Your browser does not support JavaScript! January 2017 ⋆ The BioExpert

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Whole Food Closing Prepared Meals Kitchens. Is it Due to Food Safety?

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Whole Foods is closing three regional kitchen facilities in Everett Massachusetts, Landover Maryland and Atlanta that made prepared foods sold in its stores, and will instead rely on oWholeFoods-picutside suppliers.
There is conflicting information about the reason of the closings and if it is related to the June 8, 2016 letter from the FDA that claimed: “The inspection found serious violations of the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations for manufacturing, packing, or holding human food ”in the Everett plant.

The FDA Letter

The FDA found over 20 different violations in the Everett plant and in the letter asserted that “These violations cause the food products manufactured at your facility to be adulterated within the meaning of section 402(a)(4) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) [21 United States Code (U.S.C.) § 342(a)(4)] in that they were prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have been contaminated with filth or rendered injurious to health. .. The serious cGMP violations noted during the inspection were outlined on a Form FDA-483, Inspectional Observations”.
The FDA laboratory analysis confirmed the presence of non-pathogenic Listeria welshimeri in a swab. The FDA claimed that the presence of Listeria spp., such as the non-pathogenic Listeria welshimeri, detected on a food contact surface, could be an indicator for the probable presence of Listeria monocytogenes in the processing environment.
The FDA did not order the closing of these facilities, despite the many found violations.

Facility closings

The Boston Globe wrote that Whole Foods Market said it had closed the Everett kitchen facility where it created ready-to-eat dishes for more than 70 of the chain’s markets in the Northeast, and instead it had outsourced the food preparation to a network of suppliers.
The company said the closings were not related to health inspections in Everett last year that revealed evidence of Listeria bacteria at the plant as well as other serious health violations. “It was a business decision,” spokeswoman Heather McCready said Tuesday. “It’s based on a movement toward streamlining operations for prepared foods…As part of our ongoing plan to streamline operations, we have decided to leverage the expertise of our supplier network to create some of the high-quality prepared foods sold in our stores,”
The closing of the facilities comes almost a year after the FDA discovered a long list of “serious violations” at the Massachusetts facility during a February 2016 visit.
The three closing of kitchens were the last remaining ones that the brand operated. The closing of the kitchens means that the grocery is officially out of food preparation business. As a result this operation will now be entirely done by outside vendors.
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A Food Recall’s Ripple Effect: What We’ve Learned from Valley Milk Products

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The Valley Milk Products recall resulted in a subsequent ripple effect of recalls affecting over 30 companies. As this food safety event has played out over the last several months, it hWaterdropFotolia_9972077_Mas also raised several questions on how the industry should react and handle these types of chain-reaction-like recalls. The full article can be found on the Food online site.

The Ripple Effect

As reported i n details (1, 2, 3 ) The primary recall of Valley Milk Products (VMP) resulted in a ripple effect to a secondary group of companies that used VMP. 
The Ripple Effect Turns Tertiary As described in the Food online article we are currently observing several tertiary effects — companies that used products of the secondary group of products or products that were manufactured by a third party on lines where VMP were processed — of the VMP recall.

Important Facts

No Salmonella was reported to be recovered from VMP or the recalled products. None of the companies that recalled their products due to VMP had experienced any problems or got complaints about the recalled products, and no illnesses have been reported caused by these products.

Questions Raised by the Recalls

First, “Why did VMP refuse to recall products immediately after Salmonella was found in its processing environment?”  Many problems could have been avoided if they did.
Second, “Why did it take several months for the FDA to recall the products and stop their sale?” If the products are dangerous to the public, they should have been removed from commerce immediately after the discovery of the contamination, not several months later. The recalled products were in commerce for several months before the recall with no single report of illness due to the consumption of the products. Therefore, one should pose the questions, “Were the products contaminated in the first place?” and “Were all parties being overcautious?”
Third, a number of laboratories tested the related products and did not recover any pathogens. If the products were contaminated, “Why did so many labs fail to detect pathogens?”
Fourth, “Is there a better way to handle the chain reaction of this type of recall; where trace quantities of a potentially contaminated product get embedded in so many other products?” In the age of the Internet, it shouldn’t take months to complete a recall.
Finally, the most important question: Has the pendulum swung too far by the FDA demanding companies recall products that might be perfectly safe? If we accept GMA’s survey results demonstrating the financial impact of a recall is on average up to $30M, the cost of all the recalls due to VMP has been coming close to $1 billion. All these recalls took place without a single reported illness and without finding of Salmonella in any product.
While the infective dose of Salmonella varies with serotype, for non-typhoidal salmonellosis, the infectious dose is approximately 103 bacilli. Therefore, is it justified to recall so much good product for an infinitesimal chance it contains Salmonella?
Did FDA and the companies involved use too much caution?  How could the situation be handled better? Your opinion is important to us.
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Infection by a Rare Type of E. coli Across Canada

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The Announcement

E. coliThe Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) reported that there have been 12 cases of a rare strain of E. coli O121.  The illness onset dates range from November to December 2016, and include 9 males and 4 females, age of 9-79 years old.
The recovered E. coli with a matching genetic fingerprint reported in three provinces: British Columbia (4), Saskatchewan (4), and Newfoundland and Labrador (4). Four individuals have been hospitalized. These individuals have recovered or are recovering. The investigation into the source of the outbreak of the relatively rare E. coli O121 contamination is ongoing.
PHAC said that two of the most common ways to come in contact with E. coli are by improperly handling raw ground meat and by eating ground meat that is undercooked. Other common sources of E. coli incidents may also be contaminated raw fruits and vegetables, untreated water, unpasteurized milk and raw milk products and unpasteurized apple juice or cider.

Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC)

Most illnesses caused by Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) have been attributed to E. coli serotype O157:H7, but non-O157 STEC infections are now increasingly recognized as public health problems worldwide.
Six Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC) serogroups, which include O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145, are responsible for the majority of non–O157 STEC infections in the United States, representing  growing public health concern.  The O121:H19 serotype is being isolated more frequently from clinical specimens and has been implicated in one waterborne outbreak.  It was among the top three most commonly reported non-O157 serovars to the National Enteric Surveillance Program in 2014.
Molecular characterization showed that the O121:H19 clone did not fall into any of the four classical EHEC and enteropathogenic E. coli groups but instead was closely related to two eae-negative STEC strains.
The number of non-O157 STEC isolates sent to CDC for serotyping has increased each year. The CDC estimates approximately 113,000 illnesses and 300 hospitalizations are caused by these six STEC serogroups annually in the United States, including severe complications such as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Infections associated with these six E. coli serogroups have been traced back to contaminated raw ground beef, lettuce and berries.

Other Contamination Due to STEC O121

Last summer the CDC reported a multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli in flour.  The associate strains were STEC O121 and O66. 63 people were infected in 24 states.  17 of the ill people were hospitalized, and one developed uremic syndrome.Epidemiologic, laboratory and trace back evidence indicated that the infection was caused by General Mills flour.
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Growth Hormone use in Livestock: Is It Safe?

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By: Toni Allardyce-Harris HACCP and Quality Assurance Specialist – Farm-fork Calgary Alberta
Hormone-in-livestockGrowth promoters have been a controversial topic in production and the consumer understanding of the use in animals have raised food safety questions. To be simple it benefits producers and the consumer by increasing lean tissue growth in animals (specifically beef cattle) thus increasing weight gain in a shorter period of time – reducing feed costs and end cost to the consumer.
But is it safe? The following has been quoted from the Health Canada web site :   “Hormonal growth promoters occur naturally in animals. It is possible to raise beef cattle without the use of synthetic HGPs, however, the cost of production would increase, making beef more expensive for consumers.
 
There are six hormonal growth promoters approved in Canada for use in beef cattle: three natural – progesterone, testosterone and estradiol-17ß; and three synthetic – trenbolone acetate (TBA), zeranol and melengestrol acetate (MGA). Hormonal growth promoters are not approved for use in any species other than beef cattle.”
 cattle
The capsule is administered in the base of the ear – providing a slow release of hormone over a short time – eventually dispersing the levels to zero.  These initial levels are very low and in comparison to naturally occurring hormones in other foods such as broccoli – it is very insignificant.
Implants are not permitted for use in veal calves and on slaughter there is strict inspection regulations stated for examination of live animals prior to slaughter for presence of implants. DES (synthetic stilbene derivative diethylstilbestrol) an anabolic steroid has been prohibited for use in animals in Canada since 1974.
If any implant is found in any region on the animal other than the ear the animal is condemned for human food use. Producers come under strict scrutiny if one veal animal has been detected to have an implant; all subsequent animals are inspected and samples from slaughtered carcasses are taken for testing. On farm inspections are also then followed.
So is on-farm food safety important? In the Verified Beef program – records are strictly maintained for administration of implants, vaccinations, tagging (mandatory CCIA RFID tags for traceability); sick animals administered antibiotics are also recorded. Feed records and sources of the feed as well as any medicated or feed additives used are maintained.   Basically an on farm HACCP-like plan.
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The Fall Continue due to Valley Milk Products

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Five months after the U.S. Marshals Service raided a powdered milk factory at the request of FDA, many companies are drawn into the Salmonella recall linked to milk powder and buttermilk produced by Valley Milk Products (VMP). The US Marshalls seized more than 4 million pounds of dried milk and buttermilk, due to possible Salmonella contamination, and down-stream food companies are still initiating recalls.

