare, and the environment. If there isn’t a “hard Brexit,” it will follow the 585-page agreement reached on Nov. 14. It has no table of contents or index.

7. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb emerges as a top newsmaker and a food guy

The 23rd Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Scott Gottlieb finds himself in a war against overdoses led by Fentanyl and heroin that will take an estimated 72,000 lives in 2018. It would be understandable if Gottlieb did not have time for anything else.

Scott Gottlieb

But the physician, medical policy expert, and public health advocate who previously served as the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs — and before that, as a senior advisor to the FDA commissioner — is turning out to be the agency’s man for all problems and issues. Since he became commissioner on May 11, 2017, Gottlieb has become one of Washington D.C.’s top experts who is frequently, almost routinely, in the news. And while his background in drugs and technology might suggest otherwise, Gottlieb is also showing plenty of interest in the nation’s food.

He’s implemented menu labeling with calorie counts for food items, called for FDA to release retail lists for recalled products in some instances, plans to add sesame to the list of major allergens that must be included on food labels, and promised to make more robust use of mandatory recall authority. Gottlieb’s deep dive against opioids has also included leading FDA’s destruction and recall of dietary supplements and other products that contain kratom. This has included forcing kratom-containing products off the market. Gottlieb says “no kratom product is safe.” A number of kratom products, from various companies, have been found to be contaminated with foodborne pathogens.

8. FDA recruits two of the private sector’s food safety stars

In a reorganization of the FDA’s food and feed side, Frank M. Yiannas was named the agency’s commissioner for food policy and response, and Jim Gorny was hired as senior science adviser for produce safety.

Frank Yiannas
Jim Gorny

Both left top food safety jobs in the private sector in 2018 to take their new positions at the FDA. Yiannas and Gorny were both recognized by their colleagues in industry, government, and academia as among the best in food safety.

Yiannas, 54, was vice president for food safety over Walmart and Sam’s Club stores worldwide. Gorny was vice president for food safety and technology at the Produce Marketing Association.

In recruiting Yiannas and Gorny, FDA picked up two impact players. Yiannas had just imposed “end-to-end” traceability for fruits and vegetables sold at any of the 11,718 Walmart and Sam’s Club’s stores in 28 countries around the world before accepting the FDA job. He’s taking over for Dr. Stephen Ostroff, who retires next month.

Gorny is back at FDA just in time to manage the ongoing romaine crisis. From 2009 to 2013, Gorny was a senior advisor in FDA’s Office of Food Safety. He was involved in the initial development of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) draft regulations after the law was signed into law in 2011.

9. Senate didn’t find time to confirm Brashears as top U.S. food safety official

Five years and one week ago, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen left government, stepping down as Under Secretary of Agriculture Safety. Mindy Brashears, PhD, is professor and director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech University and was nominated to fill the post by President Donald J. Trump May 4, 2018.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, after a Nov. 28 public hearing, unanimously recommended her confirmation to the full Senate on Dec. 5. But, the Senate finished out the 115th Congress without bringing her nomination to the floor for a final up or down confirmation vote.

Mindy Brashears

Among the reasons it did not happen is the fact the Senate’s attention was elsewhere, cutting prison terms and doling out the Farm Bill goodies. Also, Brashears was just another name among several dozen others requiring confirmation for jobs the Senate does not consider that important. Under Senate rules, the minority party is powerless to stop a presidential nominee but it can demand up to 30 hours of floor time to debate even non-controversial appointees. The Senate did not have floor time for Brashears in 2018. The nation’s top food safety post remains vacant.

For what it is worth, the White House will likely resubmit Brashears nomination to the new Congress, and the Senate will assign it back to the Senate Committee on Agriculture. Thirteen top USDA jobs require Senate confirmation of a presidential appointee. Eight of those positions are currently filled with a Trump appointee who has been confirmed by the Senate. The nominations of Naomi Earp as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Civil Rights,and Scott Hutchins as Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education, and Economics also failed to win confirmation before time ran out.

