Food-borne Outbreaks and Lack of FDA Transparency

A recent opinion piece from FoodSafetyNews highlights the lack of transparency from the FDA regarding food-borne outbreaks (several more listed below).

Bill Marler: Publisher’s Platform: A bit more about the FDA and lack of Transparency

Here’s an excerpt:

The Halloween disclosure of a multistate E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce raises another concern about the FDA and transparency — the failure to disclose where consumers purchased the tainted product..

Under the Freedom of Information Act and Title 21 of the Code of Regulations, government agencies — and specifically, the FDA — are told to exempt trade secrets and commercial information from any of their releases…

Formulations, ingredients and how products are made are trade secrets.  Who supplied the tainted raw material, who made the tainted product and where the tainted product was sold are not a trade secrets – especially during an outbreak.  Simplicity, transparency and consistency allows for a visible supply chain and one that consumers can have confidence in. 

Recent outbreaks (thanks to colleague for these references):

Multistate Salmonella Outbreak Linked To Ground Beef Causes One Death, Eight Hospitalizations

  • Reuters (11/1, Maddipatla) reported, “A multistate outbreak of salmonella linked to ground beef has caused one death in California and eight hospitalizations, U.S. health officials said on Friday. A total of 10 people in six U.S. states were infected with a strain of the bacteria called Salmonella Dublin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
  • TIME (11/2, Carlisle) reported, “Officials have not yet identified a single common source of the ground beef that is believed to be spreading the Salmonella Dublin based on epidemiological and laboratory evidence. According to the CDC, the sick individuals reported eating different brands of ground beef at different locations.”
  • CNN (11/1, Christensen) also reported the story.

Previously Undisclosed E. Coli Outbreak Linked To Romaine Lettuce Sickened Nearly Two Dozen People, FDA Says

  • The Washington Post (11/1, Brice-Saddler) reported, “A previously undisclosed E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce sickened nearly two dozen people between July and early September, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday – a delayed announcement one food safety lawyer called a ‘lie to the public in all respects.’” The piece added, “Illnesses associated with the outbreak infected 23 people across 12 states from July 12 to Sept. 8, according to the FDA. No patients died of their illnesses, and officials say there is no ongoing public health risk.”

Dozens more fresh vegetable products because of Listeria monocytogenes risk (11/4) (FoodSafetyNews.com)

  • A (Canadian) nationwide recall of freshcut vegetables continues to expand with dozens of products and multiple brands now on the list. Products potentially contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes are cole slaw, riced cauliflower, green beans, noodles, kale salads and more.  Some of the products do not expire for 10 days or more, so consumers and businesses are urged to check their supplies for the recalled products listed here by the Canadian government

My take: Food-borne illnesses cause 48 million cases in U.S. each year (CDC estimates) and 3000 deaths (MMWR 64:2, 2015). More transparency is needed.

Related blog post: Food Safety Lecture-It’s Still A Jungle Out There

 

Food Safety Lecture–It is Still A Jungle Out There

Yesterday, I posted a blog that tried to summarize some of William Balistreri’s talk on Global Health.  He gave a 2nd Excellent Lecture on Food Safety at the Georgia AAP Nutrition Symposium.  One audience member suggested that this lecture was well-paired with the previous lecture as the awareness of food-borne illnesses might deter gluttony.

This lecture was packed with information regarding food safety; he highlighted the extensive and frequent food-borne illnesses.

Key points:

  • The problem of food-borne illness was put under a spotlight by Upton Sinclair in The Jungle (1906) which led to reforms in meat packing industry.  However, more work is needed
  • FSMA -Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law in 2011; it’s aim is to create a proactive rather than reactive approach, Historic opportunity to increase food safety
  • Food-borne illnesses: 1 in 10 persons worldwide will be sick every year & leads to 1/2 million deaths worldwide each year.  125,000 deaths in children
  • Food-borne illnesses: 48 million cases in U.S. each year (CDC estimates) and 3000 deaths (MMWR 64:2, 2015)
  • Besides significant mortality rates for food-borne illnesses, they also contribute to post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome (~13% of all cases) and these illnesses can be indefinite
  • Social media, including “IwasPoisoned.com” and Yelp, will likely help identify outbreaks more quickly.  Newer molecular technologies during food processing has the potential to improve food safety.

