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20 Years of Data Show Poultry, Fish, Beef Have Remained Leading Sources of Food-Related Outbreaks

Between 1998 and 2008, poultry, fish and beef were consistently responsible for the greatest proportion of foodborne illness outbreaks, according to a new government analysis.

Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed the 13,405 food-related outbreaks reported during this time period, identifying 3,264 outbreaks that could be attributed to a specific food category. Fish and poultry remained responsible for the greatest share of these outbreaks over these 20 years — accounting for about 17 percent of outbreaks each — followed closely by beef, which was responsible for 14 percent of outbreaks.

Eggs, on the other hand, played an increasingly smaller role as outbreak sources – accounting for 6 percent of outbreaks in 1998-1999 and for just 2 percent in 2006-2008. This trend was largely due to a decrease in the amount of Salmonella outbreaks linked to eggs, according to the report authors.

Leafy greens became a more common outbreak source, responsible for 6 percent of outbreaks in 1998-1999 and 11 percent by 2008-2009. Dairy also grew as an outbreak source, rising from 4 percent in the beginning of the period studied to 6 percent by 2006-2008.

The researchers also looked at the leading pathogen-food combinations that caused outbreaks during the 20-year window, finding that histamine in fish was the most common outbreak source, followed by ciguatoxin in fish, Salmonella in poultry and norovirus in leafy vegetables.

“You see the same combinations of pathogens and foods repeatedly,” said Hannah Gould, epidemiologist in the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases at CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases and lead author of the report. “It’s good to keep tracking that and now to have a method to continue to look at changes over time,” Gould commented in an interview with Food Safety News.

The authors note that the number of outbreaks linked to these commodities should not be confused with the number of illnesses caused by these foods, as outbreaks result in varying numbers of illnesses.

While poultry was responsible for the largest share of illnesses (17 percent) between 1998 and 2008, leafy greens were the next greatest cause of illness, accounting for 13 percent of the 67,752 illnesses attributed to an outbreak food source.

The pathogen/commodity pairs responsible for the most outbreak-related illnesses were norovirus and leafy vegetables, which led to 4,011 illnesses of the 67,752 linked to a designated commodity category.

The team also looked at food preparation, finding that restaurants and delis accounted for the vast majority (68 percent) of the places where outbreak-linked foods were prepared. Private homes were the next most common place of preparation, at 9 percent, followed by catering or banquet facilities (7 percent).

“That’s something interesting that we talk about here more than we usually do,” said Gould, referring to the location data, which CDC doesn’t often report in its reviews of foodborne illness data.

Outbreaks after 2008

What about outbreaks that have occurred since 2008? Have these trends continued or have they changed in the past few years?

“Leafy greens and norovirus continues to be a problem and norovirus has been the number one cause of outbreaks in our data for years and years and years and has remained that way,” said Gould.

Gould also led an analysis of foodborne illness outbreaks that occurred between 2009 and 2010 — published in January of this year — which found that during that period, beef, dairy, fish, and poultry were associated with the largest number of foodborne disease outbreaks.

That report also showed that unpasteurized dairy products are the leading cause of dairy-related outbreaks, accounting for 81 percent of the outbreaks linked to dairy during that time period. Gould said the 1998-2008 report shows that the incidence of raw dairy-related outbreaks has been growing over this time.

“Outbreaks caused by dairy went up as well, and that seems to be caused by an increasing number of outbreaks due to unpasteurized milk,” she said.

The data used for this report comes from CDC’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System, which was started by CDC in 1973 and went online in 1998. The authors chose 1998-2008 as their reporting period because the format of the database changed starting in 2008, when it became the National Outbreak Reporting System.

Although this new report may appear similar to one CDC released in January titled “Attribution of Foodborne Illnesses, Hospitalizations, and Deaths to Food Commodities by Using Outbreak Data, United States, 1998-2008,” the two are very different. The January report offers an estimation of total U.S. illnesses linked to various food sources. Though it is based on data from the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System, the figures in that report are extrapolated based on national foodborne illness estimates, while this June report looked only at outbreaks reported to CDC.

