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Campylobacter

Pasteurize Your Milk, Please!  Drug-Resistant Campylobacter On The Rise

Organic milk or regular? Raw milk or pasteurized? There are several ways to get your milk these days, and without the proper education on the differences and health benefits (or threats) of each, it’s nearly impossible to know which to shoot for. In an earlier article, we detailed the uselessness in organic milk over your regular gallons, but today we’ll investigate reasons for why you should opt for pasteurized milk over raw milk. Pathogens found on dairy farms help determine the high importance of pasteurized milk, like Drug-Resistant Campylobacter.

Dairy Farm Investigations

The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) together with the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) launched an investigation on dairy farmers in order to discover whether or not the goats and sheep carried pathogens that would result in human diseases such as zoonoses. Results of the study ultimately showed that pasteurizing milk and following through with the proper hygiene procedures after visiting a goat or sheep dairy farm is vital in the prevention of disease.

Transmission of disease is possible through direct contact with these animals or the environment in which they exist. While agencies commonly investigate farms in order to identify risks and health risks, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate all of the risk in raw products produced–such as milk.

According to investigations, shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC) and Campylobacter were both frequently discovered at the 200+ dairy farms explored back in 2016. STEC is a kind of pathogenic E. coli that produces the potent shiga toxin, also understood as vertotoxin or verocytotoxin. This shiga toxin causes blood vessel damage and bloody diarrhea. In addition, it plays a key role in causing hemolytic uremic syndrome, a severe type of kidney failure, which is the number one cause of acute kidney failure amongst children.

Campylobacter (campy) are groups of bacteria commonly causing food poisoning in humans. The food poisoning caused by campy tends to result in gastroenteritis which is an infection in the gut and intestines, which leads to diarrhea, nausea, stomach pains, and vomiting. Campylobacter was detected at 33% of goat farms, and 96% of sheep farms investigated. It was much less commonly found amongst farmers and family members that STEC.

Cattle, sheep, and goats excrete the bacteria in their manure and their split hooves offer a safe place for it to exist, leading to ease of contamination in any milk gathered.

Why Drink Pasteurized Milk?

Raw milk from cows, sheep, or goats has not been processed to kill these harmful bacteria thriving in dairy farms, which means that the milk itself can carry these dangerous bacteria and cause numerous foodborne illnesses. People who drink raw milk or eat food made from raw milk run the risk of contracting serious food poisoning, which can be especially damaging to people with preexisting health problems, compromised or weak immune systems, the elderly, children, and pregnant women.

The pasteurization process is able to eliminate all of the harmful bacteria within the milk by heating it to a certain temperature for a scientifically set period of time. This process was first developed by Louis Pasteur back in 1864. It kills the harmful bacterium and organisms that are responsible for causing a variety of diseases, including listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and brucellosis. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that even pasteurized milk contains very low levels of nonpathogenic bacteria, such that cause food spoilage of the milk is not properly stored. Keeping your milk in the refrigerator is important!

While the nutritional difference between pasteurized and unpasteurized milk differs slightly, research shows that no meaningful difference exists. Even with this evidence, however, some people still claim nutrition benefits from raw milk. If you’re one of those people who still remains on the edge about which milk to keep in your fridge, here are a few myth-busters to consider:

  • Despite common belief, pasteurized milk doesn’t cause lactose intolerance or allergic reactions. For people sensitive to milk proteins, both milks can cause allergic reactions.
  • Raw milk contains dangerous pathogens and does not kill them by itself. Even well-kept dairy farms run the risk of producing contaminated raw milk.
  • Pasteurization does not eliminate milk’s nutritional values.
  • Pasteurization does not mean you can leave milk out of the refrigerator–especially open–for long periods of time.
  • Pasteurization DOES kill harmful bacteria and save an untold number of lives.

The FDA notes that:

“Pasteurization is a process that kills harmful bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time. First developed by Louis Pasteur in 1864, pasteurization kills harmful organisms responsible for such diseases as listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and brucellosis.

Research shows no meaningful difference in the nutritional values of pasteurized and unpasteurized milk. Pasteurized milk contains low levels of the type of nonpathogenic bacteria that can cause food spoilage, so storing your pasteurized milk in the refrigerator is still important.

While pasteurization has helped provide safe, nutrient-rich milk and cheese for over 120 years, some people continue to believe that pasteurization harms milk and that raw milk is a safe healthier alternative.”

But the CDC points out the real dangers inherent in raw milk. According to the CDC:  “‘Getting back to nature’ – that’s what many Americans are trying to do with the foods that we buy and eat. We are shopping at farmer’s markets, purchasing organic food, participating in food cooperatives, and even growing our own food. Many people are eating food with minimal processing, and some are even choosing to drink raw milk.

Raw milk and products made from it, however, can pose severe health risks, including death. That’s because raw milk has not undergone a process called pasteurization that kills disease-causing germs…

A healthy lifestyle involves many decisions and steps. One step you might be deciding about is adding raw milk to your diet. Some people think about drinking raw milk because they want to eat fewer processed foods or they want to support local farmers and sustainable agriculture. Others think about drinking raw milk because they heard claims that raw milk is better for their health. Yet, raw milk can be a home for bacteria and other germs that can cause people to become ill.

Harmful germs usually don’t change the look, taste, or smell of milk, so only when milk has been pasteurized can you be certain that these germs were killed. Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to a high enough temperature for a long enough time to kill disease-causing germs. Pasteurized milk is milk that has gone through this process. To make sure that milk remains safe, processors rapidly cool it after pasteurization, practice sanitary handling, and store milk in clean, closed containers at 45°F or colder.”

So, what do you think now? What kind of milk will you buy?

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

October 6, 2018
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Could Campylobacter Lead to “Fur-ternity Leave”?

Puppies… they are adorable. Who doesn’t love them? I know that we are super attached to our dogs, and when they were puppies, we spent so much time with them that I almost hated leaving them. Our pets were here before we even had children and they became a huge part of our lives. I started working from home, so that we didn’t have to leave them for long periods of time; among other obvious reasons. Ever heard of Fur-ternity leave?

A Minnesota Company Believes

A company in Minnesota has adopted a “fur-ternity” leave for employees that have a new bundle of joy at home. According to News Channel 21 Minneapolis-based Nina Hale announced on its website that it has adopted “fur-ternity leave,” a company-wide policy that allows employees to work flexible hours from home for one week after bringing a new puppy or kitten home.

The company said it’s all part of making sure their employees stay happy – and help their new addition adjust. “Part of embracing employee satisfaction as a business priority means recognizing important life events that happen outside of the office,” Nina Hale CEO Donna Robinson said. “If we want to continue to set the example as a top workplace, it is crucial to offer innovative benefits that help to preserve the work-life happiness of our employee owners.”

The policy was inspired by Connor McCarthy, a senior account manager at the firm, who asked for a week of flexible hours when he got a new dog in May.

Other Reasons

Other triggers for staying home when you have a new pup factor in as well. Recently the CDC began an investigation into a multi-state outbreak of campylobacter infections linked to contact with puppies at a nationally known chain called Petland.

