–UPDATE March 9, 2021 — Today the FDA confirmed that the recalled cheeses were also distributed to Rhode Island. “States with confirmed distribution now include: AL, CT, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NJ, NY, NE, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, VA, and WI.”
–UPDATE February 24, 2021 — FDA has expanded its warning related to El Abuelito Cheese to include all cheese branded by the company “until more information is known”.
A multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes has been linked to Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses produced by El Abuelito Cheese, Inc. As a result, the company has recalled all Questo Fresco products with sell by dates through March 28 (032821).
Join Food Safety Tech on April 15 for the complimentary Food Safety Hazards Series: Listeria Detection, Mitigation, Control & Regulation“As the FDA stated, about this outbreak investigation, the Connecticut Department of Public Health collected product samples of El Abuelito-brand Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses from a store where a sick person bought cheeses. Sample analysis showed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in samples of El Abuelito Queso Fresco sold in 10 oz packages, marked as Lot A027 with an expiration date of 02/26/2021,” the company stated in an announcement posted on FDA’s website. “Samples are currently undergoing Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) analysis to determine if the Listeria monocytogenes found in these samples is a match to the outbreak strain. At this time, there is not enough evidence to determine if this outbreak is linked to El Abuelito Queso Fresco.”.
The recalled products were distributed to Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Thus far seven people, all of whom have been hospitalized, have fallen ill.
FDA recommends that consumers, restaurants and retailers do not consume, sell or serve any of the recalled cheeses. The agency also states that anyone who purchased of received the recalled products use “extra vigilance in cleaning and sanitizing any surfaces and containers that may have come in contact with these products to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.”
Following a report released nearly two weeks ago about the potential danger posed by toxic heavy metals found in baby foods manufactured by several major companies, FDA has issued a response. The report, “Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury”, was released by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy on February 4. The Subcommittee stated that FDA should require baby food manufacturers to test their finished products for toxic heavy metals and require any toxic heavy metals be reported on food labeling. It also stated that FDA should set maximum levels of toxic heavy metals allowed in baby foods.
“The FDA has been actively working on this issue using a risk-based approach to prioritize and target the agency’s efforts. Consumers should know that FDA scientists routinely monitor levels of toxic elements in baby foods, along with other foods consumed in the country’s diet, through the Total Diet Study,” the agency stated in a CFSAN update. “Further, the FDA also monitors baby food under the FDA’s compliance program for Toxic Elements in Food and Foodware, and Radionuclides in Food and through targeted sampling assignments.”
FDA cited its work in sampling infant rice cereal for arsenic, which it says has resulted in safer products on the market, along with its recent court order to stop a U.S. company from distributing adulterated juice that had potentially harmful levels of inorganic arsenic and patulin (a mycotoxin).
The CFSAN update, however, did not specifically address the companies or baby foods called out in the Subcommittee’s report.
Why do we need traceability solutions for the supply chain?
Brett Gray: Supply chains changed from a linear model to more like ecosystems. Raw materials and ingredients are traveling from multiple sources multiple times, and you are no longer relying on a single supplier, but, rather, on a large number of suppliers and an entire new network of people, who enable you to accomplish the objectives for your business. These new ecosystems have made things more complex, and forced companies to change their business models, forming multiple relationships, thus storing data in multiple locations. As a result, consumer trust has shifted from known brands to products. With multiple sourcing of raw materials or ingredients by [previously] trusted producers, consumers want to know, how these ingredients were grown, transported and stored. Consumers are looking now at the labels, rather than logos. While consumers are asking for proofs of origin, quality, social responsibility and sustainability, brands are struggling to share about all efforts and investments made into specific products, as well as create engaging for this or that group of consumers touch points.
So, how is this technology – blockchain – appeared to be best suitable to fulfill the current market requirements for the proof of products origins for the end consumer?
Gray: Blockchain is a decentralized (no single ownership), distributed ledger-like digital structure that allows a community to record, share and maintain information. The documents are like IDs we know: A passport or a driving license, except these are for products. These documents are protected by encryption from being modified and irreversibly time stamped. Each document in the blockchain is connected to the previously produced one and the one produced after, so it forms a chain of blocked documents. Blockchain technology acts as a perfect trust generator for different types of businesses. The authenticity of data in it renders trust among stakeholders previously unknown to each other.
DNV GL started developing its My Story blockchain based solution about a decade ago, when this technology was not well known. Now it enables companies to prove that their “marketing buzzwords” are, in fact, true, verified statements. For companies seriously investing in sustainable processes and value chains, it enables sharing about these efforts directly with the end consumer, setting such companies apart from less serious, greenwashing players.
About Brett Gray
As the Digital Transformation Manager at DNV, I oversee all digital projects, strategy, and solution for the entire region of North America, with the intention of bringing technology stacks and other emerging technologies like blockchain, AR/VR, artificial intelligence and big data analytics to change the way we interact with and provide services to our customers.
Phase one of the pilot looked at using machine learning to find violative seafood shipments. “The pilot program will help the agency not only gain valuable experience with new powerful AI-enabled technology but also add to the tools used to determine compliance with regulatory requirements and speed up detection of public health threats,” FDA stated in a news release. “Following completion of the pilot, FDA will communicate on our findings to promote transparency and facilitate dialogue on how new and emerging technologies can be harnessed to solve complex public health challenges.”
