Tag Archives: CDC

Department of Justice seal

Blue Bell Hit with Record $17.25 Million in Criminal Penalties for 2015 Listeria Outbreak

By Maria Fontanazza
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Department of Justice seal

Remember the 2015 Listeria outbreak linked to Blue Bell Creameries? The outbreak led to three deaths and 10 illnesses between January 2010 and January 2015. On Thursday the Department of Justice ordered the company to pay $17.25 million in criminal penalties for shipping contaminated products linked to that outbreak. The sentence, enforced by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman (Austin, Texas), is the largest fine and forfeiture ever imposed in a conviction involving a food safety case.

“American consumers must be able to trust that the foods they purchase are safe to eat,” stated – Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark, Justice Department’s Civil Division in an agency news release. “The sentence imposed today sends a clear message to food manufacturers that the Department of Justice will take appropriate actions when contaminated food products endanger consumers.”

In May 2020 Blue Bell pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated ice cream. The following is an excerpt from the Department of Justice news release:

“The plea agreement and criminal information filed against Blue Bell allege that the company distributed ice cream products that were manufactured under insanitary conditions and contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, in violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. According to the plea agreement, Texas state officials notified Blue Bell in February 2015 that samples of two ice cream products from the company’s Brenham, Texas factory tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes, a dangerous pathogen that can lead to serious illness or death in vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. Blue Bell directed its delivery route drivers to remove remaining stock of the two products from store shelves, but the company did not recall the products or issue any formal communication to inform customers about the potential Listeria contamination. Two weeks after receiving notification of the first positive Listeria tests, Texas state officials informed Blue Bell that additional state-led testing confirmed Listeria in a third product. Blue Bell again chose not to issue any formal notification to customers regarding the positive tests. Blue Bell’s customers included military installations.”

OSHA

OSHA Fines Smithfield Foods, JBS for Failing to Protect Workers from COVID-19

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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OSHA

Last week OSHA cited Smithfield Packaged Meats in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for failing to protect its workers from COVID-19 exposure. The federal agency issued a fine of $13,494 and cited a violation of failing to provide a violation-free environment following an inspection. More than 1200 workers for Smithfield Foods have contracted COVID-19 and four have died since April. The company, which produces 5% of the nation’s pork, has been under investigation since the early spring for its workplace conditions and the large coronavirus outbreak among employees. It has continued to defend itself against “misinformation”, with President and CEO Kenneth Sullivan going as far as submitting a letter to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker at the end of June. Smithfield has 15 business days to pay the fine or contest the citation—and the company will reportedly contest the fine, as a company spokesperson called it “wholly without merit”.

During the September 17 Episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, experts will discuss COVID-19, worker safety and managing quality in the new normal | Register NowOSHA also slapped meat packer JBS with a proposed fine of $15,615, also for a “violation of the general duty clause for failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm”. Nearly 300 workers have reportedly contracted COVID-19, and seven employees died. JBS also has 15 days to comply with or contest the fine, which a company spokesperson said is “entirely without merit” and that OSHA was trying to enforce a standard not even in existence in March.

“Contrary to the allegations in the citation, the Greeley facility is in full compliance with all recommended guidance and hazard abatements. The facility has been audited and reviewed by multiple health professionals and government experts, including the CDC, local and state health departments, third-party epidemiologists, and the Department of Labor, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, who twice visited the plant during the citation period, and issued favorable reports on April 20 and May 8,” according to a statement by a JBS spokesperson. “The Greeley facility has only had 14 confirmed positives in the past three and half months, representing 0.4% of our Greeley workforce, despite an ongoing community outbreak. The facility has not had a positive case in nearly seven weeks, despite more than 1,730 positives in the county and more than 33,300 positive cases in the state during the same time period.”

