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Officials Suspect Pet Goat Was Source of E. Coli

Public health officials in Oregon suspect that the 4-year-old girl who died from an E. coli infection in September was infected by droppings from the family’s pet goat, according to a report by Lynne Terry at The Oregonian.

However, lab tests have not been conclusive, and the state health department is still working to try and determine the exact source of Serena Profitt’s infection. Her parents say they’re feeling frustrated about the lack of certainty.

Serena Profitt

A family friend, 5-year-old Bradley Sutton from Tacoma, WA, also fell ill with E. coli O157:H7 and spent nearly a month on dialysis in the hospital. He’s now on seven medications, requires blood work every three days, and only has 10-percent kidney function, according to the report.

The two children shared food and even fed the goat part of a watermelon that they both ate. Lab tests on the goat’s droppings revealed E. coli contamination, but officials have not yet connected that E. coli to the strain that sickened the children. Serena Profitt died Sept. 9 at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.

Her mother, Rachel, told The Oregonian that the health department didn’t test any of the family’s other animals, which include dogs, cats and chickens.

Health officials advised the family to euthanize the goat, which they won’t do. It’s currently staying with some neighbors.

E. coli infections can come from a variety of sources, including food, water and animals. A number of high-profile illness outbreaks in recent years have been linked to animals at petting zoos.

Food Safety News

Officials Suspect Pet Goat Was Source of E. Coli

Public health officials in Oregon suspect that the 4-year-old girl who died from an E. coli infection in September was infected by droppings from the family’s pet goat, according to a report by Lynne Terry at The Oregonian.

However, lab tests have not been conclusive, and the state health department is still working to try and determine the exact source of Serena Profitt’s infection. Her parents say they’re feeling frustrated about the lack of certainty.

Serena Profitt

A family friend, 5-year-old Bradley Sutton from Tacoma, WA, also fell ill with E. coli O157:H7 and spent nearly a month on dialysis in the hospital. He’s now on seven medications, requires blood work every three days, and only has 10-percent kidney function, according to the report.

The two children shared food and even fed the goat part of a watermelon that they both ate. Lab tests on the goat’s droppings revealed E. coli contamination, but officials have not yet connected that E. coli to the strain that sickened the children. Serena Profitt died Sept. 9 at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.

Her mother, Rachel, told The Oregonian that the health department didn’t test any of the family’s other animals, which include dogs, cats and chickens.

Health officials advised the family to euthanize the goat, which they won’t do. It’s currently staying with some neighbors.

E. coli infections can come from a variety of sources, including food, water and animals. A number of high-profile illness outbreaks in recent years have been linked to animals at petting zoos.

Food Safety News

Officials Suspect Pet Goat Was Source of E. Coli

Public health officials in Oregon suspect that the 4-year-old girl who died from an E. coli infection in September was infected by droppings from the family’s pet goat, according to a report by Lynne Terry at The Oregonian.

However, lab tests have not been conclusive, and the state health department is still working to try and determine the exact source of Serena Profitt’s infection. Her parents say they’re feeling frustrated about the lack of certainty.

Serena Profitt

A family friend, 5-year-old Bradley Sutton from Tacoma, WA, also fell ill with E. coli O157:H7 and spent nearly a month on dialysis in the hospital. He’s now on seven medications, requires blood work every three days, and only has 10-percent kidney function, according to the report.

The two children shared food and even fed the goat part of a watermelon that they both ate. Lab tests on the goat’s droppings revealed E. coli contamination, but officials have not yet connected that E. coli to the strain that sickened the children. Serena Profitt died Sept. 9 at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.

Her mother, Rachel, told The Oregonian that the health department didn’t test any of the family’s other animals, which include dogs, cats and chickens.

Health officials advised the family to euthanize the goat, which they won’t do. It’s currently staying with some neighbors.

E. coli infections can come from a variety of sources, including food, water and animals. A number of high-profile illness outbreaks in recent years have been linked to animals at petting zoos.

Food Safety News

Oregon Health Officials Say Source of Deadly E. Coli Infection May Never be Found

Health officials in Oregon are testing several possible contaminants that could be the source of the E. coli infection that killed a 4-year-old Oregon girl this week, but they warn that the source may never be found.

