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CDC closes investigation; warns of ongoing Listeria threat

The investigation into a Listeriosis outbreak traced to frozen vegetables from CRF Frozen Foods Inc. has ended — but federal officials warn more people could still be stricken by the potentially deadly Listeria monocytogenes pathogen.

logo-CRF-Frozen-Foods“People could continue to get sick because recalled products may still be freezers and people who don’t know about the recalls could eat them,” according to an outbreak update posted this afternoon by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

“Retailers should not sell and consumers should not eat recalled products.”

Those “recalled products” include more than 350 frozen products packaged by CRF Frozen Foods Inc. under 42 brands, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Recalled products were sold across the U.S. and Canada.

“The FDA facilitated the recall of at least 456 products related to this outbreak. CRF Frozen Foods recalled 358 products and at least 98 other products were recalled by other firms that received CRF-recalled products,” according to FDA.

A complete list of the recalls linked to CRF Frozen Foods’ recall is available on the FDA website.

Production plant remains closed
CRF owners closed the Pasco, WA, plant where the food was produced after issuing recalls on April 23 and May 2. The first recall was for 11 frozen vegetable products. The second was for all organic and traditional frozen vegetable and fruit products processed at the facility from May 1, 2014, through this spring.

Today an external public relations consultant hired by CRF said the company’s owners will take their time reopening the facility. He said CRF’s business is seasonal, based on crop harvests, and with the end of summer nearing it wouldn’t make any difference if they reopened in a few weeks or a few months.

A variety of Kroger-branded frozen vegetable products are included in the recall.

A variety of Kroger-branded frozen vegetable products are included in the recall.

“The company executives are spending a good bit of time and effort focused on a new design of the plant, to ensure the company has state of the art equipment and processes, once operations resume,” said spokesman Gene Grabowski.

Officials with the privately held CRF, which is part of the R.D. Offutt Co., were pleased that the outbreak investigation was declared ended, Grabowski said this afternoon, adding that they would “continue to proceed with redoubled vigilance to ensure that nothing of this nature happens again.”

Although CRF knows how much product it shipped, its officials did not reveal those volumes in its recall notices.

“The company has no estimate of product recalled or destroyed,” Grabovski said. “Much of the recalled product has been managed by retailers, so no complete records are available.”

The victims and how they were discovered
The outbreak includes at least nine people from four states on opposite sides of the U.S. They were sickened with a strain of Listeria monocytogenes that Ohio officials coincidentally discovered in CRF frozen products while conducting routine testing of randomly collected packages of frozen foods from retail stores.

All nine people were so sick they had to be hospitalized. Three of them died, but state public health officials reported to the CDC that only one of the deaths was specifically caused by the Listeria infection.

The first known victim became sick in September of 2013. Five victims fell ill in 2015 and three were confirmed with the outbreak strain this year. The most recent case was May 3, according to the CDC.

recalled-Organic-by-Nature-frozen-peasCDC scientists detected the outbreak in March this year and linked it to frozen food from CRF’s Pasco plant using a combination of high-tech DNA testing and the oldest medical technique on the books — patient interviews.

“State and local health departments attempted to interview the ill people, a family member, or a caregiver for the ill person about the foods the ill person may have eaten in the month before the illness began,” CDC reported.

Officials were able to interview four people, three of whom reported that before they became sick they ate frozen vegetables that turned out to have been produced at the CRF Pasco plant.

“Two reported Organic by Nature brand frozen vegetables. The third ill person reported eating O Organic brand frozen vegetables,” CDC reported.

While the CDC investigators were trying to find a common denominator among the Listeria victims, staff with the Ohio Department of Agriculture were conducting routine, random product sampling of frozen vegetables from grocery stores.

The Ohio tests revealed Listeria monocytogenes in frozen organic white sweet corn and frozen organic green peas packaged under Meijer’s True Goodness brand. Both products were produced by CRF at the Pasco facility.

“Whole genome sequencing showed that the Listeria isolate from the frozen corn was closely related genetically to eight bacterial isolates from (the) ill people, and the Listeria isolate from the frozen peas was closely related genetically to one isolate from (one) ill person,” the CDC reported.

Public health investigators used the PulseNet system to compare and ultimately match the Listeria monocytogenes samples from the outbreak victims and the randomly tested frozen vegetables. PulseNet is a national sub typing network of public health labs and includes a national database of DNA fingerprints of foodborne pathogen strains.

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Shareholders in legal threat to Chiquita-Fyffes merger

Shareholders in legal threat to Chiquita-Fyffes merger

The proposed $ 1 billion banana company merger between Fyffes and its US rival Chiquita Brands faces a new threat, after shareholders in the US company this week lodged a class-action lawsuit attempting to scupper the merger.

