The 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series will discuss COVID-19 Lessons Learned and Worker Safety | The Event runs September 3 through December 17 | Register NowA poultry processing plant operated by Foster Farms must shut down per the Merced County Department of Public Health (California) as a result of a large COVID-19 outbreak that has resulted in the death of eight employees. At least 358 workers at the facility located in Livingston, California have tested positive for COVID-19 (an outbreak was officially declared on June 29). Several buildings make up the Livingston facility, which employs about 2600 workers.
“In view of increasing deaths and uncontrolled COVID-19 cases, the decision was made to order the Livingston Plant within the Foster Farms Livingston Complex closed until acceptable safety measures are in place,” said Dr. Salvador Sandoval, Merced County’s Public Health Officer. In addition, the Los Angeles Times reports that officials are concerned the outbreak could be worse than reported because universal worker testing has not been completed.
The plant will reportedly close until September 7. During the closure, the facility will be deep cleaned and employees will engage in a new round of testing. Merced County states that an employee cannot return to work until he or she receives two negative COVID-19 test results within seven days.
Yesterday the CDC reported that the E.coli outbreak linked to romaine lettucegrown in the Salinas, CA growing region is over. The contaminated lettuce should no longer be available, and FDA states that consumers do not need to avoid romaine lettuce from Salinas. The agency will continue its investigation into the potential factors and sources that led to the outbreak.
The FDA did identify a common grower link to the E.coli O157:H7 contamination as a result of its traceback investigation. However, a statement released yesterday by FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas points out that “this grower does not explain all of the illnesses seen in these outbreaks.”
To be specific, the FDA, CDC and other public health agencies were tracking three outbreaks involving three separate strains of E.coli O157:H7 linked to romaine lettuce. During the course of the investigation FDA, CDC, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Department of Public Health conducted sampling of the water, soil and compost of several of the fields in the lower Salinas Valley that were connected to the outbreak. “So far, sample results have come back negative for all of the three outbreak strains of E. coli O157:H7. However, we did find a strain of E. coli that is unrelated to any illnesses in a soil sample taken near a run-off point in a buffer zone between a field where product was harvested and where cattle are known to occasionally graze,” Yiannas said in the agency statement. “This could be an important clue that will be further examined as our investigation continues. However, this clue does not explain the illnesses seen in these outbreaks.”
Finding the contamination source(s) is critical, as it will aid romaine growers in putting safeguards in place to help prevent future contamination.
As for the final case count (with last illness onset on December 21, 2019) of this outbreak, there were 167 total illnesses and 85 hospitalizations across the United States. No deaths were reported.
Yesterday FDA issued an update on the E.coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to romaine lettuce grown in California. The agency’s traceback investigation continues, and it is working with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), as there is a similar outbreak in Canada.
FDA stated that the contaminated lettuce likely originates from the Central Coast growing regions of northern and Central California (Counties of Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Ventura).
“Traceback information from four restaurants in three different states so far has implicated 10 different distributors, 12 different growers, and 11 different farms as potential sources of rthe contaminated lettuce. The information indicates that the outbreak cannot be explained by a single farm, grower, harvester, or distributor.”
The fast-approaching August 30th deadline for California’s Proposition 65 has food manufacturers of all sizes working to make sure affected labels comply with the new labeling requirements. According to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), Proposition 65:
“…requires businesses to provide warnings to Californians about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. These chemicals can be in the products that Californians purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment. By requiring that this information be provided, Proposition 65 enables Californians to make informed decisions about their exposures to these chemicals.”
Proposition 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, is intended to help better equip Californians to make informed decisions about the products they purchase. The OEHHA is responsible for determining which chemicals meet the legal and scientific requirements for inclusion on the Proposition 65 list, a list which has grown to more than 900 chemicals since it was originally published in 1987.
The new law will be enforced by the California Attorney General’s Office as well as any district attorney or city attorney for cities whose population exceeds 750,000. Individuals acting in the public’s interest may also seek to enforce Proposition 65 by filing a lawsuit against companies alleged to be in violation. Companies that are found to be in violation may be fined as high as $2,500 per violation per day.
To ensure compliance with the new law, food manufacturers must reference the list of included chemicals to determine which of their products, if any, are impacted. Manufacturers must then provide “clear and reasonable warnings” that chemicals used in the production of their goods or products sold in California are known to cause cancer, birth defects and/or other reproductive harm. The ruling impacts goods sold in California as well as those sold via catalog or the internet.
Proposition 65 underscores the importance of an agile labeling environment for food manufacturers, particularly as it relates to their ability to adjust labels prior to compliance deadlines. It also implores manufacturers to look to automation to reduce the room for human error. For example, labeling software can be leveraged to create a table look up so if an impacted ingredient is included in a product and printed on a label, the required warning statement is also automatically included on the label.
Leveraging a database connection to apply such warnings can help businesses mitigate risk, as failing to include a required warning could result in fines, business disruption and lost revenue. It is also important to note that compliance with Proposition 65 will require food manufacturers to stay up to date on changes, as new chemicals may be added and/or revisions to law may continue to occur. Food retailers must also stay abreast of labeling changes required by Proposition 65 to ensure the products they sell are in compliance. Learn more about Proposition 65 at the OEHHA’s official website: https://www.p65warnings.ca.gov.
Last week California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that bans the use of antibiotics in meat production. The legislation, SB-27 Livestock: use of antimicrobial drugs, prohibits the administration of antibiotics in livestock unless ordered by a licensed veterinarian via a prescription or veterinary feed directive. As such, the law bans using drugs to promote weight gain or improve feed efficiency.
Several organizations, including the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), are applauding the legislation. On the NRDC’s blog, senior attorney with the organization’s health program, Avinash Kar, praised the passage of the final bill. “We’ve fought for many years to get the FDA to take genuine action on this issue, but the FDA has basically given the issue lip service and failed to take meaningful action,” wrote Kar.
The legislation, also the most stringent nationwide, goes into effect January 1, 2018. It requires that the Department of Food and Agriculture, in collaboration with the Veterinary Medical Board, the State Department of Health, and other organizations put together antimicrobial stewardship guidelines and best management practices on how to properly use “medically important antimicrobial drugs. The departments would also be required to collect data on the use and sales of these drugs, along with data related to antibiotic resistant bacteria, and livestock management practice data.
Violation in the bill’s provisions will result in a civil penalty of up to $250 for each day the violation occurs, as well as up to $500 in administrative fines for each day the violation occurs.
The use of antibiotics in meat and poultry has been highly controversial for years, as it has been blamed for an increase in antibiotic-resistant infections. In addition, resistant bacteria can be transmitted to humans through the consumption of food. Antibiotic resistance and food safety has been a high priority by the CDC, which estimates that Salmonella and Campylobacter, cause nearly 410,000 antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States annually.
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