Serena Profitt

Serena Profitt died on Monday in Portland after suffering from an E. coli infection for more than a week. Food Safety News spoke with her uncle on Tuesday when reporting on her death.

A family friend, 5-year-old Brad Sutton, is in critical condition and on dialysis in a Tacoma, WA, hospital but was reported on Thursday to be steadily improving. The two children were playing together over Labor Day weekend and apparently shared one meal — a turkey sandwich — at a restaurant.

The children also played in a pond, which has been connected to E. coli cases in the past. Both children later tested positive for E. coli O157:H7.

But health officials are not ready to place blame on the sandwich. Investigation into the restaurant where it was served showed no evidence of E. coli exposure, according to Dr. David Long from the Lincoln County Health & Human Services Department.

“We’ve investigated the places that the people have been in the public and so far we haven’t found any evidence that there’s a source that would be potentially dangerous to the public,” Long said at a Thursday news conference in Newport, according to KOIN 6 News.

On Sept. 5, a 3-year-old girl in Washington state also died from an unrelated E. coli infection.

Food Safety News

125 People in Alberta Sickened With E. coli From Unknown Source

Alberta Health Services is currently investigating an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7. There have been 125 confirmed cases reported between July 15 and August 2o.

The investigation has not confirmed the source(s) of illness related to this outbreak, but Dr. Chris Sikora, the Edmonton Zone’s medical officer of health, says that nearly 80 per cent of cases were associated with Asian-style restaurants in Edmonton and Calgary during the last two weeks of July.

Sikora told CBC News that the E. coli strain seems to be isolated to Alberta, suggesting that the source could be a locally produced and distributed food.

CBC also reports that 17 people have been hospitalized so far.

This investigation is ongoing and involves collaboration with Alberta Health, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

E. coli infections are generally caused when a person eats food or drinks water that is contaminated with human or animal feces, or through direct contact with a person who is sick or animals that carry the bacteria. Proper hygiene and safe food handling and preparation practices are key to preventing the spread of E. coli.

To reduce the risk of infection, consumers should wash hands with hot, soapy water often; cook beef to at least  160 degrees F; thoroughly wash vegetables and fruits before eating; thoroughly wash all kitchen tools and surfaces that have touched raw meat, and use only pasteurized milk, dairy and juice products.

Food Safety News

FSIS Proposed Rule Requires Source Records for Ground Beef Products

ground beefThe U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing to require all makers of raw ground beef products to keep records of the meat’s sources.

Retail outlets regularly make ground beef by mixing cuts of beef from various sources. This proposal, if finalized, will require them to keep clear records identifying the source, supplier, and names of all materials used in the preparation of raw ground beef products.

This would help USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) when tracing the producer of ground meat linked to a foodborne illness outbreak.

“The improved traceback capabilities that would result from this proposal will prevent foodborne illness by allowing FSIS to conduct recalls of potentially contaminated raw ground products in a timelier manner,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Brian Ronholm. “By requiring retail outlets to maintain improved records on sources for ground products, the proposal will enable FSIS to quickly identify likely sources of contaminated product linked to an outbreak.”

“FSIS has concluded that record-keeping by retail facilities that grind raw beef to date has not been sufficiently effective,” reads the agency’s statement. “This proposal is in keeping with the agency’s latest efforts to target its food safety prevention tools at areas that will have the most significant public health impact.”

FSIS has opened a public comment period on the proposed rule that will end 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

Food Safety News

Straw from oilseed as a new source of biofuels

The bright yellow fields of oilseed rape are a familiar sight at this time of year, but for scientists what lies beneath is just as exciting.

Researchers at the Institute of Food Research are looking at how to turn straw from oilseed rape into biofuel. Preliminary findings are pointing at ways the process could be made more efficient, as well as how the straw itself could be improved.

Straw from crops such as wheat, barley, oats and oilseed rape is seen as a potential source of biomass for second generation biofuel production. Currently the UK produces around 12 million tonnes of straw. Although much is used for animal bedding, mushroom compost and energy generation, there still exists a vast surplus.