A pension fund for firefighters in Birmingham, Alabama, which is a shareholder in Chiquita, is suing the US company’s directors for alleged breaches of fiduciary duty by accepting the terms of the merger, which would result in the bulk of management control of the enlarged entity going to Fyffes, led by Dublin businessman David McCann.

The pension fund alleges that the merger, which is due to be voted on by Fyffes and Chiquita shareholders later this month, is unenforceable because it favours Fyffes and it also wants an injunction to prevent the Chiquita vote that is scheduled for October 24th.

The pension fund is also claiming that Irish corporate law is inferior to US law in terms of the protections afforded to shareholders, and that the merger should be blocked on this basis. The merged entity that has been proposed, ChiquitaFyffes, would be domiciled in Ireland.

The proposed deal is already under threat from a rival all-cash bid for Chiquita from two Brazillian billionaires. Companies linked to the two men are preparing a final offer for the US company before the scheduled votes.

To head off the Brazillian bid, Fyffes and Chiquita, whose board prefers the merger with the Irish company, recently revised the terms of the deal to give Chiquita shareholders a bigger slice of ChiquitaFyffes, close to 60 per cent.

The termination fee payable to Fyffes in the event of the merger being ditched was also more than trebled to 3.5 per cent of Chiquita’s value, about €18.5 million. The firefighters’ fund says the Cutrale-Safra proposal is “clearly superior”. Fyffes said the lawsuit was a matter for Chiquita, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Source: irishtimes.com

Publication date: 10/9/2014


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Shareholders in legal threat to Chiquita-Fyffes merger

Shareholders in legal threat to Chiquita-Fyffes merger

The proposed $ 1 billion banana company merger between Fyffes and its US rival Chiquita Brands faces a new threat, after shareholders in the US company this week lodged a class-action lawsuit attempting to scupper the merger.

A pension fund for firefighters in Birmingham, Alabama, which is a shareholder in Chiquita, is suing the US company’s directors for alleged breaches of fiduciary duty by accepting the terms of the merger, which would result in the bulk of management control of the enlarged entity going to Fyffes, led by Dublin businessman David McCann.

The pension fund alleges that the merger, which is due to be voted on by Fyffes and Chiquita shareholders later this month, is unenforceable because it favours Fyffes and it also wants an injunction to prevent the Chiquita vote that is scheduled for October 24th.

The pension fund is also claiming that Irish corporate law is inferior to US law in terms of the protections afforded to shareholders, and that the merger should be blocked on this basis. The merged entity that has been proposed, ChiquitaFyffes, would be domiciled in Ireland.

The proposed deal is already under threat from a rival all-cash bid for Chiquita from two Brazillian billionaires. Companies linked to the two men are preparing a final offer for the US company before the scheduled votes.

To head off the Brazillian bid, Fyffes and Chiquita, whose board prefers the merger with the Irish company, recently revised the terms of the deal to give Chiquita shareholders a bigger slice of ChiquitaFyffes, close to 60 per cent.

The termination fee payable to Fyffes in the event of the merger being ditched was also more than trebled to 3.5 per cent of Chiquita’s value, about €18.5 million. The firefighters’ fund says the Cutrale-Safra proposal is “clearly superior”. Fyffes said the lawsuit was a matter for Chiquita, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Source: irishtimes.com

Publication date: 10/9/2014


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Threat of hidden crop pest to poorer nations revealed

The abundance of crop pests in developing countries may be greatly underestimated, posing a significant threat to some of the world’s most important food producing nations, according to research led by the University of Exeter.

Data on the known distributions of almost 2,000 crop-destroying organisms in 195 countries were analyzed in the first global assessment of the factors determining the distribution of crop pests.

Dr Dan Bebber and Professor Sarah Gurr, of Biosciences at the University of Exeter, found that if all countries had levels of scientific and technical capacity similar to the developed world, the number of pests reported would rise greatly and the true extent of the threat would be better understood.

Many developing countries are expected to harbor hundreds of unreported crop pests and diseases, based on current levels of agricultural productivity.

Around one sixth of the world’s agricultural production is lost to destructive organisms annually, with further losses post-harvest.

Crop pests are often introduced by human activities such as trade and travel, with the wealth of a country linked to the number of invasive species recorded there because — whilst growing rich through trade — they have also accidentally imported pests in agricultural produce.

But this study also considered the link between the wealth of a country (by per capita GDP) and its ability to detect, identify and report the number of crop pests present.