Meanwhile Kim Cordova, president of the union that represents JBS workers, stated that the company penalty is simply a drop in the bucket and not severe enough. “A $15,000 ‘penalty’ from OSHA is nothing to a large company like JBS. In fact, it only incentivizes the company to continue endangering its employees. The government has officially failed our members, the more than 3,000 workers at JBS Greeley, who have protected the food supply chain while our communities quarantined during the pandemic. It is immoral and unethical, but in the current Administration, unfortunately not illegal, that OSHA waited seven months to investigate the unsafe working conditions that led to this deadly outbreak. Because of this failure, JBS Greeley is the site of the most meat processing plant worker deaths in the nation due to Covid-19.”

FDA

FDA on COVID-19 Food Safety Checklist: This is Not a Regulatory Requirement or Enforcement Tool

By Maria Fontanazza
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FDA

In mid-August, FDA and OSHA released a checklist to help food companies that were going through operational changes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the “Employee Health and Food Safety Checklist for Human and Animal Food Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic” document reviews employee health and social distancing (how to deal with employee exposure and testing, the arrangement of work environments, especially considering work breaks and close operations), and food safety and HACCP plans—including suppliers and incoming ingredients—cGMPs, and other operational alterations due to COVID-19.

Today FDA held an “FDA COVID-19 Update for Food Operations Stakeholders” in collaboration with CDC and OSHA to further discuss the checklist, which targets owners, operators or agents in charge of a food operation. The purpose is to help the user assess operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly operations that have restarted after a facility shutdown. Following the initial remarks, it was clear the FDA wanted to emphasize that the food safety checklist is intended to serve as a resource document, not a new guidance document or a new regulation. What was originally envisioned to be a one- to two-page checklist became a 16-page checklist that should be used in conjunction with additional information provided by FDA, CDC and OSHA, said Jenny Scott, senior advisor, office of food safety at CFSAN.

Scott reviewed the outline of the checklist, touching on employee health practices to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 (from basic handwashing practices to deadline with sick and exposed workers), employee testing and potential changes related to personnel requirements (i.e., if you are putting new people into new roles, you must consider whether more training is required), and the cGMP requirements. Among the key questions related to sanitation that Scott advised one must ask include: Are necessary cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting supplies available? Are changes needed for cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting procedures for certain areas or the frequency of conducting the procedures? Do the changes result in the need for updating instructions or training workers?

As the understanding of COVID-19 and how it spreads is evolving, Scott stressed that industry should frequently check FDA, CDC and OSHA websites for updates.

(Noteworthy link from CDC: Testing Strategy for Coronavirus (COVID‐19) in High‐Density Critical Infrastructure Workplaces after a COVID‐19 Case is Identified)

Update on FDA Inspections

Michael Rogers, assistant commissioner for human and animal food operations, ORA, FDA also stressed the fact that the food safety checklist is not a new regulatory requirement, commenting that there has been “some anxiety associated” with this misperception. “This is simply an educational tool,” Rogers said. “We recognize that every firm is different, and the checklist should be information to consider…This is not an enforcement tool.” He added that the FDA’s approach during inspections will be collaborative and that the agency will not be holding firms to the specifics of the checklist. During the pandemic, the agency has been conducting mission critical inspections. FDA has also started domestic inspections in certain areas and will be preannouncing inspections as it moves forward, and it continues to assess the situation abroad to determine when foreign inspections can resume.

Wawona Bagged Peaches, ALDI

Bagged Peaches from ALDI Recalled Following Salmonella Outbreak

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Wawona Bagged Peaches, ALDI
Wawona Bagged Peaches, ALDI

As a precautionary measure, ALDI is voluntarily recalling assorted peaches received from its supplier, Wawona Packing Company, due to possible Salmonella contamination.

–UPDATE AUGUST 31, 2020 — Prima Wawona has recalled bagged, bulk and loose peaches that were distributed nationwide to retailers that include ALDI, Food Lion, Hannaford, Kroger, Target, Walmart and Wegmans. As of August 28, the CDC reported the outbreak of Salmonella infections reached 78 cases across 12 states.

In addition, the recall of Prima Wawona peaches has extended to Canada, Singapore and New Zealand. FDA states that the products may have been shipped to Australia, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatamala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates.