Straw contains a mix of sugars that could be used as a source of biofuels that do not compete with food production but instead represent a sustainable way of utilizing waste. However, the sugars are in a form that makes them inaccessible to the enzymes that release them for conversion into biofuels, so pre-treatments are needed. The pre-treatments make the complex carbohydrates more accessible to enzymes that convert them to glucose, in a process called saccharification. This is then fermented by yeast into ethanol.

Using the facilities at the Biorefinery Centre on the Norwich Research Park, Professor Keith Waldron and his team have been looking at the steps needed to unlock the sugars tied up in the tough straw structure. In particular, they have looked at the pre-treatment stage, focusing on steam explosion, which involves ‘pressure-cooking’ the biomass, to drive a number of chemical reactions. A rapid pressure-release then causes the material to be ripped open, to further improve accessibility.

They varied the temperature and duration of steam explosion and then used a variety of physical and biochemical techniques to characterise what effects varying the pre-treatments had on the different types of sugars before and after saccharification.

The amount of cellulose converted to glucose increased with the severity of the pretreatment. Saccharification efficiency is also associated with the loss of specific sugars, and subsequent formation of sugar breakdown products.

In a further study funded by the BBSRC / EPSRC Integrated Biorefining Research and Technology Club, the scientists discovered the key factors that determine the efficiency of saccharification. One particular compound, uronic acid, limited the rate at which enzymes worked. The final sugar yield was closely related to the removal of xylan, a common component of plant cell walls. The abundance of lignin, a ‘woody’ cell wall component, was positively related to the amount of available sugars.

These findings will help improve the efficiency by which straw can be converted to biofuels. For example, adding enzymes that more effectively remove xylan should improve yield. Controlling the level of lignin in the material should also help.

It may even be possible to improve the straw itself, for example to reduce the uronic acid content in the biomass, as suggested by these findings. In the main, oilseed rape has been bred to improve oilseed yield and disease resistance, without paying much attention to the straw. The IFR is working with colleagues at the University of York and the John Innes Centre to see whether there are ways of breeding more “biofuel-ready” varieties of oilseed rape, with the same yields of oilseed but with more amenable straw. In addition, a full understanding of the polysaccharides and other compounds made available during pretreatment may mean other valuable co-products, like platform chemicals, may be viably produced from the surplus straw.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Norwich BioScience Institutes. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Stem cells as future source for eco-friendly meat

The scientific progress that has made it possible to dream of a future in which faulty organs could be regrown from stem cells also holds potential as an ethical and greener source for meat. So say scientists who suggest in the Cell Press journal Trends in Biotechnology that every town or village could one day have its very own small-scale, cultured meat factory.

“We believe that cultured meat is part of the future,” said Cor van der Weele of Wageningen University in The Netherlands. “Other parts of the future are partly substituting meat with vegetarian products, keeping fewer animals in better circumstances, perhaps eating insects, etc. This discussion is certainly part of the future in that it is part of the search for a ‘protein transition.’ It is highly effective in stimulating a growing awareness and discussion of the problems of meat production and consumption.”

van der Weele and coauthor Johannes Tramper point out that the rising demand for meat around the world is unsustainable in terms of environmental pollution and energy consumption, not to mention the animal suffering associated with factory farming.

van der Weele said she first heard about cultured meat in 2004, when frog steaks were served at a French museum while the donor frog watched on (http://tcaproject.org/projects/victimless/cuisine). Tramper has studied the cultivation of animal cells—insect cells mostly—in the lab for almost 30 years. In 2007, he published a paper suggesting that insect cells might be useful as a food source.

It is already possible to make meat from stem cells. To prove it, Mark Post, a professor of tissue engineering at Maastricht University, The Netherlands, presented the first lab-grown hamburger in 2013.

In the new Science & Society paper, van der Weele and Tramper outline a potential meat manufacturing process, starting with a vial of cells taken from a cell bank and ending with a pressed cake of minced meat. But there will be challenges when it comes to maintaining a continuous stem cell line and producing cultured meat that’s cheaper than meat obtained in the usual way. Most likely, the price of “normal” meat would first have to rise considerably.