CDC, several states, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) investigated a multistate outbreak of multidrug-resistant Campylobacter infections. Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicated that contact with puppies sold through Petland stores were a likely source of this outbreak. While the CDC considers this outbreak investigation over, illnesses could continue to occur because people may be unaware of the risk of Campylobacter infections from puppies and dogs.

The CDC found 113 people with laboratory-confirmed infections or symptoms consistent with Campylobacter Infection were linked to this outbreak. Illnesses were reported from 17 states. Illnesses started on dates ranging from January 12, 2016 to January 7, 2018. Ill people ranged in age from less than 1 year to 86, with a median age of 27. Sixty-three percent of ill people were female. The CDC also noted 23 of the 103 people with available information hospitalized. The agency reports no deaths. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) showed that isolates from people infected with Campylobacter were closely related genetically. This close genetic relationship means that people in this outbreak were more likely to share a common source of infection.

Until recently, I didn’t know anything about campylobacter and wanted to do some research, especially living in an area where you randomly come into contact with puppies. When I say random I mean in the grocery store, other shopping stores, the park, farmer’s market and literally anywhere in between. Apparently, this has become quite common to pedal puppies like black market handbags.

Campylobacter according to the CDC is a bacterium that can make people and animals sick. Campylobacter jejuni causes most human illnesses, but other species also can cause human illness. People can become infected when they have direct or indirect contact with animal feces including dogs/puppies. Maybe “fur-ternity leave” is a good thing?

What Pet Owners Should Know

Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching your puppy or dog, after handling their food, and after cleaning up after them.

  • Adults should supervise handwashing for young children.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer until you are able to wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Use disposable gloves to clean up after your puppy or dog, and wash your hands afterwards. Clean up any urine (pee), feces (poop), or vomit in the house immediately. Then disinfect the area using a water and bleach solution.
  • Don’t let pets lick around your mouth and face.
  • Don’t let pets lick your open wound or areas with broken skin.
  • Take your dog to the veterinarian regularly to keep it healthy and to help prevent the spread of disease.
  • Within a few days after getting a new puppy or dog, take it to the veterinarian for a health check-up.
  • When choosing a pet, pick a puppy or dog that is bright, alert, and playful.
  • Signs of illness include appearing lethargy (seeming sluggish or tired), not eating, having diarrhea, and breathing abnormally. However, even a dog that appears healthy can spread germs to people and other animals.
  • If your dog becomes sick or dies soon after purchase or adoption, take your dog to the veterinarian promptly.  Then, inform the pet store, breeder, or rescue organization about the pet’s illness or death. Thoroughly clean the area occupied by your pet by using a water and bleach solution.
  • If your dog dies, consider waiting at least a few weeks before purchasing or adopting another pet.
Dog Days

After recently losing one of our beloved dogs after 9 years with us, we are not actively looking at adding another to our family, but if we choose to do so we want to make sure we are dealing with a reputable person and also make sure that we keep things very sanitary not only for the safety of our family but also for the new pup. We already practice a lot of safe handling practices with all of our pets even including our backyard chickens, but there is never too much caution.

Also, we advise our children to make sure they are not accepting mouth kisses from the dogs and that they are learning from a very young age about proper hand washing after being involved with animals. We also do not encourage the petting of strange dogs when we are out and about, and if they do happen to touch or be licked, we immediately wash their hands with disposable wipes and do a more intense washing at home as soon as we can.

By: Samantha Cooper, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

September 30, 2018
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Your Chicken Is Trying to Kill You!  Know Where Germs Are Coming From.

Is your chicken trying to kill you?  I don’t mean the feathered, live variety.  That is a real problem as well, though solvable by a pot of boiling water or roasting pan.  I mean the chicken on your plate adjacent to the veggies, mac and cheese, or other delicious sides.  Yes.  That one.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) foodborne diseases are responsible for approximately 9.4 million illnesses in the United States each year.  Looking at outbreak data, because we have larger-scale information on thanks to the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System (FDOSS).  We can see how foodborne illness looks across the board.

The FDOSS is responsible for collecting data on foodborne disease outbreaks and has done so for the better part of 60 years.  In the last couple of decades this information has been filed in an online database, making queries a much easier task.  As this information is based on outbreak data, it is not all inclusive.  Many foodborne illnesses occur outside of outbreaks (which are defined as “two or more cases of a similar illness resulting from the ingestion of a common food.”)

A Closer Look at the Data

This MMWR report documenting historic FDOSS data was obtained from data generated from the years 2009 to 2015.  During this 7-year period the FDOSS received reports of 5,760 outbreaks.  These outbreaks were responsible for 100,939 illnesses.  It is no surprise that norovirus was the most common illness associated with outbreaks (it is highly communicable and spreads quite easily).  Also, not much of a surprise, Salmonella ranked second in number of outbreaks and illnesses.

Restaurants were the most common place to be infected with an outbreak illness, followed by catering sources, and then private homes.  When looking and food sources, the most common food category responsible for outbreak-associated illness was chicken.  Is chicken highly pathogenic or do we just eat more of it?  The answer is yes and yes.

We Eat A Lot of Chicken

Americans love their chicken.  We eat quite a bit of it.  Statisticians love to count things.  It’s what they do.  Statisticians with the National Chicken Council took a look at per capita consumption of different meats all the way back to 1965.  At the time of publishing 2018 data was estimated based on current trends and 2019 has been forecasted.

What they found is that Americans eat more chicken than any other meat type.  Significantly more, in fact, than any other food type.  Chicken has experienced a steady increase in pounds per capita consumption from 36.4lbs per capita in 1965 to 93.1lbs per capita estimated for 2018 and a forecasted 94.5lbs per capita for 2019.  That is significant.  Especially when you look at the next meat time of beef which has experienced a steady decrease in pounds per capita consumption from 74.7lbs per capita in 1965 to an estimated 58.1lbs per capita in 2018 and a forecasted 58.4lbs per capita in 2019.  Pork has been fairly stable between 45lbs per capita and 60lbs per capita over the last 50+ years.  Unrelated, I was surprised to see we don’t eat all that much fish.  Perhaps because fish weighs less and is a little more expensive in many parts of the country. But that’s not important.  Point is, we eat A LOT of chicken.

If Americans eat a lot of chicken, and a good chunk of foodborne illness links back to Salmonella infection from chicken, it isn’t a leap to look for where the bacteria responsible for the illness comes from.  MotherJones.com investigated a piece that explored the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) reports on how farms and slaughterhouses are stacking up with positive Salmonella samples and what is being done about it.

When Positive Isn’t a Good Thing

We often think about something positive as a good thing.  A positive attitude, a positive spin, a positive grade.  Sometimes a positive result is quite the opposite, such as a positive Salmonella sample at a chicken slaughterhouse.  The FSIS has had a Salmonella testing program for a long time.  Though it did not fully represent how chicken is sold.  In the beginning it only tested whole chickens that have not yet been broken down.  The samples were obtained from plucked and cleaned carcasses that have not yet been cut into the parts that we know and love – wings, breast, thigh, legs, etc.  When you look at the fact that 80% of all chicken sold in the United States is in parts as opposed to whole, this changes the conversation on what the samples are explaining.