–END UPDATE–

Do not eat, sell or serve Wawona-brand bagged peaches from ALDI stores, says the FDA. ALDI issued a voluntary recall of two-pound clear plastic bags of peaches from Wawona Packing Company, LLC following a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis that has been linked to the product. The peaches were sold in ALDI stores from June 1 until present, and as of August 19, the CDC reported 68 cases of Salmonella infections across nine states, with 14 hospitalizations. No deaths have been reported

“FDA’s traceback investigation is ongoing to identify the source of this outbreak and to determine if potentially contaminated product has been shipped to additional retailers,” the agency stated in an investigation update.

FDA

More Cases of Cyclospora Reported from Bagged Salads, Pathogen Found in Irrigation Canal

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Learn more about food safety supply chain management & traceability during the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference SeriesThe FDA and CDC have been investigating a multistate outbreak of Cyclospora involving bagged salads from Fresh Express since June. Although the products were recalled and should no longer be available in retail locations, the CDC continues to report more cases. As of August 12, 2020, the CDC counted 690 people with laboratory-confirmed Cyclospora infections throughout 13 states. Thirty-seven people have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.

As the FDA conducted its traceback investigation to find the source of the outbreak linked to the Fresh Express products, the agency was able to identify several farms. It analyzed water samples from two public access points along a regional water management canal (C-23) west of Port St. Lucie, Florida. Using the FDA’s validated testing method, the samples tested positive for Cyclospora cayetanensis. However, it is important to note that the Cyclospora found might not be a direct match to the pathogen found in the clinical cases.

According to FDA: “Given the emerging nature of genetic typing methodologies for this parasite, the FDA has been unable to determine if the Cyclospora detected in the canal is a genetic match to the clinical cases, therefore, there is currently not enough evidence to conclusively determine the cause of this outbreak. Nevertheless, the current state of the investigation helps advance what we know about Cyclospora and offers important clues to inform future preventive measures.”

The agency’s traceback investigation is complete, but the cause or source of the outbreak has not been determined. The investigation also revealed that carrots are no longer of interest at as part of the outbreak, but red cabbage and iceberg lettuce are still being investigated. FDA is also working with Florida and the area’s local water district to learn more about the source of Cyclospora in the canal.

Recall

More than 500 Reported Ill, Red Onions Named in Salmonella Outbreak Investigation

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Recall

–UPDATE: August 10, 2020 —

Last week USDA’s FSIS issued a public health alert concerning ready-to-eat meat and poultry products that contain the onions recalled by Thomson International, Inc. (see below news brief). The products have been distributed by retail establishments that include Walmart, Kroger, HEB and Amana Meat Shop & Smokehouse. The USDA has made available the full list of products subject to the public health alert.

–END UPDATE–

A multistate outbreak of Salmonella Newport has been traced back to red onions from Thomson International, Inc. a company based in Bakersfield, CA. As of July 31, 396 illnesses were reported in the United States, with 59 hospitalized across 34 states. In Canada, 120 cases have been confirmed, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

As a result, Thomson International is recalling all varieties of its onions (red, white, yellow and sweet) that “could have come in contact with potentially contaminated red onions”, according to an FDA alert.

The FDA, CDC, state and local agencies, as well as the Public Health Agency of Canada are investigating the outbreak. FDA recommends that consumers, restaurants and retailers refrain from eating, selling or serving any onions from Thomson International. The agency also states that any surfaces, containers or storage areas that may have come into contact with these products be cleaned and sanitized.

FST Soapbox

FDA Announces Inspections Will Resume…Sort Of

By Trish Wester
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FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, M.D. recently announced that food safety inspections will resume in July, but inspectors will be given leeway to accommodate the coronavirus pandemic. Inspections will be prearranged by appointments. The agency suspended routine inspections in late March as a result of the pandemic response, which closed down much of the country.

USDA/FSIS has continued to provide inspection services for eggs, meat and poultry throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, with a significant number of establishments involved in outbreak clusters and periodic shutdowns.

The “White House Guidelines for Opening Up America Again” calls for the FDA to send out investigators for on-site inspections by the week of July 20, using the COVID-19 Advisory Rating system, which utilizes state and national data about infection rates to determine the regions where enforcement can resume.