The complete results of the 2998-2008 data analysis can be found in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Food Safety News

Farm manager plays leading role in postharvest loss

With all the effort it takes to grow a food crop from seed to sale, it may be surprising that some farms in Brazil lose 10 to 12 percent of their yield at various points along the postharvest route. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, when it comes to meeting the needs of the world’s growing population that’s a lot of food falling through the cracks. Interestingly, farm managers who are aware of the factors that contribute to postharvest grain loss actually lose less grain. This was one of the findings in a study that examined how managers of large farms in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso may be negatively affecting the efficiency of their own operations.

“Clearly there are things that you can do to reduce loss — you can put bed liners in trucks, you can adjust your combine, you can harvest more slowly — but for the farmers in Mato Grosso, it’s not a high priority,” said Peter Goldsmith. “It doesn’t seem rational. If you see soybeans bouncing off your windshield from the truck ahead of you and bands of soybeans along the berm, why wouldn’t you try to prevent it? It appears that farm managers in Brazil actually allow loss to happen because the cost of reducing loss is greater than the benefits.”

Goldsmith said that one of the basic research questions of the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss, which funded this study, is about why loss occurs. He said that although there are hundreds of articles about postharvest loss, no one is working with the farm managers to find out, from a managerial and organizational perspective, what drives this loss. There is a discrepancy between the reality of the postharvest loss and what the managers believe to be acceptable loss.

Goldsmith explained that in tropical systems where the farming season lasts much longer than in the United States the more intensive production results in two crops a year on the same plot of ground — soybeans followed by corn.

“Because they are in such a hurry to get the soybean crop harvested so they can get the maize crop planted before the rainy season, they may: harvest too fast, desiccate green soybean to advance harvest, or expose soybean to the weather during transport, all of which results in a 10 percent loss,” Goldsmith said. “The loss isn’t intentional but rather a level that the farm manager is willing to live with in order to get that second crop of corn.”

A lack of understanding and awareness is also part of the problem. “When a farmer doesn’t think that harvest speed is important, they have more loss. Likewise, if a farmer doesn’t think that combine adjustments are important they’ll have more loss. Those who realize that maintaining equipment is important, have less loss.

Consequently, technical training in the field with the equipment could be beneficial. But the cost of reducing loss further, using current technology, may exceed the benefits. Farmers may be unwilling to pay or invest in loss reduction.”

In addition to harvest speed, the study identified several other factors contributing to grain loss: lack of truck regular maintenance; lack of adjustment to the combine at the platform; bad weather; bad road conditions; and a lack of employee training.

“What’s interesting is that the results from the survey were so mixed,” Goldsmith said. “Why wouldn’t farmers have agreed 100 percent that harvest speed contributes to loss? Insects and rodents seemed to be unimportant. Truck conditions and bad weather were the top factors to blame for loss, but truck conditions were mentioned by only 62 percent. These causes should be common knowledge so I don’t know why 100 percent of the responses didn’t agree that, for example, poor road and truck conditions contribute to loss. The lack of definitiveness about this may indicate that loss is not a “front-of-mind” issue for managers, which, in turn, has significant implications for policy makers seeking to reduce post-harvest loss. Goldsmith believes that these tropical farmers have a variety of issues at hand that trump loss. “We may think of Brazil as sunshine and beautiful all the time, but farming is really tough in the tropics. There are pest pressures 24/7, soils are poor, there’s an extreme rainy season, distance to markets is great, and road conditions are very rough. All sorts of factors make farming tough, but this area of the world has the greatest potential to materially augment global grain supplies.”

For the study, an initial focus group of seven farmers was conducted to help frame the questions for an online survey. The survey respondents represent some of the largest farmers, not just in Mato Grosso, but in the world.

“This dominant class of medium- and large-tropical farm acreage operators who are producing most of the new grains are filling the gap between where we are now and where we need to be in 2050 to feed the world,” Goldsmith said. “Sure, we can expand our crop among the developed countries of the world, but we’re only helping at the margin. The potential for new grain producers on new land is coming from farmers in the Southern Hemisphere.”

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Farm manager plays leading role in postharvest loss

With all the effort it takes to grow a food crop from seed to sale, it may be surprising that some farms in Brazil lose 10 to 12 percent of their yield at various points along the postharvest route. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, when it comes to meeting the needs of the world’s growing population that’s a lot of food falling through the cracks. Interestingly, farm managers who are aware of the factors that contribute to postharvest grain loss actually lose less grain. This was one of the findings in a study that examined how managers of large farms in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso may be negatively affecting the efficiency of their own operations.