Last week U.S. Congressman and chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis James E. Clyburn (D-SC) launched an investigation into OSHA, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and JBS USA over the nationwide coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants that have led to the deaths of at least 270 employees. Nearly 54,000 workers at 569 U.S. meatpacking plants have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Subcommittee and media reports.
“Public reports indicate that under the Trump Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failed to adequately carry out its responsibility for enforcing worker safety laws at meatpacking plants across the country, resulting in preventable infections and deaths. It is imperative that the previous Administration’s shortcomings are swiftly identified and rectified to save lives in the months before coronavirus vaccinations are available for all Americans,” the letter to James Frederick, deputy assistant secretary of labor for OSHA stated. “The Select Subcommittee strongly encourages you to take all necessary steps, including under President Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety1and your other existing statutory authorities, to protect workers from the risks of the coronavirus by issuing clear guidance to employers, enacting an emergency temporary standard, and enhancing enforcement efforts.”
“Public reports indicate that meatpacking companies … have refused to take basic precautions to protect their workers, many of whom earn extremely low wages and lack adequate paid leave, and have shown a callous disregard for workers’ health,” Clyburn stated in the letter. “These actions appear to have resulted in thousands of meatpacking workers getting infected with the virus and hundreds dying. Outbreaks at meatpacking plants have also spread to surrounding communities, killing many more Americans.”
The Subcommittee has asked OSHA and each company for documentation related to the COVID infections and deaths, as well as their enforcement of worker protections under the Trump administration.
Last week a report released by Congress cited dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals in several brands of baby food. Back in November 2019, the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy asked for internal documents and test results from baby food manufacturers Nurture, Inc. (Happy Family Organics), Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Hain Celestial Group, Inc., Gerber, Campbell Soup Company, Walmart, Inc., and Sprout Foods. According to the staff report, Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain and Gerber responded to the requests, while Walmart, Campbell and Sprout Organic Foods did not.
The findings indicate that significant levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury were found in the baby foods of the four manufacturers who responded to the Subcommittee’s requests (Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain and Gerber). It also stated the alarming point that, “Internal company standards permit dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals, and documents revealed that the manufacturers have often sold foods that exceeded those levels.”
The Subcommittee voiced “grave concerns” that the baby food made by Walmart, Sprout Organic Foods and Campbell was “obscuring the presence of even higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products than their competitors’ products” due to their lack of cooperation.
In addition, the report states that the Trump administration “ignored a secret industry presentation to federal regulators revealing increased risks of toxic heavy metals in baby foods” in August 2019.
“To this day, baby foods containing toxic heavy metals bear no label or warning to parents. Manufacturers are free to test only ingredients, or, for the vast majority of baby foods, to conduct no testing at all,” the report stated (infant rice cereal is the only baby food held to a stringent standard regarding the presence of inorganic arsenic).
As a result of the findings, the Subcommittee has made several recommendations:
FDA should require baby food manufacturers to test their finished products for toxic heavy metals.
FDA should require manufacturers to report toxic heavy metals on food labels.
Manufacturers should find substitutes for ingredients that are high in toxic heavy metals or phase out the ingredients that are high in toxic heavy metals.
FDA should set maximum levels of toxic heavy metals allowed in baby foods.
Parents should avoid baby foods that contain ingredients that test high in toxic heavy metals.
Today the FDA announced a new plan to collect samples of romaine lettuce as part of its ongoing surveillance after the spring 2018 multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7. The samples, which will be tested for Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and Salmonella, will be collected from commercial coolers in Yuma County, Arizona during the current harvest season.
FDA plans to collect and test about 500 samples (each of which will consist of 10 subsamples), beginning in February and continuing through the end of the harvest season. In order to reduce the time between sample collection and reporting results, an independent lab close to the collection sites in Arizona will be testing the samples. FDA expects to receive test results within 24 hours.
“Helping to ensure the safety of leafy greens continues to be a priority of the FDA. This assignment adds to other work underway in collaboration with stakeholders in the Yuma agricultural region to implement actions identified in the Leafy Greens Action Plan, including a multi-year study to assess the environmental factors that impact the presence of foodborne pathogens in this region. Consistent with the action plan, the agency will engage with industry on conducting root cause analyses for any positive samples found during this assignment. Root cause analyses are important in that they seek to identify potential sources and routes of contamination, inform what preventive measures are needed, and help prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness,” FDA stated in a release.
COVID-19 precautions will be taken during the sampling plan. Agency investigators will preannounce visits and wear PPE while conducting the work.
Over the past 9 years, the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo has built a reputation for delivering perspectives and insights from the most knowledgeable and influential experts in food safety. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s event was converted from an in-person event into a 14-week series of virtual themed-episodes during the fall. Continuing the momentum from 2020, the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series will take place as a four-week Spring and five-week Fall program. Both the Spring and Fall programs will feature critical thinking topics that are for industry veterans and knowledgeable newcomers.