Twinkies by Hostess

TwinkesThis week the iconic snack Twinkies joined dozens of other food companies as a victim of a secondary recall because of Salmonella contamination at VMP. In the recall notice the company recited: “The confectionary coating contains milk powder ingredients recalled by Valley Milk Products LLC due to a concern of Salmonella contamination. No illnesses have been reported to date, and none of the confectionary coating sampled has tested positive for Salmonella. However, Hostess is initiating this voluntary recall out of an abundance of caution”

More Recalls

A diverse group of additional products are being recalled due to the Valley Milk Products. Those companies used VMP, in most cases in small quantities in their seasoning.  In no case was illness reported, and Salmonella was not recovered from any of the products. Some of the recent recalls include:

Palmer Candy Company 

palmer-candyPalmer, a privately-held, fifth-generation, almost 150-year-old company manufacturing chocolate and holiday confections, announced a limited recall of chocolate products after being informed by VMP that a milk powder ingredient used in a compound chocolate coating that they supplied to Palmer had the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.    The recall is the result of a potentially contaminated milk powder ingredient recalled by VMP, a derivative of which was included as a small portion of the ingredients by another company in a confectionary coating supplied to Palmer.   The products were shipped by Palmer Candy Company to grocery and convenience stores and wholesale customers nationwide. Two Publix-branded products, almond bark and peppermint bark and the Wal-Mart brand “The Bakery” variety bowl are among the products included in this recall.  

Herr Foods Inc. 

Dieffenbach'sThe company recalled Smoked Chipotle flavored Kettle Cooked Potato Chips under the Herr’s Brand and Smoke Dried Chipotle flavored Kettle Cooked Potato Chips under the Peddler’s Pantry Brand. These products were flavored with Chipotle seasoning that contained a milk ingredient manufactured by VMP.

Dawn Food Products R&H

Dawn Food Products voluntarily recalled limited quantities of bakery mix products manufactured for Dawn by a third party and affected by a recall from VMP. In abundance of caution the company recalled affected items distributed by Dawn Foods, including items which could become available at retail locations.   

House-Autry Mills, Inc 

houseAutryThe company voluntarily recalled limited quantities of House- Autry Buttermilk Cornbread Mix, House-Autry Buttermilk Biscuit Mix, and House-Autry Cheese Biscuit Mix as a precaution because one of the company’s third-party ingredient suppliers, Franklin Farms, had purchased milk powder from VMP.   According to Franklin Farms, testing has proved that no pathogenic bacteria have been found in the powdered milk product supplied to House-Autry Mills, and in addition, when consumers follow the preparation instructions, there is no risk since the heat step will kills potential Salmonella. However, out of an abundance of caution the company has decided to recall products produced from the specific lot received from that ingredient supplier.  

Dieffenbach’s Potato Chips, Inc  

Dieffenbach'sThe company issued a recall of Sour Cream & Onion Kettle Chips. This decision was made after being informed by a seasoning supplier that an ingredient in the seasoning may have contained traces of Salmonella.   Although tests have shown no existence of Salmonella in the seasoning supplied to Dieffenbach’s, out of abundance of caution they voluntarily recalled these products in conjunction with FDA guidance. To date, there have been no reported illnesses associated with this product.  

Route 11 Potato Chips 

Route11chipsOn December 19th, Route 11 Potato Chips was advised by its seasoning supplier that an ingredient in its Sour Cream & Chive seasoning was subject to a recall. Since the nonfat dry milk powder, was produced by VMP.   Although no pathogenic material was found in the finished product supplied to Route 11, the kettle chip maker decided out of an abundance of caution to recall its Sour Cream & Chive Potato Chips, 2oz and 6 oz bags.  

Bickel’s Snack Foods, Inc. 

Bickel’s Snack Foods, Inc. recalled all snack products Bickel'sthat were made with milk ingredients supplied by VMP. Bickel’s Snack Foods initiated a recall of products made with milk powders or sour cream. No lab tests have confirmed the presence of Salmonella in these products and no illnesses have been reported.  

Southeastern Mills, Inc.

The company recalled Southeastern Mills® Biscuit Gravy Mix, Southeastern Mills® Country Biscuit Mix, Southeastern Mills® Buttermilk Drop Biscuit Mix, Southeastern Mills® Easy Drop Cheddar Garlic Drop Biscuit Mix, Shore Lunch® Original Breading and Shore Lunch® Cajun Style Breading since these ingredients and food mixes contain milk or buttermilk powder purchased from VMP.  

Mikesell’s Potato Chip Company 

Mikesell'sMikesell’s Potato Chip Company recalled 2.25 oz. Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips. The recalled Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips were distributed in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois. The products contain VMP ingredients.  

Tupperware U.S., Inc. 

TupperwareThe company recalled limited quantities of Southwest Chipotle Seasoning, since the product was manufactured for Tupperware by a third party blender of seasonings.  This recall is being carried out after the FDA found traces of Salmonella at the facility where buttermilk powder, one ingredient in the seasoning mix, was manufactured.      

The Questions Remain

How many more companies are going to go through this recall process due to Valley Milk Products? The raid was in August. If the products are dangerous to the public they should have been removed from commerce a long time ago.   With no single reported illness, and no Salmonella found in any of the recalled products, are we using too much caution?   Is there a better way to handle the chain reaction of this type of recall, were trace quantities of a potentially contaminated product get embedded in so many other products? At the age of the Internet it should not take months to finish the recall.