In a July 10 FDA statement Hahn noted, “resuming prioritized domestic inspections will depend on the data about the virus’ trajectory in a given state and locality, and the rules and guidelines that are put in place by state and local governments.”

One of the most significant modifications for domestic inspections in the announcement is that they will be pre-announced to FDA-regulated businesses. “This will help assure the safety of the investigator and the firm’s employees, providing the safest possible environment to accomplish our regulatory activities, while also ensuring the appropriate staff is on-site to assist FDA staff with inspection activities,” Hahn said. Previously, most inspections were unannounced.

It’s not entirely clear how FDA will use the White House guidelines to determine where they can schedule inspections. There is mention of a prioritization mechanism that will identify high-risk operations, but that has traditionally been part of FDA’s approach to inspections.

The CDC published phased guidelines for states to follow in reopening, which are referred to in the announcement. The guidelines document outlines the gating criteria for states, but published versions do not mention inspection requirements. Many states began reopening without meeting all of the gateway criteria for Phase 1, and continued to accelerate reopening activities in a way that makes it unclear which phase criteria they may have actually met when compared to the phase under which they claim to be operating.

Further complicating the safety issue is the recent rising number of COVID-19 cases that is causing some states to pause or rollback reopening activities. Since publishing the announcement, several states have emerged as new COVID-19 hot spots, including Texas, Arizona and Florida; In addition, Florida has surpassed New York in total cases. California, another food producing state heavily affected by the pandemic, is seeing a significant increase in cases and is considering issuing new shelter-in-place orders. It was recently reported that CDC has identified 21 states as “Red Zones”, with at least 11 states on the verge of surging cases.

In other words, with the virus on the rise, there may not be a significant number of inspections actually performed, regardless of whether or not inspections have technically resumed, simply because there just isn’t a safe way to send inspectors out.

The FDA has also published the “New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint”, which includes ways the agency could use technology to support compliance activities. There may be an opportunity for the FDA to implement new tools such as remote verification in lieu of onsite inspections, but that remains to be seen. Among such tools, remote audit pilots were recently completed and those results will be available for public presentation at the end of August.

In the short term, should FDA determine you are an inspection candidate, you will contacted in advance to schedule a day and time.

Food Safety Consortium

2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series Agenda Announced

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

The agenda for the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series has been released. The announcement about the annual Food Safety Consortium being converted to a virtual series due to the COVID-19 pandemic was made last month. Due to a demand to provide attendees with even more content, the event has been extended a full month and is running into December. Food Safety Tech is the media sponsor.

The event will begin every Thursday at 12 pm ET, beginning on September 3 and continue through December 17. Each week will feature three educational presentations, two Tech Talks, and a panel discussion. Weekly episodes include food defense, food labs, pest management, sanitation, food fraud, listeria detection, mitigation & control, professional development, women in food safety, supply chain management, COVID-19’s impact and food safety culture.

Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response, will serve as the keynote speaker on Thursday, October 1 at 12 pm ET.

“Human connection is so important for events, and we know we’re not the only game in town. That’s why we’ve invested in a Conference Virtual Platform that can facilitate discussions, discovery, and connection that can continue whether our event is offline or online—and not end with the live streaming,” says Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing and director of the Food Safety Consortium. “Simply, the experience other food safety conferences are offering is not conducive to learning, staying engaged or take into consideration that you have a job to do during that week. This is why we have designed the Consortium’s program with short, manageable episodes that are highly educational.”

Registration for the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series is open. Keeping in mind that registrants may not be able to attend every week due to scheduling conflicts, there is an option to watch the each session on demand.

Tech Talk Sponsorship

Companies that are interested in sponsoring a 10-minute technical presentation during the series can also submit their abstract through the portal. For pricing information, contact IPC Sales Director RJ Palermo.

Innovative Publishing has also converted the Cannabis Quality Conference to a virtual event. More information is available at Cannabis Industry Journal.

About Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech publishes news, technology, trends, regulations, and expert opinions on food safety, food quality, food business and food sustainability. We also offer educational, career advancement and networking opportunities to the global food industry. This information exchange is facilitated through ePublishing, digital and live events.

About the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo (The live event)

Food companies are concerned about protecting their customers, their brands and their own company’s financial bottom line. The term “Food Protection” requires a company-wide culture that incorporates food safety, food integrity and food defense into the company’s Food Protection strategy.

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 conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Delegates visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting-edge solutions, explore three high-level educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the evolving food industry.

Alex Kinne, Thermo Fisher Scientific
In the Food Lab

Ensuring Food Safety in Meat Processing Through Foreign Object Detection

By Alex Kinne
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Alex Kinne, Thermo Fisher Scientific

The USDA estimates that foodborne illnesses cost more than $15.6 billion each year. However, biological contamination isn’t the only risk to the safety and quality of food. Food safety can also be compromised by foreign objects at virtually any stage in the production process, from contaminants in raw materials to metal shavings from the wear of equipment on the line, and even from human error. While the risk of foreign object contamination may seem easy to avoid, in 2019 alone the USDA reported 34 food recalls, impacting 17 million pounds of food due to ‘extraneous material’ which can include metal, plastic and even glass.

When FSMA went into effect, the focus shifted to preventing food safety problems, necessitating that food processors implement preventive controls to shift the focus from recovery and quarantine to proactive risk mitigation. Food producers developed Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans focused on identifying potential areas of risk and placement of appropriate inspection equipment at these key locations within the processing line.

Metal detection is the most common detection technology used to find ferrous, non-ferrous, and stainless steel foreign objects in food. In order to increase levels of food safety and better protect brand reputation, food processors need detection technologies that can find increasingly smaller metal foreign objects. Leading retailers are echoing that need and more often stipulate specific detection performance in their codes of practice, which processors must meet in order to sell them product.

As food processors face increased consumer demand and continued price-per-unit pressures, they must meet the challenges of greater throughput demands while concurrently driving out waste to ensure maximum operational efficiencies.

Challenges Inherent in Meat Metal Detection

While some food products are easier to inspect, such as dry, inert products like pasta or grains, metal foreign object detection in meat is particularly challenging. This is due to the high moisture and salt content common in ready-to-eat, frozen and processed, often spicy, meat products that have high “product effect.” Bloody whole muscle cuts can also create high product effect.

The conductive properties of meat can mimic a foreign object and cause metal detectors to incorrectly signal the presence of a physical contaminant even when it is nonexistent. Food metal detectors must be intelligent enough to ignore these signals and recognize them as product effect to avoid false rejection. Otherwise, they can signal metal when it is not present, thus rejecting good product and thereby increasing costs through scrap or re-work.

Equipping for Success

When evaluating metal detection technologies, food processors should request a product test, which allows the processor to see how various options perform for their application. The gold standard is for the food processor to send in samples of their product and provide information about the processing environment so that the companies under consideration can as closely as possible simulate the manufacturing environment. These tests are typically provided at no charge, but care should be taken upfront to fully understand the comprehensiveness of the testing methodologies and reporting.

Among the options to explore are new technologies such as multiscan metal detection, which enables meat processors to achieve a new level of food safety and quality. This technology utilizes five user-adjustable frequencies at once, essentially doing the work of five metal detectors back-to-back in the production line and yielding the highest probability of detecting metal foreign objects in food. When running, multiscan technology allows inspectors to view all the selected frequencies in real time and pull up a report of the last 20 rejects to see what caused them, allowing them to quickly make appropriate adjustments to the production line.

Such innovations are designed for ease of use and to meet even the most rigorous retailer codes of practice. Brands, their retail and wholesale customers, and consumers all benefit from carefully considered, application-specific, food safety inspection.

Ensuring Safety

The food processing industry is necessarily highly regulated. Implementing the right food safety program needs to be a top priority to ensure consumer safety and brand protection. Innovative new approaches address these safety concerns for regulatory requirements and at the same time are designed to support increased productivity and operational efficiency.