In 2016, the FSIS began to regularly test chicken parts from slaughterhouses for Salmonella to better reflect how it is sold and established a criterion for how much Salmonella is allowed before action is taken.  A “maximum acceptable” rate was established at 15.4% for parts sampled at the end of the slaughterhouse’s production line.

A whopping 35% of the nation’s large chicken slaughterhouses failed the meet the FSIS standard “maximum acceptable.”  Even with all of this non-compliance, this regulation doesn’t have too much meat behind it to snap violators back into place until the issue is egregious.  According to a spokesperson, “FSIS does not assess fines.”  Even when a facility is issued a category 3 status (“establishments that have exceeded the Salmonella or Campylobacter maximum allowable percent positive during any completed 52-week moving window over the last 3 months”) there is little immediate recourse.  When a facility is labeled with a category 3 status the poultry manufacturer is “expected to consider these data in their food safety system and take action.”  Then the company has 90 days to comply.  Only after that additional period does the FSIS do anything about the high percentage of contaminated product that leaves the production facility.  If the company still demonstrates positive rates beyond the 15.4% allowed criteria, the FSIS will discontinue inspection, which essentially shuts the plant down because this is a requirement to sell the product in the United States.

Cooking the H – E – Double Hockey Sticks Out of Your Chicken Still Might Not Save You

Food safety comes down to two key factors.  Cooking food thoroughly to a safe internal temperature, and avoid cross contamination (washing hands, sanitary cooking tools, etc.).  Turns out, you have a higher risk of foodborne illness due to contamination than you do undercooking poultry.  Now I’m not saying eating undercooked chicken is a good thing.  That of course should be avoided.  Just don’t ignore the bigger picture.

In an article from the International Journal of Food Microbiology on poultry risk management, “Cross-contamination versus undercooking of poultry meat or eggs – which risks need to be managed first?” answers that question.  Spoiler alert!  Wash your hands!

Researchers discovered that cross-contamination often stemmed from activities like using the same cutting board to cut up salad veggies that you used to chop up raw chicken meat.  They also uncovered the spread of pathogens throughout the kitchen from poor cleaning practices were of a greater risk than undercooking the chicken.

Knowing your chicken meat might have a contaminated start, while unfortunate and minimally unavoidable, you as the leader of your own kitchen must do what you can to minimize the risk of exposure for yourself and your family.  So maybe you don’t need to breathe the fire of Hades onto your chicken breast (an internal temperature of 165 ⁰F will do).  Avoid cross-contamination by using clean cooking utensils, properly clean surfaces after coming in contact with raw foods, store raw foods away from ready-to-eat foods, and WASH YOUR HANDS thoroughly and often.

By: Heather Van Tassell, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

September 8, 2018
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Raw Chicken on the Menu?  I’ll Pass!

How would you like that cooked?  “Rare, please.”  Sounds like an order for steak, right?  Depends on the restaurant.  Some high-end eateries are serving up chicken, sashimi style.  Can you do that?  Is it safe?  The chefs claim it is, but I am skeptical.  Salmonella is real and very serious.

Ippuku Claims Technique is Everything

The restaurant Ippuku serves up poultry sashimi as a regular menu item.  Chef Christian Geiderman was inspired by the Tokyo restaurant, Nagomi where poultry sashimi is commonplace.  In fact, many big cities in Japan like Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo are home to upscale yakitori places where sashimi is a general menu item.

According to Ippuku chef (and founder) Christian Geiderman, knowing the farm, sourcing from small farms, and fresh processing onsite is how they achieve a safer poultry sashimi.  “Freshness is really the key,” says Geiderman.  “Our chickens come in with the heads and feet on, and the rigor mortis is still so fresh in them that you can stand the chickens up by their legs.”  The precision chefs process the chicken right there at the kitchen.  After a quick five to ten second bath in boiling water, the chicken is ready to serve.  This method cooks the chicken just long enough for the outside to turn slightly white.  Geiderman explains that the “mouthfeel” is similar to that of raw tuna and describes the taste as close to the flavor or yellowfin or bigeye.

Is there a Safe Way to Process the Chicken So That It Can Be Eaten Raw?

After my initial gag reflex subsided, I got to thinking about ways that chicken might be processed that would minimize the risk of foodborne illness.  Because honestly, I instantly link raw chicken with hours of sitting in the bathroom on the toilet with a trash can in front of me, praying to the porcelain gods to make it stop.  With so many people eating this dish and not becoming sick, I am guessing there must be a way to handle the meat prior to serving to at the very least minimize risk.

My first thought went to cold pasteurization.  Pasteurization, generally thought of in the heated method, brings a product to a high enough temperature for long enough to kill any bacteria that might be lurking and then generally involves sealing the product in an air-tight container to prevent the growth of new bacteria.  This type pasteurization is known as High-Temperature-Short-Time Treatment (HTST), commonly performed on milk.  Milk is pasteurized at 161 ⁰F for 15 seconds.  The temperatures and time are adjusted based on the types of food, as well as color, texture, and flavor desired in the end product. We do this all the time, though you might only consider dairy products when you hear “pasteurization.”  Canned products, bottled beverages, juices, and many more items are rendered safe for consumption and longer-term storage though this method.

Lower temperature pasteurization, on the other hand, is a method where the food product is heated to a lower temperature for a longer length of time to kill off harmful bacteria.  This is known as Low-Temperature-Long-Time Treatment (LTLT) where a lower heat is used to kill the harmful bacteria, but this requires a longer time.  Milk pasteurized at LTLT is heated to 145 ⁰F for 30 minutes to achieve this.

What about freezing?  Many sushi places acquire flash frozen fish or freeze fish as a method of killing harmful parasites in fish served raw?  Could that work for poultry as well?  This method involves freezing and storing the fish at -4 ⁰F or colder for 7 days; or freezing until solid at -31 ⁰F for 15 hours; or freezing until solid at -31 ⁰F and stored at -4 ⁰F or below for 24 hours.  Now this is this is great for parasites such as tapeworm, round worm, etc.  The bad thing, is this does very little against bacteria. Or the toxins produced by some bacteria.

Bacteria causing harm to humans are primarily mesophiles and grow best around 98.6 ⁰F.  The human body is an ideal incubator.  When frozen, even at minus -4 ⁰F, the bacterial enzymes stop functioning because the water in the cell has frozen.  Unless the meat is frozen in such a way that the formation of ice crystals ruptures the bacterial cytoplasm, bacteria survive in a suspended state.  As soon as they get back to their happy temperature range, they will begin growing again and quickly reach dangerous numbers.

Bottom line, there really is no good way to treat chicken to serve raw without risking illness.  If you choose to partake of this risky delicacy, what can you expect if you become sick?

The Bacteria Lurking in Salmonella

Chicken is known for their contributions to foodborne illness.  Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens are the big names in chicken mediated foodborne sickness.  Consuming raw or undercooked chicken or food contaminated with raw or undercooked chicken and juices puts someone at an extreme risk of becoming infected.  This leaves the unsuspecting victim with a slew of symptoms they would rather avoid.