Still, the promise is too great to ignore.

“Cultured meat has great moral promise,” write van der Weele and Tramper. “Worries about its unnaturalness might be met through small-scale production methods that allow close contact with cell-donor animals, thereby reversing feelings of alienation. From a technological perspective, ‘village-scale’ production is also a promising option.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Final Report: No Source Identified in 2013 NYC Hepatitis A Outbreak

A final report on last summer’s Hepatitis A outbreak at New Hawaii Sea restaurant in the Bronx, NY, reveals that there were a total of nine cases (eight patrons and one employee).

No definite source of the infection was ever found, according to the report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Health officials stated that they first became aware on Sept. 17, 2013, that a host working at the restaurant had tested positive for Hep A. The department subsequently warned customers who had eaten at New Hawaii Sea or through their catering service between Sept. 7-19, 2013, to get a vaccination.

Inspectors then found “critical violations” at the restaurant on two different visits and instructed the restaurant operator to thoroughly clean and sanitize all equipment and, before reopening, discard any food that had been in contact with bare hands. In addition, the restaurant was temporarily closed until all staff and employees were tested and vaccinated for Hep A.

The department’s report stated that no additional Hep A cases associated with food from the New Hawaii Sea restaurant were reported after Sept. 22, 2013.

“The lack of secondary cases among the food handlers suggests that the outbreak was over by the time it was identified by the health department,” the report states.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A infection include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite.

Food Safety News

Final Report: No Source Identified in 2013 NYC Hepatitis A Outbreak

A final report on last summer’s Hepatitis A outbreak at New Hawaii Sea restaurant in the Bronx, NY, reveals that there were a total of nine cases (eight patrons and one employee).

No definite source of the infection was ever found, according to the report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Health officials stated that they first became aware on Sept. 17, 2013, that a host working at the restaurant had tested positive for Hep A. The department subsequently warned customers who had eaten at New Hawaii Sea or through their catering service between Sept. 7-19, 2013, to get a vaccination.

Inspectors then found “critical violations” at the restaurant on two different visits and instructed the restaurant operator to thoroughly clean and sanitize all equipment and, before reopening, discard any food that had been in contact with bare hands. In addition, the restaurant was temporarily closed until all staff and employees were tested and vaccinated for Hep A.

The department’s report stated that no additional Hep A cases associated with food from the New Hawaii Sea restaurant were reported after Sept. 22, 2013.

“The lack of secondary cases among the food handlers suggests that the outbreak was over by the time it was identified by the health department,” the report states.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A infection include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite.

Food Safety News

Final Report: No Source Identified in 2013 NYC Hepatitis A Outbreak

A final report on last summer’s Hepatitis A outbreak at New Hawaii Sea restaurant in the Bronx, NY, reveals that there were a total of nine cases (eight patrons and one employee).

No definite source of the infection was ever found, according to the report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Health officials stated that they first became aware on Sept. 17, 2013, that a host working at the restaurant had tested positive for Hep A. The department subsequently warned customers who had eaten at New Hawaii Sea or through their catering service between Sept. 7-19, 2013, to get a vaccination.

Inspectors then found “critical violations” at the restaurant on two different visits and instructed the restaurant operator to thoroughly clean and sanitize all equipment and, before reopening, discard any food that had been in contact with bare hands. In addition, the restaurant was temporarily closed until all staff and employees were tested and vaccinated for Hep A.

The department’s report stated that no additional Hep A cases associated with food from the New Hawaii Sea restaurant were reported after Sept. 22, 2013.

“The lack of secondary cases among the food handlers suggests that the outbreak was over by the time it was identified by the health department,” the report states.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A infection include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite.

Food Safety News

Final Report: No Source Identified in 2013 NYC Hepatitis A Outbreak

A final report on last summer’s Hepatitis A outbreak at New Hawaii Sea restaurant in the Bronx, NY, reveals that there were a total of nine cases (eight patrons and one employee).