Developing countries are less likely to have the capacity to observe invasive species than affluent, technologically-advanced nations.

The researchers used data collated from published literature over many decades by the inter-governmental, not-for-profit organization CABI and made available from its Plantwise knowledge bank.

Using GDP and scientific output as indicators of pest detection capacity, the study found that the pest load of the developing world appears to be greatly underestimated, and that this lack of knowledge may be severely hampering crop protection in some of the world’s most important food producing nations.

Dr Dan Bebber said: “Crop pests pose a significant and growing threat to food security, but their geographical distributions are poorly understood.”

“Country wealth is likely to be a strong indicator of observational capacity, not just trade flow, as has been interpreted in previous studies of invasive species. If every country had US-levels of per capita GDP, then on average countries woul d be reporting more than 200 additional pests and diseases. This suggests that enhanced investment in pest observations will reveal the hidden threat of crop pests and pathogens, as well as bring into focus the opportunity to lose less of the crop by appropriate pest control. The first step to solving crop losses is to identify the pests responsible.”

The largest numbers of crop pests were reported by the USA, followed by India, China, France and Japan. Island nations reported more pests than coastal and landlocked nations, and the number of pests increased slightly with rainfall.

Professor Sarah Gurr added: “This follows hot on the heels of our recent paper showing that pests and pathogens are on the move in the face of climate change. When coupled to this study we can see that many nations are underestimating pest and pathogen loads. Taken collectively, these papers draw attention not only to the threat of crop disease, and thus global food security, but also to our need for more trained pathologists to inform policy.”

Story Source:

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

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Center Store Survey: GMO Labels, Sales Strategies, Wal-Mart Threat

TGF-FruitImageProponents of GMO transparency are finding unlikely allies in the companies that mandatory labeling would most impact. Nearly two-thirds of retailers (64.1%) and 71.1% of manufacturers polled for SN’s 10th annual survey of Center Store performance advocate measures that would require foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such. The findings come as Whole Foods Market works toward full GMO transparency; Target, Giant Eagle and more than 50 other chains …

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Texas citrus industry thriving despite lingering drought, competition and ever-present greening threat

It is amazing that Texas growers can produce premium citrus in the heart of the second-worst drought in state history, but this season’s crop promises to be on-target in terms of quality and volume as the season ramps up in October.

“When you look at this crop that’s hanging on the trees right now you would never know we were in a drought,” said Trent Bishop of Lone Star Growers in Mission, TX. “Even though we still find ourselves in the midst of a historical drought, we have had some timely and widespread rains that have been just enough to cover most all of the acreage over the last 90 days — TX-Citrus-2Texas is famous as the birthplace of the red grapefruit. This year’s crop is in excellent shape despite an ongoing drought. (Photo courtesy of USDA/ARS)some areas have actually received several rains. That is always welcome in the heat of the South Texas summer.”

But Texas citrus growers do not rely on rain alone to make a crop, of course. The state’s citrus belt runs across the Rio Grande Valley in the southernmost part of Texas, east to west along the Mexican border. The valley is irrigated by water from two reservoirs on the Rio Grande River. Water allotments are prized – and sometimes traded — by growers. Any rain at all is like an unexpected bonus in a paycheck.

“When we get some of these timely rains we can save some of those irrigations that we would otherwise pull out of those reservoirs for later use. Any time you can get a bonus from Mother Nature, it’s a good thing,” Bishop said. “Water is a bigger issue in Texas than most people realize. On everything that’s company-owned, we have installed micro-jet irrigation. This is just one way that we are doing our part to make sure we spread our water allocations as far as they can go. We have a very clear-cut water plan in place to make sure that we’re planning for the future as far out as we can. We realize that in order to have next year’s crop, we have to have water for next year’s crop. As such, there are already plans in place to make sure not only that we have a crop this year but that we’ve got a crop next year as well.”

Water is not the only potential threat to Texas citrus. In January 2012, HLB — citrus greening disease — was discovered in a couple of trees in a single Rio Grande Valley grove. Coordinated spraying for the Asian citrus psyllid that carries the disease — a practice that has helped Florida citrus growers battle the pest to a temporary draw — has since kept it at bay. There have been no new incidents reported since the original finding — remarkable given the fact that, unchecked, HLB can destroy a grove in two years.

The U.S. government recently shuttered two facilities — one on each side of the border — that for years served as early detection centers for pests ranging from Mexican fruit flies to HLB-carrying psyllids. Now Texas relies on the Texas A&M University Kingsville Citrus Center as a first line of defense against invading pests.