Resources:

  • For those who want to keep up food-borne illnesses, Dr. Balistreri recommended food safety news, which provides daily emails. Link to subscribe: Food Safety News
  • Two books that were recommended: The Poison Squad by Deborah Blum and Outbreak by Timothy Lytton
  • The CDC has plenty of advice and a useful pamphlet regarding the key 4 steps with food preparation: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/keep-food-safe.html
  • Another resource: FoodSafety.gov

Link to full talk slides PDF: FOOD SAFETY (10-10-19)  I have placed about 20 slides below which summarize much of the information that he conveyed.

 

 

Understanding Your Food and Biotechnology (Part 1)

Yesterday’s blog post summarized a recent talk by Ronald Kleinman, MD:  Biotechnology, Nutrition, and Agriculture: A Perspective and Implications for Child Health.  Given the prevalence of misinformation on this topic, I am spending the next few days elaborating on this lecture.  The full lecture (video and slides) will be available on the Nutrition4Kids website.

Genetic Engineering Has Allowed Development of Vaccines

Genetic Engineering Has Allowed Development of Vaccines

Biotechnology in Our Foods is Ubiquitous

Biotechnology in Our Foods is Ubiquitous

Biotechnology Has Reduced Mortality Dramatically

Biotechnology Has Reduced Mortality Dramatically

Genetic Change in Crops is as Old as Agriculture

Genetic Change in Crops is as Old as Agriculture. There would not be corn as we know it without crop breeding.

Key points:

  1. Genetic engineering has not only improved our food supply but has been essential in innovations like vaccines and insulin.
  2. Biotechnology is ubiquitous. It’s not just crops, but cheese, wine, etc. Biotechnology has led 16,000 fewer children dying each day compared to 1995; this is largely due to biotechnology. Improved food security and less malnutrition results in fewer secondary complications (eg pneumonia, diarrhea).
  3. Genetic change in foods is as old as agriculture. Lots of vegetables/crops were not found in nature, including corn and wheat. Cross-breeding allowed development of modern corn and wheat.

More tomorrow…

Food Safety: Confusion with Use-by and Sell-by Dates

From the LA Times, http://t.co/9Tt2C4EOPf, an except:

Sell by, use by, best by. Most consumers use the dates stamped on foods to decide what to toss out — and they are often discarding food that’s good to eat, according to a report…

Those dates are manufacturers’ suggestions for when an item is at its peak, or efforts to help stores manage their inventory, and not indications of food safety, the report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic says.

More than 90% of Americans say they use date stamps to decide whether to discard food, the report notes.

“I don’t know of any data that consuming a product beyond the date has caused illness,” said Ted Labuza, a professor of food science and engineering at the University of Minnesota who has studied shelf life for decades.

There are several ways that products can be contaminated and can cause illness, including poor handling on farms or in factories and stores, and improper treatment by consumers.

Wednesday’s report follows one about food waste from the NRDC showing that 40% of our food is discarded, resulting in losses of $165 billion a year….People are throwing away food because they believe it’s not safe, she said. And they also may be eating unsafe food because they put too much trust in those date labels.

While there is no research of the exact role those dates play in the 160 billion pounds of annual food waste in the U.S., estimates based on British studies suggest it could be $275 to $455 worth of food per household per year, the report said.

Business suffers, too, as millions of dollars of food is discarded before it’s sold based on those dates, the report said. There is a “dizzying” array of state laws regarding date stamps on food, including no regulations in nine states, Gunders said….

The NRDC report calls for three major changes:

—Putting sell-by dates — meant for businesses — into code so they are invisible to consumers.

—Establishing a uniform date labeling system that differentiates dates for safety from those for quality.

—Increasing the use of safe-handling instructions.

… Among the possibilities being considered is a two-date system that’s clearly marked for the retailer and the consumer.

U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said she planned to reintroduce the Freshness Disclosure Act, which she had previously proposed, to establish a consistent food-dating system. She said in a statement Wednesday that consumers now were “left in the lurch, forced to decipher the differences between ‘sell-by’ and ‘best if used by,’ and too often food is either thrown out prematurely, or families wind up consuming dangerous or spoiled food. The status quo is really quite absurd.”