“As you know, the online experience is very different than in-person, so last year we deconstructed our in-person program and re-engineered it for virtual. Instead of having a virtual conference for three straight days, we set up our program in short 2.5-hour themed episodes that ran every Thursday in the fall. We received great feedback from attendees, speakers and sponsors. I think we were one of the few conferences that successfully pulled off the pivot to virtual,” says Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing and director of the Food Safety Consortium.
Building on the strong success of the 2020 Food Safety Virtual Conference Series, the 2021 Consortium will be presented into two seasonal programs. “This will allow us to continue the conversation throughout the year, while also taking into consideration the busy lives of food safety professionals,” Biros adds.
Food Safety Tech is the media sponsor and will feature exclusive content from the event.
The Spring Program will run every Thursday in May, with each episode starting at 12 pm ET. The weekly episodes will tackle a range of critical topics in foods safety, including FSMA and traceability, food protection strategies, COVID-19’s lasting impact on the food industry by segment, audits and supply chain management. Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response, is the confirmed keynote speaker for Thursday, May 6.
The Fall Program will run every Thursday beginning on October 7 at 12 pm ET through November 4. Episode topics include food safety hazards (emerging threats and new technologies), food defense strategies, an FDA update, and personal development, training and mentorship.
Companies that are interested in sponsoring a 10-minute technical presentation during the series can contact Sales Director RJ Palermo for more details.
About Food Safety Tech
Food Safety Tech is a digital media community for food industry professionals interested in food safety and quality. We inform, educate and connect food manufacturers and processors, retail & food service, food laboratories, growers, suppliers and vendors, and regulatory agencies with original, in-depth features and reports, curated industry news and user-contributed content, and live and virtual events that offer knowledge, perspectives, strategies and resources to facilitate an environment that fosters safer food for consumers.
Since 2012, Food Safety Tech audiences have learned to respect and expect our high-quality content—via FoodSafetyTech.com, our weekly newsletter and by attending our educational programs. Food Safety Tech keeps professionals current with the latest information about technology, best practices and regulations, and how innovative solutions and approaches can be leveraged to further advance food safety across the globe.
About the Food Safety Consortium Conference
The Food Safety Consortium is an educational and networking event for Food Protection that has food safety, food integrity and food defense as the foundation of the educational content of the program. With a unique focus on science, technology and compliance, the “Consortium” enables attendees to engage in sessions that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Over the past 9 years the Food Safety Consortium has built a reputation for delivering the most knowledgeable and influential perspectives in food safety. The speaker line-up has driven key food safety decision-makers to the event (both in-person and virtually)—facilitating an environment for vendors, suppliers, food industry professionals, and consultants to network and build long-lasting business relationships.
Due to COVID-19, the 2020 Food Safety Consortium was converted to a virtual conference series that featured specific topics in a weekly episode series. The 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series will feature a Spring and Fall program, running in May and October, respectively.
FDA has completed its investigation of the multistate outbreak of E. coli 0151:H7 that occurred last fall and was linked to leafy greens. The FDA and CDC found the outbreak was caused by an E. coli strain that was genetically related to the strain found in the fall 2019 outbreak involving romaine lettuce (Salinas, California). Despite conducting environmental sampling at dozens of ranches in the area, the FDA was unable to identify a single site as the source of the outbreak. However, the analysis did confirm “a positive match to the outbreak strain in a sample of cattle feces,” which was located uphill from where the leafy greens identified in the agency’s traceback investigation were grown, according to an FDA release.
Although the FDA’s investigation has ended, the agency will be reviewing the findings and release a report in the “near future” with recommendations. “In the meantime, as recommended in our Leafy Greens Action Plan, the FDA continues to recommend growers assess and mitigate risk associated with adjacent and nearby land use practices, particularly as it relates to the presence of livestock, which are a persistent reservoir of E. coli O157:H7 and other STEC,” FDA stated in the update.
Food fraud has been estimated to cost our industry over $50 billion per year. Performing a comprehensive fraud vulnerability assessment is now a key requirement of all GFSI standards. Do you know which of your ingredients are the most susceptible to intentional adulteration?
Hazard Question #3 – Which food commodity category has had the most fraud incident reports over the past 20 years?
Hint: If you have access to HorizonScan it takes less than 10 seconds to select a commodity, click the fraud filter and be viewing up to 20 years of food fraud reports. HorizonScan is widely recognized by GFSI auditors as an excellent foundation for performing thorough and compliant vulnerability assessments.
With COVID 19 causing global disruptions to supply chains our key food ingredients are more vulnerable than ever to unscrupulous adulteration and substitution. HorizonScan can help you stay on top of the latest issues and enable you to anticipate them before it’s too late. To request updated pricing information or a free demo, just reply now to this email and we’ll get back to you shortly with answers to all your questions.
The HorizonScan Team at FoodChain ID
Answer to last week’s Quiz – Which country of origin has been cited by global inspection agencies the most times in the past year for adulteration/contamination issues in pepper?
Historically, India has been cited the most times for issues in pepper but in the past year it has been surpassed by Brazil, with 56 new incident reports being added to HorizonScan. The bar chart below shows the top five offenders over the past 12 months.
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