“These things are great hitchhikers,” said Ray Prewett, head of Texas Citrus Mutual, which works closely with the center. “We worry about an infection coming in from Mexico, Louisiana, Florida.”

“Early detection is very important. If a threat comes here, we need to detect it before it can become established,” said Madhu Kunta, head of the center’s plant pathology department. “We try to test as many samples as possible, both the vectors and the plants.”

While traps have caught multiple HLB-carrying psyllids across the Rio Grande Valley, the only known infected trees were found in January 2012 near San Juan, TX. A five-mile quarantine radius was immediately established and growers say the fact that there have been no further outbreaks is encouraging.

“The fact that we are inspecting more than ever and have not had another occurrence in a year and a half should be a testament to the programs that we have in place. I am very grateful for the professionals within the Texas A&M University system and our industry in general who are out there daily monitoring and educating the public. Their results are speaking for themselves,” Bishop said. “That’s not to say we’re in the clear by any means, but the fact that they have been able to fend it off and combat it like they have is a true testament to their hard work and expertise.”

The Texas citrus industry is solid enough that it has seen an influx of new partnerships from outside the state over the past three seasons. Longtime Lone Star State growers like Healds Valley and Rio Queen have been parlayed into Delano, CA-based Paramount Citrus. Other companies like International Citrus and Produce in Burlingame, CA, are also in the Texas citrus game, purveying Valencia and Marrs oranges and that famous Texas red grapefruit.

“As long as Texas maintains our business-friendly climate, investors will continue to seek opportunity here and refuge from the destructive tax and regulatory policies of other states, like California,” state Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples told The Produce News. “As this reality affects Texas agriculture, as we’ve seen in our citrus industry, we must ensure transparency in the market continues to be the standard. We must be prepared to both welcome the advantages of today’s global economy, while also protecting our domestic growers.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines

US (CA): Predator wasp used to fight disease threat

US (CA): Predator wasp used to fight disease threat

Pesticides haven’t worked. Quarantines have been useless. Now California citrus farmers have hired an assassin to knock off the intruder threatening their orchards. The killer-for-hire is Tamarixia radiata, a tiny parasitic wasp imported from Pakistan.

Its mission: Rub out the Asian citrus psyllid, which has helped spread a disease that turns citrus fruit lumpy and bitter before destroying the trees. The wasp, which flew coach in a carry-on bag from Pakistan’s Punjab region, is a parasite half the size of a chocolate sprinkle. But it kills psyllids like a horror movie monster, drinking their blood like a vampire. The female wasp can lay an egg in the psyllid’s belly. When it hatches, it devours its host.

The US Department of Agriculture has enacted quarantines in nine states, including Florida, Texas and California. The quarantines prohibit interstate movement of citrus trees and require labeling of citrus nursery stocks from areas where greening has been detected.

In California, the quarantine covers nine counties. The northern border of the quarantine region had stretched across Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, but on Wednesday, agriculture officials expanded it to 178 square miles in Tulare County where the psyllid was detected.

That recent discovery raises the fear that the pest is creeping into prime citrus growing areas. It could threaten California’s $ 2-billion industry, which accounts for about 80% of the US fresh market citrus production. Florida’s citrus is primarily processed for juice.

Source: latimes.com

Publication date: 8/6/2013


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DC Wage Bill Passes Despite Wal-Mart Threat

WASHINGTON — City Council here on Wednesday voted to pass a bill that would require large retailers to pay a higher minimum wage – a day after Wal-Mart Stores said it would back out of at least three planned stores in the city if the bill passed.

“Like any business, we have a responsibility to our customers, employees and shareholders to reevaluate our options when it looks as if local rules may significantly change. The [Large Retailer Accountability Act] would clearly inject unforeseen costs into the equation that would create an uneven playing field and challenge the fiscal health of our planned D.C. stores,” Alex Barron, a regional manager for Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Ark., said in an editorial published in the Washington Post earlier this week.

The legislation would require retailers operating stores of more than 75,000 square feet and recording more than $ 1 billion in annual sales to pay a minimum wage of $ 12.50 an hour. The current minimum hourly wage in Washington is $ 8.25.

Barron said Wal-Mart would not pursue stores planned in Skyland, Capitol Gateway or New York Avenue as previously announced.

“What’s more, passage would also jeopardize the three stores already under construction, as we would thoroughly review the financial and legal implications of the bill on those projects,” Barron said.

The measure passed by a vote of 8-to-5 – one fewer vote than required to override a potential veto, reports said. Wal-Mart has urged mayor Vincent Gray – a supporter of Wal-Mart’s plans to build stores in the district – to veto the bill if passed.

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