10.  Salmonella outbreak turns lens on kratom as an opioid

Kratom started the year as a plant known for its stimulant effects and as an “opioid substitute.” But after a 41-state outbreak of Salmonella infections linked to kratom products, the Food and Drug Administration changed its view. Kratom is also known as Thang, Kakuam, Thom, Ketom, and Biak.

“Kratom is not legally marketed in the United States as a drug or dietary supplement. Kratom is an opioid, is addictive and has been linked to severe health consequences and deaths among users,” said a July 3 FDA report.

“Despite these risks, we know that kratom has grown in popularity in recent years due to unsubstantiated claims about its purported benefits,” it continued. “It appears the salmonella problem with kratom uncovered earlier this year has probably been occurring for some time and is ongoing. We have closed our outbreak investigation, concluding that anyone consuming kratom may be placing themselves at a significant risk of being exposed to salmonella.

“As we have previously stated, there are no proven medical uses for kratom and the FDA strongly discourages the public from consuming kratom. The subsequent findings of this investigation only strengthen that public health recommendation. Kratom is an inherently addictive product that can cause harm, which is reason enough not to consume it. Now, in addition to those risks, we can conclude that there may be a high proportion of kratom and kratom-containing products contaminated with salmonella. It’s another firm reminder of why people should avoid kratom,” FDA added.

In 2018, at least 199 people in 41 states were infected with Salmonella from kratom projects with names like “Powerful Red Vein Ball” and “Super Green Maeng Da.” The outbreak saw at least 50 people admitted to hospitals. No deaths were recorded. The kratom-linked outbreak included infections from several types of Salmonella — Salmonella I 4,[5],12:b:-, Salmonella Heidelberg, Salmonella Javiana, Salmonella Okatie, Salmonella Weltevreden, and Salmonella Thompson.

Although the kratom-linked outbreak ended in May, FDA picked up its enforcement actions, mainly by warnings to “unscrupulous vendors” making scientifically unsubstantiated claims including to “relieve opium withdrawals” and to treat a myriad of ailments including but not limited to: diarrhea, depression, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, stomach parasites, diverticulitis, anxiety and alcoholism.

“Simply, selling these unapproved kratom products with claims that they can treat opioid withdrawal and addiction and other serious medical conditions is a violation of federal law,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gotlieb.

Also by year-end, a Kratom Trade Association (KTA) was up and running, calling kratom “the natural, coffee-like herb associated with better health and well being.” The KTA says it’s “dedicated to the safe and responsible use of kratom botanical products in the U.S.”

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McDonald’s has revealed it detected Listeria in a chicken salad sold in restaurants throughout France.

The fast food giant said an internal control found the pathogen in one lot of chicken Caesar salad sold from July 9 to 14. It was removed from sale July 15. Florette Food Services (FFS), which is part of the Florette company, supplied the product to McDonald’s.

McDonald’s has around 1,400 restaurants in France and informed clients of those affected on its website and by putting up posters in outlets. No illnesses linked to the product have been reported.

Other analyses throughout the chain, on the lot concerned, during the day and the month of production have been given the all clear.

In the United States, McDonald’s is one of potentially several other companies that sold Fresh Express salad mix contaminated with Cyclospora, resulting in a multi-state outbreak. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed the parasite in salad from the Chiquita Brands LLC subsidiary Fresh Express.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that as of July 26, there were 286 laboratory-confirmed cases of Cyclospora infection reported in people who had eaten “a variety” of salads from McDonald’s restaurants. At least 11 people have required hospitalization.

McDonald’s stopped using the Fresh Express salad mix at implicated restaurants in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, North Dakota, Kentucky, West Virginia and Missouri on July 13.

Back in France, Florette has also recalled sachets of dill after an internal control showed a presence of Salmonella. The company said the action was in agreement with the direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des frauds (directions regarding competition, consumption and the repression of frauds).

All unsold products have been removed from the market. Analyzes are in progress at an independent laboratory to confirm the presence of the pathogen.