Campylobacter

Campylobacter is responsible for about 1.3 million illnesses in the United States each year according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Most of these illnesses link back to raw or undercooked poultry, though some are due to contact with animal, contaminated water, and raw or unpasteurized dairy.  Campylobacter infections often present with symptoms of bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever.  Nausea and vomiting are often common.  Symptoms often begin within 2 to 5 days after exposure and generally last about a week.  In certain individuals, the infection may spread to the bloodstream, causing a life-threatening infection.

Salmonella

Salmonella is responsible for about 1.1 million illnesses in the United States each year according to the CDC.  Symptoms of Salmonella infection include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever.  Illness usually begins between 12 and 72 hours from exposure and often lasts around 4 to 7 days.  In most cases patients recover without treatment, but if infection spreads to the bloodstream, prompt antibiotic treatment is required or infection may become fatal.

Clostridium perfringens

Clostridium perfringens is responsible for about 1 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States each year according to the CDC.  Symptoms of Clostridium perfringens include diarrhea and abdominal cramps within 6 to 25 hours of exposure and lasts for less than 24 hours.  This illness does not usually make the victim vomit or have fever.  Illness generally occurs because toxins produced by the bacteria build to high enough levels to cause symptoms.

Raw Chicken Worth the Risk?

For the daredevil wanting to look cool in front of their friends, this might be a crazy dish to order.  I would imagine most people fall in the same category as I do.  Consuming a high-risk food at the hands of someone who says they “safely” prepare it, just doesn’t get my adrenaline pumping.  I’d rather explore consuming raw octopus, but that is for another time…

By: Heather Van Tassell, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

August 26, 2018
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How are Food Poisoning Outbreaks Investigated?

Public health and regulatory officials respond to foodborne disease outbreaks much the same way that police officers respond to crime. They must work swiftly, collecting as much helpful information in the smallest amount of time possible in order to take action that will prevent more people from getting affected. Their research must be quick and accurate, otherwise it ends up being entirely useless. While crime officials collect evidence such as DNA, timelines, and motives, health officials collect three things of data: epidemiologic, traceback, and food and environmental testing. The goal is to find the source of the outbreak and eliminate it.

Investigations into infections and illnesses are set-up to be prompt and swift. According to the handbook for investigations by the World Health Organization:

“Successful investigation and control of foodborne disease outbreaks depend on working fast and responsibly. When an outbreak occurs, all individuals involved in the investigation must clearly understand the course of action; time should not be lost in discussing policy matters that should have been resolved in advance.”

Reporting – The First (And Most Important) Step

Foodborne illnesses are severely underreported. Many people feel that their illness was just not severe enough to warrant going to the doctor or telling their local health department. This is concerning, as what may be a mild illness for one person, can be deadly for another. This is why reporting foodborne illnesses are so important.

Health agencies cannot determine if there is a foodborne illness outbreak until people report their illnesses. These reports are the “red flags” that prompt an investigation.

According to FoodSafety.gov, “When two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink, the event is called a foodborne outbreak. Reporting illnesses to your local health department helps them identify potential outbreaks of foodborne disease. Public health officials investigate outbreaks to control them, so more people do not get sick in the outbreak, and to learn how to prevent similar outbreaks from happening in the future.”

The Data

When health officials assess the data, they are piecing together aspects of all parts in order to find the most likely source of the outbreak. They must take action as soon as possible, such as putting out a warning to the public when the information is clear about what foods have been contaminated and possible reasons for why. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), here is how each data category is segregated:

Epidemiologic Data

  • Patterns in the geographic distribution of illnesses, the time periods when people got sick, and past outbreaks involving the same germ.
  • Foods or other exposures occurring more often in sick people than expected
  • Clusters of unrelated sick people who ate at the same restaurant, shopped at the same grocery store, or attended the same event.

Traceback Data:

  • A common point of contamination in the distribution chain, identified by reviewing records collected from restaurants and stores where sick people ate or shopped.
  • Findings of environmental assessments in food production facilities, farms, and restaurants identifying food safety risks.

Food and Environmental Testing Data:

  • The germ that caused illness found in a food item collected from a sick person’s home, a retail location, or in the food production environment
  • The same DNA fingerprint linking germs found in foods or production environments to germs found in sick people

The Process

Obviously, health officials can’t solve every single outbreak that occurs, as sometimes an outbreak surfaces and then dies before a satisfactory about of information can be reliably gathered to identify the disease’s source. The more officials investigate, however, the better equipped they are to handle and solve future outbreaks more efficiently.

The process for investigating foodborne illnesses is rather uncomplicated. Begins by detecting if there is an outbreak whatsoever, which can be detected using public health surveillance methods–such as formal or informal reports of food poisoning. It can be difficult to determine an outbreak since cases can be spread out across a wide area, but it’s vital to determine an outbreak early on in order to eliminate the source.

After this step, the next thing to do is define the size, timing, and severity of the outbreak. A case definition is developed in order to understand possible sources, and investigators use the case definition to search for more illnesses that fit the description. Illness are then “plotted on an epidemic curve (epi curve) so that public health officials can track when illnesses occur over time,” according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The next step is to generate a hypothesis about the likely sources. Coming up with explanations for the outbreak is important, and these explanations are continually changed and edited, or entirely disapproved of, as more evidence about the outbreak is gathered. Interviews, surveys, questionnaires, and home visits are useful tools utilized to narrow down where, when, and how people got sick. Once the point of contamination is discovered, health officials can use their three types of data to solve the outbreak and help prevent it from occurring again.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, “[this] work may lead to new research on how contamination can occur, or it may lead to outreach to industry and other food safety agency partners on new ways to prevent future outbreaks.”

Conclusion

Food poisoning is a serious situation that health officials work tirelessly to understand and prevent. Every food poisoning outbreak is, while unfortunate and terrible, an opportunity for more research to be done in order to prevent future outbreaks. It’s important to report instances of food poisoning appropriately in order to help this process move along quickly, efficiently, and appropriately. While health officials are highly trained and capable of making a good deal of progress, your assistance in the process could very well be key in a current or soon-to-be investigation. Understanding the system and doing your best to help it will only help to prevent future cases of foodborne illnesses.

Outbreak investigations make everyone and the food we eat safer. Outbreak investigations from 2011 – 2016 have already generated more than 900 recommendations for prevention activities, research, industry outreach, or process improvement.

 

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

August 16, 2018
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The Food Poisoning List

Lists are great organizational tools that people use all the time in order to maintain the highest level of productivity and avoid duplicating mistakes. We make to-do lists, grocery lists, birthday lists, tasks lists, New Year’s Resolutions lists, and more. But there are more lists than these that are helpful to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, understanding health issues, and identifying symptoms!

Check out this Food Poisoning list, here to help you for when you come into contact with the nasty symptoms of food poisoning.

There seem to be countless numbers of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites out there, all of which can cause their own version of catastrophes on our intestines and immune systems, but this list only contains the most common 7 culprits. These categorizations will list the organism itself, followed by the most common illness name, and then list information about the illness, such as onset time following ingesting, common symptoms, typical duration, most common food sources, and more.