“Clearly there are things that you can do to reduce loss — you can put bed liners in trucks, you can adjust your combine, you can harvest more slowly — but for the farmers in Mato Grosso, it’s not a high priority,” said Peter Goldsmith. “It doesn’t seem rational. If you see soybeans bouncing off your windshield from the truck ahead of you and bands of soybeans along the berm, why wouldn’t you try to prevent it? It appears that farm managers in Brazil actually allow loss to happen because the cost of reducing loss is greater than the benefits.”

Goldsmith said that one of the basic research questions of the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss, which funded this study, is about why loss occurs. He said that although there are hundreds of articles about postharvest loss, no one is working with the farm managers to find out, from a managerial and organizational perspective, what drives this loss. There is a discrepancy between the reality of the postharvest loss and what the managers believe to be acceptable loss.

Goldsmith explained that in tropical systems where the farming season lasts much longer than in the United States the more intensive production results in two crops a year on the same plot of ground — soybeans followed by corn.

“Because they are in such a hurry to get the soybean crop harvested so they can get the maize crop planted before the rainy season, they may: harvest too fast, desiccate green soybean to advance harvest, or expose soybean to the weather during transport, all of which results in a 10 percent loss,” Goldsmith said. “The loss isn’t intentional but rather a level that the farm manager is willing to live with in order to get that second crop of corn.”

A lack of understanding and awareness is also part of the problem. “When a farmer doesn’t think that harvest speed is important, they have more loss. Likewise, if a farmer doesn’t think that combine adjustments are important they’ll have more loss. Those who realize that maintaining equipment is important, have less loss.

Consequently, technical training in the field with the equipment could be beneficial. But the cost of reducing loss further, using current technology, may exceed the benefits. Farmers may be unwilling to pay or invest in loss reduction.”

In addition to harvest speed, the study identified several other factors contributing to grain loss: lack of truck regular maintenance; lack of adjustment to the combine at the platform; bad weather; bad road conditions; and a lack of employee training.

“What’s interesting is that the results from the survey were so mixed,” Goldsmith said. “Why wouldn’t farmers have agreed 100 percent that harvest speed contributes to loss? Insects and rodents seemed to be unimportant. Truck conditions and bad weather were the top factors to blame for loss, but truck conditions were mentioned by only 62 percent. These causes should be common knowledge so I don’t know why 100 percent of the responses didn’t agree that, for example, poor road and truck conditions contribute to loss. The lack of definitiveness about this may indicate that loss is not a “front-of-mind” issue for managers, which, in turn, has significant implications for policy makers seeking to reduce post-harvest loss. Goldsmith believes that these tropical farmers have a variety of issues at hand that trump loss. “We may think of Brazil as sunshine and beautiful all the time, but farming is really tough in the tropics. There are pest pressures 24/7, soils are poor, there’s an extreme rainy season, distance to markets is great, and road conditions are very rough. All sorts of factors make farming tough, but this area of the world has the greatest potential to materially augment global grain supplies.”

For the study, an initial focus group of seven farmers was conducted to help frame the questions for an online survey. The survey respondents represent some of the largest farmers, not just in Mato Grosso, but in the world.

“This dominant class of medium- and large-tropical farm acreage operators who are producing most of the new grains are filling the gap between where we are now and where we need to be in 2050 to feed the world,” Goldsmith said. “Sure, we can expand our crop among the developed countries of the world, but we’re only helping at the margin. The potential for new grain producers on new land is coming from farmers in the Southern Hemisphere.”

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Super Bowl leading surge in avocado consumption

The Hass Avocado Board has estimated that avocado consumption around the Super Bowl weekend (Feb. 1-2) will top 100 million pounds this year, representing a 30 percent increase over 2013.

“We have seen consistent growth for many years,” said Emiliano Escobedo, HAB executive director. “Since 2000, consumption [during the Super Bowl time period] has increased 1,200 percent.”

He added that the amount of guacamole served nationwide on Super Bowl Sunday could fill New Jersey’s Met Life Stadium, the site of the 2014 contest, from end zone to end zone at a depth of more than 40 feet.