No definite source of the infection was ever found, according to the report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Health officials stated that they first became aware on Sept. 17, 2013, that a host working at the restaurant had tested positive for Hep A. The department subsequently warned customers who had eaten at New Hawaii Sea or through their catering service between Sept. 7-19, 2013, to get a vaccination.

Inspectors then found “critical violations” at the restaurant on two different visits and instructed the restaurant operator to thoroughly clean and sanitize all equipment and, before reopening, discard any food that had been in contact with bare hands. In addition, the restaurant was temporarily closed until all staff and employees were tested and vaccinated for Hep A.

The department’s report stated that no additional Hep A cases associated with food from the New Hawaii Sea restaurant were reported after Sept. 22, 2013.

“The lack of secondary cases among the food handlers suggests that the outbreak was over by the time it was identified by the health department,” the report states.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A infection include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite.

Food Safety News

Final Report: No Source Identified in 2013 NYC Hepatitis A Outbreak

A final report on last summer’s Hepatitis A outbreak at New Hawaii Sea restaurant in the Bronx, NY, reveals that there were a total of nine cases (eight patrons and one employee).

No definite source of the infection was ever found, according to the report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Health officials stated that they first became aware on Sept. 17, 2013, that a host working at the restaurant had tested positive for Hep A. The department subsequently warned customers who had eaten at New Hawaii Sea or through their catering service between Sept. 7-19, 2013, to get a vaccination.

Inspectors then found “critical violations” at the restaurant on two different visits and instructed the restaurant operator to thoroughly clean and sanitize all equipment and, before reopening, discard any food that had been in contact with bare hands. In addition, the restaurant was temporarily closed until all staff and employees were tested and vaccinated for Hep A.

The department’s report stated that no additional Hep A cases associated with food from the New Hawaii Sea restaurant were reported after Sept. 22, 2013.

“The lack of secondary cases among the food handlers suggests that the outbreak was over by the time it was identified by the health department,” the report states.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A infection include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite.

Food Safety News

Final Report: No Source Identified in 2013 NYC Hepatitis A Outbreak

A final report on last summer’s Hepatitis A outbreak at New Hawaii Sea restaurant in the Bronx, NY, reveals that there were a total of nine cases (eight patrons and one employee).

No definite source of the infection was ever found, according to the report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Health officials stated that they first became aware on Sept. 17, 2013, that a host working at the restaurant had tested positive for Hep A. The department subsequently warned customers who had eaten at New Hawaii Sea or through their catering service between Sept. 7-19, 2013, to get a vaccination.

Inspectors then found “critical violations” at the restaurant on two different visits and instructed the restaurant operator to thoroughly clean and sanitize all equipment and, before reopening, discard any food that had been in contact with bare hands. In addition, the restaurant was temporarily closed until all staff and employees were tested and vaccinated for Hep A.

The department’s report stated that no additional Hep A cases associated with food from the New Hawaii Sea restaurant were reported after Sept. 22, 2013.

“The lack of secondary cases among the food handlers suggests that the outbreak was over by the time it was identified by the health department,” the report states.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A infection include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite.

Food Safety News

Final Report: No Source Identified in 2013 NYC Hepatitis A Outbreak

A final report on last summer’s Hepatitis A outbreak at New Hawaii Sea restaurant in the Bronx, NY, reveals that there were a total of nine cases (eight patrons and one employee).

No definite source of the infection was ever found, according to the report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Health officials stated that they first became aware on Sept. 17, 2013, that a host working at the restaurant had tested positive for Hep A. The department subsequently warned customers who had eaten at New Hawaii Sea or through their catering service between Sept. 7-19, 2013, to get a vaccination.

Inspectors then found “critical violations” at the restaurant on two different visits and instructed the restaurant operator to thoroughly clean and sanitize all equipment and, before reopening, discard any food that had been in contact with bare hands. In addition, the restaurant was temporarily closed until all staff and employees were tested and vaccinated for Hep A.

The department’s report stated that no additional Hep A cases associated with food from the New Hawaii Sea restaurant were reported after Sept. 22, 2013.

“The lack of secondary cases among the food handlers suggests that the outbreak was over by the time it was identified by the health department,” the report states.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A infection include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite.

Food Safety News

Dinner Rolls Likely Source of Salmonella Illnesses Linked to Minnesota Restaurant

Minnesota health officials have identified dinner rolls as the likely source of bacteria which sickened dozens of Old Country Buffet diners in Maple Grove, MN, in January.

The rolls were likely cross-contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis from raw chicken used in the restaurant, Minnesota Department of Health spokesman Doug Schultz reportedly said.

The state’s joint investigation with Hennepin County found that 36 people were probably sickened by the bacteria after eating at the restaurant between Jan. 11 and Feb. 11, with most of those who became ill eating there on Jan. 25. One person was hospitalized.

Since the outbreak occurred, the restaurant staff has been retrained about food safety and inspections have increased.

Salmonella is most often linked to undercooked eggs and poultry. Salmonella infections cause fever, stomach cramps and diarrhea.

Food Safety News

NC Health Department Says Papa John’s Was Source of Hepatitis A Scare

A Charlotte, NC, Papa John’s outlet is to blame for a Hepatitis A scare, according to the Mecklenburg County Health Department.

Anyone who ate food from the location on March 28 and 29 should get the Hepatitis A vaccine immediately.

Officials are looking into a potential Hepatitis A outbreak from the Papa John’s location in the 8000 block of Cambridge Commons in Charlotte, near Harrisburg Road and I-485.

According to the health department, a manager at that restaurant, who recently traveled out of the country, contracted Hepatitis A and may have infected Papa John’s patrons.

Anyone who ate food from that location between March 24 and April 7 may have been exposed. About 2,400 people could have been exposed.

Clinics have been established at the Cabarrus County Health Department and Mecklenburg County Health Department on Beatties Ford Road. They will be open from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. About 5,000 vaccines have been ordered. The vaccine will work within 14 days of exposure and is free.

Hepatitis A is a liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis A virus. It is spread by close personal contact or from consuming contaminated food or water.  Symptoms are flu-like and may show up as gastrointestinal issues, dark urine, diarrhea, severe stomach pains and jaundice.

Food Safety News

Tracking Down the Source of Outbreaks: It’s Complicated

Meet CORE, FDA’s team of food safety sleuths

With a globalizing food supply, brought to us by increasingly complex supply chains, foodborne illness outbreaks are notoriously tough to solve. These outbreaks often involve multiple states, dozens of illnesses, which are chronically underreported, they include patients who can’t remember what they ate for lunch last week, and, while they are often narrowed down to a list of possible culprits, nine times out of ten we will never know what food product was to blame.

The outbreaks we hear about – and that Food Safety News reports on – are usually the ones that were solved, meaning federal, state, and local health officials were able to put all the evidence together, pinpoint a food source, and alert the public with an outbreak announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or maybe even a recall from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But an extraordinary amount of work goes into trying to crack these cases, whether the public hears about them or not.

That’s where FDA’s elite team of investigators comes in.  This cohort – formally known as the Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network – has been working tirelessly on foodborne illness outbreaks since the initiative launched two years ago this month.

Designed for more rapid response, CORE brings together epidemiologists, microbiologists, veterinarians, and other experts, under the same roof at FDA, so they can work together more efficiently and focus solely on outbreaks.

In interviews, CORE staff often used terms like “more efficient,” “better structured,” “more effective,”  “faster, and “better organized,” to describe the shift to a consolidated team. But one of the biggest changes, according to FDA officials, is that CORE puts a fresh focus on learning from each incident and applying those lessons toward more preventive policies and practices.

Before CORE, FDA only had seven or eight people to do outbreak response within the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, according to microbiologist Elisa Eliot, a 24-year veteran of FDA who now works at CORE.

“We didn’t have people out there really evaluating information, looking for outbreaks, and working proactively working with CDC. Sometimes we’d get together in a work group, but it wasn’t an ongoing, continuing, day-to-day activity,” recalls Eliot. “We didn’t have the people power to look back and do al lot of the ‘lessons learned’ and come up with preventive, better practices. We were more in the response mode all the time.”

CORE, which now has a staff of more than 30 (including contractors), is divided into three parts to help ensure prevention is not lost in the shuffle: Signals and Surveillance, which works closely with CDC to identify any emerging outbreaks that might be linked to an FDA-regulated product, Response, which is comprised of separate teams that coordinate the response efforts on multiple foodborne illness outbreaks, and Post-Response, a team that is dedicated solely to gleaning what is learned from each outbreak and applying it.

Tip of the iceberg

In the past two years, CORE has been repeatedly tested with an onslaught of foodborne illness outbreaks, only a fraction of which ever made headlines.

“It’s seasonal for us, as outbreaks tend to be,” said Ashley Grant, an epidemiologist for the Signals team. “Right now we are in the peak of our season so we probably have about eight to ten on our plate at any given time in summer and spring months. As we get into the fall and winter, we probably have about five a week.”

Between August 2011 and the end of 2012, for example, the CORE Signals team evaluated 211 incidents, 63 of which were transferred to a response team. During that time frame, however, only 12 outbreaks were announced on the FDA website.

Of all the incidents CORE Signals tracked in that time, 144 were not referred to a response team. According to FDA, in 22 of those cases the vehicle turned out to not be an FDA-regulated product (remember meat, poultry, and processed eggs all fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture). The agency said that in another 34 cases, “FDA response activities had already been initiated and completed,” which means the case might be handled outside of CORE by the enforcement branch or at the state-level. In the remaining 88 cases, the vehicle was not identified.

Staying on top of this is a lot of work, any way you look at it. CORE staff are known to work long hours and weekends when they’re assigned to an outbreak that’s particularly tricky – think Salmonella tuna scrape or pomegranate seeds recently blamed for a Hepatitis A outbreak. (links)

The slow-moving nature of foodborne illness reporting, which suffers from lag times, underreporting, and diminishing public health resources at the state and local level, adds another layer to an already complicated puzzle.

“Sometimes, the outbreak has concluded by the time we’re actually getting to the point where we have an idea of what the vehicle might have been,” said Jennifer Beal, an epidemiologist for the Signals team. “In that case, there’s nothing left for the response team to do.”

“Other times, the vehicle is never identified and that probably constitutes the bulk of the cases we don’t transfer,” added Beal. “But for any one of these things, we put in the same amount of effort to try to make that determination.”

For the bulk of incidents that are monitored, but not referred to a response team for further action, the team still pours “a lot of time and energy” into trying to figure out what the cause might have been. They save that information in case a similar situation arises so they might benefit from their previous legwork the next time around.

According to Gary Weber, a supervisory interdisciplinary specialist in animal science for CORE, each and every incident is “pushed as far as this team can take them to find out the linkages.”

“They don’t give up easily, that’s for sure,” said Weber.

Frustration

When meeting with CORE investigators, the passion they have for their work and public health is evident – and so is their frustration over the outbreaks that could not be explained, despite lengthy investigations.

For Roberta Hammond, a supervisory interdisciplinary scientist for CORE, the heart break comes from multiple ingredient outbreaks. Oftentimes, investigators can narrow the source to a salad mix or a restaurant chain, but they aren’t able to take it one step further, to figuring out which ingredient.

Even when they do figure out the vehicle in time, comingling, and lot mixing, especially for produce, can complicate things.

“Something with a short shelf life is more challenging because there may not be product to sample, or if you do manage to trace it back to the firm or farm of field, it’s not there,” said Pamela LeBlanc, a leader of one of the CORE response teams.

Stelios Viazis, a microbiologist for one of CORE’s response teams, agrees: “That’s the most frustrating.”

These frustrations are likely to grow as Americans increase their appetite for fresh foods from a variety of sources, both domestic and foreign, year round.

Food Safety News

E. coli Sickens 7 in Connecticut; No Source Confirmed

Seven people in Connecticut are confirmed ill with E. coli infections in the Windham/Willimantic area, according to local news station WFSB.

The source of the illnesses is not known.

Two of the cases have developed into hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially fatal kidney disease associated with severe E. coli outbreaks. Those two patients remain hospitalized.

Health department authorities suspect the illnesses occurred around mid-December.

Food Safety News