Please remember that food poisoning can be contracted by a wide variety of food items and not just the food items mentioned–even those that most would consider safe. The E. coli outbreak related to romaine lettuce, affecting over 200 individuals and causing 5 deaths, should be warning enough that improperly handled or poorly farmed foods are more to blame than the type of food itself. And that contaminated water is also a typical culprit of foodborne illnesses.

So, stop only looking at your raw eggs and meats for possible food poisoning results and consider washing your produce and not buying it pre-cut.

The Usual Suspects

Bacteria, fungi, parasites, and more. They can be quite harmful, especially when ingested, so it pays to not only understand what kinds of foodborne enemies are out there, but also what way the prefer to travel. This way you can avoid spending a good amount of your time miserable with food poisoning symptoms.

Without further ado, here is a handy list of the usual suspects that may be the cause of the typical bout of food poisoning.

Salmonella

Salmonellosis. It typically manifests itself 6 to 48 hours after consumption. Typical symptoms include: vomiting, diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, and headaches. Illness usually lasts from 4 to 7 days. The most common causes include eating raw or undercooked eggs, raw or undercooked poultry, raw or undercooked meats, unpasteurized milk or juices, cheese, raw fruits and vegetables (including those that are pre-cut), and seafood. Salmonellosis can also be contracted from touching certain live reptiles, especially specific turtles.

Norovirus (or Norwalk virus)

Acute gastroenteritis or Winter Diarrhea. This illness typically manifests itself 12 to 48 hours after contact. Symptoms can be slightly different in children and adults, with children tending toward vomiting and adults tending toward diarrhea. Shared symptoms include nausea, stomach pains, fever, and headaches. It can last anywhere from 1 to 3 days. Typical causes are raw produce, drinking contaminated water, shellfish coming from contaminated waters, and foods prepared in contaminated spaces or by contaminated handlers.

Campylobacter jejuni.

The most common of all the foodborne illnesses, with its friends Salmonella and norovirus. It takes 2 to 5 days to manifest, and the symptoms include cramps, fever, vomiting, and diarrhea–often bloody. It can last anywhere from 2 to 10 days. This illness tends to occur after eating raw or undercooked poultry, drinking unpasteurized milk, or drinking contaminated water. This illness tends to be rather isolated and doesn’t usually result in a recognizable outbreak.

Esherichia coli

Believe it or not, most of this type of bacteria is completely normal and even healthy, living harmoniously inside our intestines. However, there are many kinds of harmful E. coli that produce toxins in our systems. Symptoms occur after 1 to 3 days after contact and include severe stomach pain and cramping, intense vomiting, diarrhea that is often bloody, and occasionally a mild fever. Illnesses are contracted when a person comes into contact with water or food that is contaminated with feces–either human or animal. Often, E. coli is the cause of many travelers’ diarrhea problems.

STEC E. Coli O157:H7

STEC E. Coli, a subtype that tends to be much more vicious. STEC standing for Shiga Toxin Producing E. coli. It can occur anywhere from 1 to 10 days after contact, and the symptoms are the same with the addition of kidneys affected with hemolytic uremic syndrome which can result in kidney failure or death. It can last 5 days to 10 days, though the most common endurance rate is 6 to 8 days. It is contracted in the same way as other E. coli, foods or water contaminated with feces.

Listeria monocytogenes

Listeriosis. Intestinal symptoms occur anywhere from 9 hours to 48 hours while the systemic illness takes anywhere from 2-6. Symptoms include fever, aching muscles, stiff neck, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Later, it can result in meningitis or a widespread infection. This disease has the ability to grow in freezing temperatures

Clostridium Perfringens

It takes 6 to 24 hours to manifest itself. Symptoms include severe cramps and diarrhea that can last anywhere from a single day to a couple of weeks. There are up to a million cases of this per year and are especially common where large batches of food are prepared and allowed to sit in warm areas without re-cooking to kill the growing, infective spores.

Taming the Usual Suspects

By washing your hands, cooking your food to its optimum cooking temperatures, and washing produce, we can all help tame the onset of foodborne illness. However, if you ever find yourself victim to one of these unsightly bacteria, remember to seek medical attention and report your illness. Through early medical treatment, your bout of illness may be less severe (and you reduce the risk of long-term complications). If the health department is notified, and there is an outbreak, your report could help stop the spread of illness (and possibility even death of someone who is at high risk for severe food poisoning).

We at MakeFoodSafe hope this handy list is helpful for you the next time you find yourself feeling not so great in the tummy region. We wish you good health and happy eating!

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

August 15, 2018
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The Rise of Infectious Disease Outbreaks (and What You Can Do to Stop It!)

Ebola. MERS. Nipah virus. Lassa fever. E. coli. Zika. Rift Valley fever. Food poisoning.

We are deep in a war against viruses and bacteria. The month of June saw well over its fair share of active disease and illness outbreaks, which leads one to wonder: why are all of these outbreaks happening, what will we face next, and is there anything we can do to stop it? Antibiotic resistance is becoming a big problem in the world, which means outbreaks are lasting longer and spreading wider.

It is time to take a stand, before it is too late.

The Outbreaks

Three years ago, in 2015, the notorious Ebola outbreak killed over 11,300 people. The outbreak cost billions in damage, losses, and expenses. In response, the World Health Organization (WHO) worked tirelessly to lay foundations that would (hopefully) help ensure that an outbreak that catastrophic would never again spread across the globe, causing such an enormous health security threat.

In order to accomplish this, the WHO organized all of their funding and set out to identify precisely which diseases were at the highest risk of causing such a global health epidemic. But in their efforts to research the diseases, the WHO has done little to nothing in the last three years to set up preventative measures against these diseases. Consequently, six of the eight diseases on the WHO’s list of most-likely-to-cause-global-illness (Ebola, MERS, Zika, Nipah virus, Lassa fever, and Rift Valley fever) developed into outbreaks, all at the same time. Add in the multitude of foodborne-illness related diseases and it’s a wonder anyone remains healthy!

While these pathogens have caused 190 deaths this year and haven’t nearly reached their fullest potential, every one of them has the ability to manifest again, kill thousands, and devastate economies. The fact that all six were active at the same time during the month of June is unprecedented, according to the WHO. The WHO’s assistant director-general for emergency preparedness and response, Dr. Mike Ryan, said, “The world will usually see four to give different high-fatality disease outbreaks a year–but they’re typically not happening at the same time at this number.” Ryan believes that this is the first time something like this has happened, saying that it was some sort of global “stress test” for outbreak response. But why is this happening?

Why are outbreaks happening?

The truth of the matter is that experts even worry that the lack of research and development could soon lead to an outbreak too complicated to stop, one that would go well beyond threatening lives and even encroach on global stability. That isn’t to say that disease control hasn’t improved, however. Part of the reason we even understand the outbreaks that are occurring and we know precisely how worrying they can be is because of the positive advancements in health systems across the globe. Institutions such as the WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working hard to track outbreaks, keep records, and develop defensive measures for future pandemics. Congress is taking the issue seriously, to the point of requesting consistent updates and progress reports.

“Preventing the spread of disease is a critical part of our national security and Congress needs to make this a priority,” Ami Bera, congresswoman for California, stated. “We’ve seen an improvement from where we were, but we have more work to do.”

Circumstances today make it much easier for outbreaks to occur: people living closer together making a massive outbreak much easier, worldwide travel becoming much more common which spreads diseases farther and quicker, and changes in the environment causing unpredictable results. Human beings are seeing things they have never had to face before, which makes the lack of research and development–while scary–entirely understandable.

The CDC Urgent and Serious List

The CDC has compiled a list of concerning pathogen threats to our society as of recently. These include:

Urgent Threats

  • Clostridium Difficile (CDIFF)
  • Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae

Serious Threats

  • Multidrug-Resistant Acinetobacter
  • Drug-Resistant Campylobacter
  • Fluconazole-Resistant Candida
  • Extended Spectrum Enterobacteriaceae (ESBL)
  • Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus (VRE)
  • Multidrug-Resistant Pseudomonas Aeruginosa
  • Drug-Resistant Non-Typhoidal Salmonella
  • Drug-Resistant Salmonella Serotype Typhic
  • Drug-Resistant Shigella
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)
  • Drug-Resistant Streptococcus Pneumoniae
  • Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis

Concerning Threats

  • Vancomycin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus
  • Erythromycin-Resistant Group A Streptococcus
  • Clindamycin-Resistant Group B Streptococcus

Notice anything familiar up there? There are quite a few foodbourne illnesses on the list.

How can you help?

We can’t expect the WHO, CDC, and other health organizations to magically eliminate all the germs, diseases, and food poisoning possibilities in the world. We need to make it our own responsibility to not unwittingly spread illnesses, and if we do encounter potential disease-causing situations or properties, that we tend to them appropriately.

Simply, this translates to:

  • Washing your hands often, especially before and after preparing food, after touching germy areas like bathrooms, doorknobs, and other public places.
  • Keep up with your vaccinations. Immunization can drastically improve your ability to prevent spreading disease.
  • Travel wisely. Don’t fly when you’re sick, and depending on where you travel, be sure to get whatever immunizations you may need. Also, don’t travel to places where an outbreak is currently underway.
  • Don’t share personal items, especially in the area of hygiene: such as toothbrushes, hair brushes, makeup, utensils, drinking bottles and glasses, etc.
  • Keep things clean! Disinfect “hot zones” such as kitchens and bathrooms where disease is easily spread.
  • Report all food poisoning or other disease-related instances appropriately, and seek out your doctor for proper treatment. Reporting helps health agencies find out that there is indeed a problem, and begin to put the wheels in motion to help eliminate it.

Conclusion

Disease and illness, unfortunately, is part of life on earth. Handling outbreaks appropriately must also be a part of life in order for life to continue. The WHO, CDC, and other health organizations are doing what they can to research known diseases and come up with solutions for eliminating them, but we can’t expect them do get all the answers immediately, or for their answers to be entirely effective. We must also do our part–as little or as much as we can–to prevent the spreading of disease.

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

August 15, 2018
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This is Why It’s Important to Report Food Poisoning! Seriously.

Picture ordering your favorite sandwich at your favorite deli downtown. Imagine eating it, feeling content, and then going about the remainder of your day—only to wake up in the middle of the night a few hours later with unbearable flu-like symptoms: fever, nausea, vomiting, aching, sweating, diarrhea, etc. Urgh, you have food poisoning.

Then you remember that the same thing happened to your coworker two cubicles down, only she didn’t report it. But she thought her illness was mild. Yours may be related, but it was much worse. Will you report yours? Maybe, just maybe, someone else got sick at the same place and had a more severe illness than yours.

How Serious Is Food Poisoning?

It can be very serious, and sometimes even deadly. No one likes flu-like symptoms. No one likes eating food they like and then vomiting it up hours later. The truth of the matter is, however, that food poisoning affects one out of every six Americans every year. The CDC estimated that over 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3000 people die every year from foodborne diseases in the United States.

Food poisoning is simply a broadened term that is used to describe an illness caused by foodborne pathogens. The contaminates range anywhere from bacteria to parasites to actual toxins, and can be spread by salmonella, E. coli, listeria, shigella botulism, campylobacter, and more. Salmonella poisonings is the most common form of food poisoning, causing up to 40 percent of foodborne illness cases and kill 33 people in 2012. Campylobacter—which is a type of bacteria spread through chicken, unpasteurized milk, and cheese, is quickly becoming more common, causing over 7000 cases of food poisoning in 2012. Vibrio infections that come from contaminated seafood (usually spread by warm sea water) are also dangerous.

Why Does Food Poisoning Happen—and What Happens Exactly?

The main reason that food poisoning occurs is because of poor food handling. Food poisoning bacteria can grow at any place along the food processing chain, from farm, to travel, to factory, to store, to table. Bacteria grows in circumstances where food is kept too warm for too long, or in unclean areas, or handled with unclean devices. Bacteria can form if foods are not properly packaged, if they’re packaged with the wrong foods, or if they’ve aged beyond usability.

Symptoms include many flu-like reactions, and they last anywhere from a few hours to an entire week. Generally, healthy adults with well-working immune systems are able to recover without any long-term side effects, many people end up hospitalized due to dehydration caused by vomiting, fever and excessive sweating, and not replenishing their liquids (3). Elderly people, adults with weak immune systems, and children run a very high risk of hospitalization, long term health determinates, or even death.

Benefits of Reporting Foodborne Illnesses

When two or more people get the same illness from consuming the same contaminated foods or drinks, it can be considered a foodborne outbreak. The amount of people who could be infected with the specific bacteria that you were infected with is innumerable. Reporting illnesses to your local health department helps them to identify and prevent additional outbreaks of foodborne diseases.

While obviously it can be difficult to identify the specific food that caused you such an illness since some food poisoning bacteria can take many hours or even days to develop symptoms, it’s still important to at least try to identify the cause. Even if hospitalization isn’t necessary, reporting the issue and giving officials a lead on their investigation is key to maintaining healthy foods. Try backtracking all the things you ate over the last few days, flagging anything different from the norm and identifying times where you could have consumed raw meats, undercooked meats, or other possibly contaminated foods. If you know someone who eats at the same downtown deli as you do and they contracted a similar illness as you, then that’s a good start.

How-To Report

As you have noticed, the vast majority of foodborne illnesses go unreported in the United States. This is why many states and local health agencies recommend reporting foodborne illness and related issues. Reporting foodborne illnesses does not only put these agencies on notice, but it also helps them detect potential outbreaks, advise companies to recall contaminated products, and develop methods of advanced notice or prevention of future outbreaks.

Not sure where to start? Not sure how to do the reporting?

The process is simple:

First, you can seek medical attention from your physician to obtain necessary testing for a diagnosis. This is helpful to find out what bacteria or virus made you sick and to obtain the medical care you need to get better. It is through a simple stool test that you can find out if your illness was caused by Salmonella, Campylobacter, Vibrio, or a myriad of other potential foodborne pathogens.

Second, you can encourage your physician to report your illness to your local health agency. Many pathogens, like E. coli, are required to be reported to the local and state health department. However, others may not be. It is always a good idea to encourage reporting.

Also, you can even report your illness yourself. It is usually a quick call to your local health department. In fact, some health departments, like Harris County, Texas’ health department, have launched smart phone applications to encourage and streamline the food poisoning reporting process.

Conclusion

No one likes food poisoning. It’s a terrible, miserable experience that most people wouldn’t wish upon anyone else. But based off statistics, it’s bound to happen, and there’s a 16 percent chance that it will happen to you at least once in a 365-day period. Make sure that if it does happen, you report the circumstance as soon as you possibly can so as to eliminate the possibility of it happening to someone else. A quick call, a visit to a website, or a simple click of your thumb on your smart phone could help stop an outbreak and even potentially save a life.

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

August 8, 2018
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Oh, We Are Halfway There – A Mid-Year Recapping of Salmonella and E. coli Outbreaks

Food in all its unique manifestations is meant to be enjoyed, whether it is a delectable dish such as Coq Au Vin with all its complex flavors all the way to the humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich. However, when we as consumers appear to be threatened with consuming a simple salad or our favorite breakfast cereal, we collectively shake our heads, and no one is as mystified and saddened as me.

Here at MakeFoodSafe, we bring you updated information on recalled food products and recent outbreaks, but perhaps all that information is making you, as a consumer, disheartened about our food supply. We are a nation that is unbelievably rich in natural resources, with a concurrent ability to feed millions upon millions of people, but nourish them at the same time? When we eat food, we expect to be nourished, not sickened.

Unfortunately, Here is the Latest on Recent Salmonella and E.coli Outbreaks

Before proceeding any further, consumers need to be aware of the latest outbreaks and recalls that involve E.coli and Salmonella. I will be focusing on these two pathogens as they are responsible for the overwhelming majority of foodborne illnesses in the United States, and those that frequent the headlines. There are other pathogens that cause foodborne illness symptoms, but again, the aforementioned bacteria cause the most incidences of sickness.

Kratom

There were three outbreaks this year linked to Salmonella: the first being a strain named Salmonella 4[5], 12:b:-, Javiana, Okatie, and Thompson, associated with the use of kratom. Personally, I had never heard of kratom, but since I’m sort of a research nerd, I dug into just what this is, and kratom is “a tree native to Southeast Asia, [and its leaves] have been used as an herbal drug from time immemorial by peoples of Southeast Asia, [used] as a stimulant, sedative (at high doses), recreational drug use, pain killer, and treatment for opiate addiction.” (http://sagewisdom.org). Its current usage in the United States is as a substitution for opiates for the treatment of chronic pain.

Currently, kraton is a legal substance regulated by the FDA, but like many substances that may be suspect of causing an addiction; the DEA is currently contemplating kraton’s status as a possible controlled substance. If that happens, kraton will make itself onto the black market and make any further research into its benefits or hindrances almost impossible. The CDC recommends that people not consume kratom in any form because it could be contaminated with Salmonella. One hundred and thirty two people across 38 states have been affected, and no deaths have been reported.

Shell Eggs

Shell eggs have also been named in this latest recall, which is an absolute shame because I adore eggs (merely a personal opinion with which you may or may not agree). On April 13, 2018, the egg manufacturer Rose Acre Farms voluntarily recalled millions of shell eggs because of the possibility of Salmonella contamination. The eggs were sold in retail grocery stores in Alaska, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. Brand names that the eggs may have been sold under include Coburn Farms, Country Daybreak, Crystal Farms, Food Lion, Glenview, Great Value, Nelms, and Sunshine Farms. Identification can be ascertained by the plant number P-1065 and the Julian date range of 011 through 102 that is printed on the carton. Do not eat these recalled eggs. Throw them away or return to place of purchase for a refund. Further, wash and sanitize all drawers, containers, and shelves on which the eggs were stored. CDC trace back evidence shows that the contaminated eggs originated from Rose Acres Farms in Seymour, Indiana.

Dried Coconut

According to the CDC website, “Several grocery store and retail locations received recalled bulk packages of Harvest, Inc. brand Go Smiles Dried Coconut Raw. The recalled bulk dried coconut may have been repackaged into clear, plastic containers with grocery store labeling, or served in bulk bins. The list of locations and cities is available on the FDA website. If you purchased dried coconut from one of these stores, ask the place of purchase if it was recalled. On March 29, 2018, Healthy Nut Factory recalled 7-ounce pouches of Organic Coconut Smiles. The recalled Organic Coconut Smiles have the barcode 8 13449 02099 3 and the expiration date 6/1/2018. This product was distributed and sold at retail stores in New York City and Long Island.”

Additionally, on February 21, 2018, Triple T Specialty Meats, Inc. recalled all chicken salad products from January 2, 2018 through February 7, 2018, stating that the recalled chicken salad was sold in containers of various weights from the deli at Fareway Grocery stores in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota from January 4, 2018 to February 8, 2018.

Romaine Lettuce

Another contender in the ring is E. coli, another potentially deadly bacterium that causes severe foodborne illness symptoms. The latest food product to be affected is once again, romaine lettuce: specifically, chopped romaine lettuce sold in bags in grocery stores or served at restaurants. The best information according to the CDC is that the affected lettuce originated from the Yuma, Arizona region, although no common grower, supplier, distributor or brand has been identified. Over 197 confirmed illnesses were connected to the outbreak in 35 states. Sadly, 89 people were hospitalized and 5 died.

Pre-Cut Fruit

As of the time of this post, there are 70 people in 7 states linked to an outbreak of Salmonella in pre-cut melon and melon fruit salad mixes. Of these, 34 people have been hospitalized and a large-scale recall has been initiated. The CDC and FDA reported that on June 8, 2018, “Caito Foods, LLC recalled pre-cut watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, and fruit medley products containing melons produced at the Caito Foods facility in Indianapolis, Indiana. Recalled products were sold in clear, plastic clamshell containers.” The investigation into this outbreak is ongoing.

Honey Smacks Cereal

Just this last week, the CDC issued a notice of Salmonella infections linked to a popular breakfast cereal, Honey Smacks. Initially, the warning was only focused on the 15 and 23 ounce boxes. However, yesterday, the CDC expanded its warning as “Do not eat Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal of any size package or with any “best if used by” date.” Currently, there are 73 illnesses in 31 states linked to the outbreak. The cereal was distributed nationwide. The investigation into this outbreak is ongoing.

Statistics: Do They Reassure Us?

Here at MakeFoodSafe, we realize that the recitation of statistics related to current outbreaks or recalls may not bring much in the way of comfort, but it is vital that we disseminate pertinent information regarding the same. One of my daughters recently asked me when we were discussing food safety and the latest outbreaks, “But mom, when there’s a recall or outbreak, it’s too late.” She’s right.

Yes, outbreaks and recalls are issued after the fact; however, I stressed to her that our regulatory system in the food industry is one of the best in the world, but outbreaks inevitably occur. I further explained that, in my opinion, the recalls are issued in an extremely timely fashion when foodborne illnesses occur, thanks to the vigilance of local, state, and federal reporting agencies. These agencies consistently maintain a proactive approach to foodborne pathogens: in essence, keeping us safe. The sheer and impressive amount of food that is produced in the US is comprehensively impossible to monitor each and every morsel of food that is processed from farm to table. Samples of food production are taken but contaminants inevitably infiltrate our food supply. Secondly, it is essential to understand that the accessibility of information via news and social media cannot be understated in terms of the transmission of recalls and outbreaks. That kind of information can lead to what can best be interpreted as possible oversaturation in facts related to foodborne illnesses. We simply are exposed to more related information than ever before. (Acquired tenet: Don’t be frightened by outbreaks….it is a vehicle of information intended to help consumers acquire a proactive and practical approach to food safety). Additionally, the most effective food safety practiced is implemented at home, in your very own kitchen.

A Final Word

In order to alleviate any potential fears, those individuals concerned with outbreaks and recalls should bookmark the following websites. One is the CDC website; the other is the FDA website pertaining to updated recalls and outbreaks. Both offer excellent tips for the proper handling of food, which again, is perhaps the greatest first line of defense against foodborne illnesses. And, as always, your friendly neighborhood MakeFoodSafe blog is here.

By: Kerry Bazany, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

June 23, 2018
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The Scoop on Poop: Why Your Fecal Matter Matters

When a tummy ache becomes serious enough that your over-the-counter treatments and home remedies are just not doing the trick, it might be time to see a doctor.  If you find yourself in a doctor’s office or emergency room as a result of foodborne illness, you are not alone.  In fact, foodborne illness, more commonly referred to as food poisoning, affects around 1 in 6 Americans amounting to 48 million illnesses each year.  Poor food handling, temperature control, or cross-contamination may be culprit.  Once it is too serious to treat yourself (out of control diarrhea, vomiting, extreme dehydration, bloody stool, etc.) professional help is necessary.

Consultation

The first step in understanding what you may have and how you may have acquired it starts with a medical consultation.  Your doctor will likely ask you some questions about your symptoms and when they started, your recent eating habits, and if anyone else you know has a similar illness.  Your doctor may begin a broad-spectrum treatment to help you get well sooner but will likely request a stool sample from you to be tested to confirm what you might be infected with.

Why Do You Want My Poop?

If you are experiencing bloody diarrhea or you have diarrhea lasting more than three days, your doctor may request a stool sample, also known as a fecal sample.  Essentially, they want to examine your poop.  More specifically, they want to see what pathogens might be present there.

This sample can be used for a variety of purposes.

  • Expedite treatment: Your poop sample can be used to help expedite your treatment.  Knowing the exact pathogen allows your health care provider to accurately diagnose and treat your illness.
  • Track outbreaks: Your poop sample allows the pathogen that caused your illness to be DNA fingerprinted.  This enables epidemiologist to link your illness with others who are infected with the same pathogenic source.  DNA fingerprinting is a process of looking at the genome of a pathogen.  This distinguishes one bacteria from another within the same species.  This knowledge is useful for identifying and tracking infection trends used in outbreak tracing.

The Life Cycle of a Poop Sample

It’s a bit awkward, but you are assured the process is to help you.  So, you follow doctors orders and go in a cup.  But what happens to the sample once you turn it in.  Believe it or not, many people will likely handle your sample along the way.  Let’s take a look at the life cycle of how your illness is diagnosed with your poop sample.

Day 1: Patient Eats Contaminated Food

From the time you eat contaminated food (many foodborne illnesses are transmitted via fecal-oral route, so your contaminated food is likely contaminated with microscopic amounts of contaminated poop – gross but true) to the time the patient becomes symptomatic is generally somewhere between 1 to 3 days.  It takes a bit of time for the small number of harmful bacteria to build up to quantities to be symptomatic.

Day 4 to Day 8: Patient Becomes Ill Enough to Seek Medical Treatment

Anywhere from 1 to 5 days later you might become ill enough to seek medical treatment.  This little upset stomach is clearly a little something more than a mild bug.  Once at the doctor’s office or emergency room, they ask for a sample.  Yep.  This is where you poop in a cup.  Your sample them makes its way to a laboratory to be screened.  On the low end, you are on day 4 after consuming contaminated food.  On the high end you are somewhere around day 8.

Day 5 to Day 11: Initial Pathogen Diagnosis

Your sample has been handed off to the nurse or doctor who writes up the request according to doctor’s orders.  Some facilities can test this inhouse, while other will send the sample off to a company that performs these tests for the facility.  This can take between 1 and 5 days to return.  On the low end, you are now on day 5 after consuming contaminated food.  On the high end you are somewhere around day 11.

 Day 5 to Day 18: Sample is Shipped to Nearest Public Health Laboratory

At this point, if your sample has been screen tested positive, protocol requests your health care provider or the screen testing laboratory to forward the sample to your local or state Public Health Laboratory for serotyping and DNA fingerprinting.  This trip could take between 0 to 7 days, depending on how far away the Public Health Laboratory is from your doctor’s office or hospital.  On the low end, you are now on day 5 after consuming contaminated food.  On the high end you are somewhere around day 18.

Day 7 to Day 28: Case Confirmed as Part of an Outbreak

Once your sample has made it to the Public Health Laboratory for confirmation and additional testing, it can take anywhere from 2 to 10 days for results to be obtained and reported to your healthcare provider.  Serotyping and DNA fingerprinting is uploaded into a database that investigators can use to help track down people who are infected with exact same strain and type of bacteria that you are.  On the low end, you are now on day 7 after consuming contaminated food.  On the high end you are somewhere around day 28.

Why Should I Get My Poop Tested?

If your symptoms are very severe and result turn-around time is quick, you might be able to find out if you are part of an outbreak in as little as 7 days.  This is generally not the case.  Most people wait quite awhile before seeking medical attention and the process can take somewhere between the middle and high end of processing times.  Ultimately it could mean that it takes almost a month or more to identify a source of illness.  Meanwhile, others could be infected and an outbreak not linked as quickly as it could be.

Oftentimes, the individual has fully recovered before they know they were part of an outbreak.  Sometimes, they may never find out. The sooner your sample can be tested, the faster an outbreak can be identified.  Once an outbreak is identified, investigators can track down a source and hopefully prevent others from becoming ill.  All because you pooped in a cup.

Fecal Matter Matters

Why is testing the stool sample and tracking foodborne illness important?  The 1,000 or more reported outbreaks that happen each year reveal familiar culprits—like Salmonella and other common germs.

Other people visiting the doctor may also feel sick from tainted food, making it important that our public health system reliably links people with similar lab results. Testing the stool sample is important for the patient, doctor, and public health officials to know if your sickness is connected to other illnesses.   Tracking illnesses and investigating outbreaks helps to show how food can be made safer. Even though most people get better without visiting a doctor, CDC estimates that each year 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.

Testing, detection, and prevention matter.  Do the stool sample.  It could save your life; and, those of others.

* There are new tests that can be performed right in the doctor’s office, please check back for a later blog post on the pros and cons of these tests.

By: Heather Van Tassell, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

June 23, 2018
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