Florette said an internal investigation is ongoing but initial work has made it possible to identify potentially affected lots sold nationally between July 21 and 24 in retail chains and specialty stores. These are aneth (dill) in 11-gram packages with the following labeling information:

  • Date: 04/08 and lot number: 204A
  • Date: 01/08 and lot number: 201A
  • Date: 31/07 and lot number: 200A
  • Date: 30/07 and lot number: 199A

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Every hour of every day people around the world are living with and working to resolve food safety issues. Here is a sampling of current headlines for your consumption, brought to you today with the support of iwaspoisoned.com.

Modern high-tech greenhouses such as this don’t use dirt.

Organic board supports hydroponics 
By an 8-7 vote, the National Organic Standards Board has recommended that hydroponic and aquaponic growing techniques should not be prohibited from the USDA’s National Organic Program.

However, the board, which advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding organic operations, said no to aeroponics. Fourteen members voted against organic certification for the technique. One member of the board abstained from the aeroponics vote.

A debate has been raging years about whether soil is essential to organic growing, with the Cornucopia Institute and the Organic Consumers Association opposing certification of non-soil operations. In 1995 the NOSB recommended that USDA-approved organic certifiers be allowed to license hydroponic operations, “if all provisions of the OFPA (Organic Foods Production Act) have been met.” Licensing has been inconsistent, though, with some certifiers approving hydroponic operations and some not.

Opponents say the foundation of organic farming is clean soil. They contend soil conservation and eliminating certain pesticides and herbicides spurred the birth of the organic movement.

There is concern that certification for hydroponic and aquaponic operations could reduce overall organic output. However, operators of non-soil greenhouses say they can produce 8, 10 and 22 times more tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, respectively, per acre than conventional field operations produce.


So-called cage free poultry operations often confine birds in cramped conditions such as this, which can contribute to the spread of bacteria such as Salmonella.

‘Big Chicken’ says the sky may not be falling, but …
In her words, public health journalist Maryn McKenna says she wrote the book “Big Chicken” in hopes of improving the quality of the chicken consumed in the United States. In the book, McKenna describes the American public’s love affair with white meat and how it has contributed to antibiotic-resistant foodborne infections in humans.

She also calls out the poultry industry for labeling claims that mislead consumers. McKenna notes that “things like, for instance, ‘raised without hormones,’ or ‘raised cage-free’ ” don’t tell the whole story. Hormones have never been legal for meat chicken in the United States, and meat chickens are never raised in cages.

“To me, a label claim of, ‘Raised without antibiotics’ is a thing that’s really worth looking for,” the author told National Public Radio recently.

McKenna also suggests chicken industry heavyweights such as Perdue Farms and Tyson, as well as restaurant chains including Chick-Fil-A, Subway and McDonald’s, haven’t moved away from antibiotic use in chickens because they’re concerned about antibiotic resistance. They did so, she contends, because of the concerns of consumers, who ultimately determine corporate profits.


To view a video from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on how to properly clean up after a norovirus incident, please click on the image.

Huskers say fill your ‘Barf Bucket’ now
Having a toolkit, or “Barf Bucket” as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension calls it, can help with the proper handling of messy incidents associated with norovirus, sometimes referred to as the stomach flu.

Vomiting and diarrhea can hit suddenly when people are infected with the highly contagious virus. When such bodily fluids splash on floors, bathroom fixtures and other surfaces in childcare facilities, nursing homes, schools, restaurants, etc., a “Barf Bucket” is a practical item for containment procedures.

“Knowing how to clean is very important to prevent the bacteria from spreading, as the virus can survive on surfaces for up to a week and is somewhat resistant to general cleaning,” according to the Extension Service.

The Extension Service says some Barf Bucket items, such as gloves, goggles, shoe covers and protective aprons, are Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for the people who are tasked with cleaning up after a norovirus incident.

Among the other supplies recommended for a Barf Bucket kit are:

  • Liquid-spill absorbant material;
  • Single-use flat-edge scoop, shovel or dustpan;
  • Bucket;
  • Spray bottle of disinfectant; see the Environmental Protection Agency for acceptable products;
  • Paper towels;
  • Liquid soap;
  • Garbage bags for double bagging waste and cleaning materials; and
  • A designated mop.

Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness, and accounts for more than 50 percent of food-related outbreaks, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The pathogen can spread through the air, live on surfaces and contaminate food.

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