The major supplier of avocados for this most anticipated sports holiday is Mexico, with Chile also being in season at the current time. To a much lesser extent, Escobedo said some early California shippers might have some avocados for selected customers, and the Dominican Republic is also expected to send a relatively small amount of avocados to the United States during the late-January period.

Maggie Bezart, vice president of trade and promotions for Avocados From Mexico, said Jan. 8 that Mexico has been sending more than 30 million pounds of avocados to the United States on a weekly basis and that number will increase to more than 40 million pounds per week as the Super Bowl approaches.

“We actually kicked off our promotions on December 30th to take advantage of the college bowl games,” she said. “After that, we moved right into Super Bowl promotions and then we will follow with the (Winter) Olympics.”

Capitalizing on the party theme associated with the Super Bowl, AFM has a national tie-in promotion with Mission tortillas and tortilla chips whereby consumers can get free chips or tortillas with the purchase of three Mexican avocados.

Bezart said that currently 30 U.S. retailers are involved in an Avocados From Mexico display contest, and the promotion group is also utilizing radio and television advertising to promote the fruit.

While the promotional efforts peak around the Super Bowl, Bezart said AFM’s goal is to promote avocados 52 weeks of the year to mirror the year-round availability of Mexican avocados in the U.S. marketplace.

Escobedo said the quality of avocados currently available is very good, with a high percentage of dry matter. In early January, the terminal market price has been in the low $ 30s range per carton for most sizes of imported avocados.

Avocado sales have increased dramatically in the past decade with total U.S. consumption now topping the 1.7 billion-pound mark on an annual basis and soon expected to reach 2 billion pounds per year.

After two big crop volume years of nearly 500 million pounds each, California is expected to be down quite a bit in 2014 to about 325 million pounds.

Consequently, the California crop will be marketed in a tighter window, with most producers waiting until late in the spring to begin picking.

And HAB has estimated that total volume in 2014 will be fairly close to 2013 because of the decrease in volume in the California crop.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

U.S. leading world in economic rebound

NEW ORLEANS — The United States is rebounding nicely from its economic woes over the past several years and that should bode well for the agricultural sector, according to a panel at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit convention, here.

The panelists convened and discussed various subjects, including the world economy and factors that will affect countries and business sectors as they distance themselves from the most recent recession.

Vernon Crowder of Rabobank led the discussion, which included two other member of the Rabobank team: Elwin de Groot, senior Eurozone strategist; and Nader Pasdar, who is involved in loan syndicating at the giant bank.

De Groot said Europe will continue to lag behind the United States in its recovery. Europe is still struggling, he said, but added that signs for the future are looking much better. He said the U.S. economy is doing quite well and outpacing many other countries. He pointed to the shale gas revolution as one business sector helping to drive the economic upturn.

Both Pasdar and de Groot were basically complimentary of efforts by the U.S. government and its Federal Reserve Bank to help pull the United States out of its recession with its monetary policy of increased liquidity.

They were not nearly as complimentary of Congress and its strategy of bringing the country to the brink of default before agreeing to fund the government. In fact, de Groot said the uncertainty about what Congress will do next is one of the biggest drags on how the world views the U.S. economy.

De Groot also said the Mexico has very “strong fundamentals” and he is “bullish on Mexico and the Mexican peso” in the long run.

He said that China should continue to have impressive growth, but he warned that the huge buildup of debt in that country must be addressed by the government.

De Groot expressed confidence that the government is working to reign in that situation, but said that if they continued on their current path, it would be a path toward a debt crisis that plagued Japan a decade ago and Greece much more recently.

Pasdar spoke a lot about liquidity in the United States, which he said has led to the recovery. He responded to an audience member question about the threat of inflation, and discounted the concept.

In fact, he believes a stronger case can be made for deflation. Pasdar said the current economic conditions would seem to be a very difficult environment for inflation to flourish.

Speaking specifically of the fresh produce sector, Crowder said that global fruit and vegetable production has grown by 35 percent in the past decade. The rise of the middle class in China and many other under-developed countries have fueled that growth, as the Rabobank executive said fruit and vegetable consumption remains static on a per-capita basis in most developed countries.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines