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.”
Following an expanded recall issued this week, JBS Tolleson, Inc. has now recalled about 12,093,271 pounds of non-intact raw beef products over concerns that they may be contaminated with Salmonella Newport. The initial recall of nearly 7 million raw beef products occurred just two months ago. The Class I recall announced today involves an additional 5,156,076 pounds of raw beef products that were produced and packed between July 26 and September 7, 2018, according to USDA’s FSIS . The recalled products have the establishment number “EST. 267” inside the USDA mark of inspection.
According to the CDC, there are currently 246 reported Salmonella Newport illnesses across 25 states, with 59 hospitalizations. No deaths have been reported. FSIS and CDC have been working with case patients who have provided receipts or shopper card numbers to conduct traceback investigations. The agencies are urging consumers to check their freezers for any recalled product.
FDA has issued a release stating that the E. coli outbreak is likely linked to romaine lettuce grown in California during the fall timeframe. The agency’s traceback investigation is in progress, and it is looking at shipping records and invoices in order to trace the romaine lettuce supply from places in which ill people have been exposed to where the product was grown. Thus far this information has been connected to romaine lettuce harvested in the Central Coast growing regions located in northern and central California. Locations outside of California have not been linked to this particular outbreak, and thus the FDA is not recommending that consumers or retailers avoid romaine lettuce that has been grown outside of these California regions. The agency has not found evidence of any outbreaks linked to romaine that was grown hydroponically or in a greenhouse.
“During this new stage of the investigation, it is vital that consumers and retailers have an easy way to identify romaine lettuce by both harvest date and harvest location. Labeling with this information on each bag of romaine or signage in stores where labels are not an option would easily differentiate for consumers romaine from unaffected growing regions.” – FDA
As a result, FDA stated that romaine lettuce entering the market will be labeled with a harvest location and date to help consumers distinguish unaffected growing regions.
Just when we thought the E.coli O157:H7 outbreak involving romaine lettuce was over: Today CDC issued a Food Safety Alert informing consumers not to eat ANY romaine lettuce. Retailers and restaurants shouldn’t serve any either.
“Thirty-two people infected with the outbreak strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 have been reported from 11 states.
Illnesses started on dates ranging from October 8, 2018 to October 31, 2018.
Thirteen people were hospitalized, including one person who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.” – CDC
The agency is urging against the consumption of romaine lettuce because they haven’t been able to identify a common grower, supplier, distributor or brand.
Could we be in for another widespread outbreak? Just last week during a panel discussion at the Food Safety Consortium, the FDA and CDC said that when the last outbreak occurred they knew it would get bad really quickly.
This year’s multistate outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 infections linked to romaine lettuce affected 210 people, killing five. Although the outbreak was officially declared over by the end of June, questions still remain as to the exact source. Given the widespread nature of the outbreak and the speed with which illnesses occurred, there are many lessons to be learned from the case.
During last week’s annual Food Safety Consortium, industry stakeholders from the FDA, CDC and produce associations gathered to discuss agency action upon learning of the outbreak and where there is room for improvement.
The investigation began in April 2018 when the New Jersey Department of Health contacted the CDC about a cluster of E.coli O157:H7 illnesses from people who said they ate salads at various locations of the same restaurant chain. Three days later, the agency was able to confirm eight O157 isolates from six states with the same patterns using PulseNet. And five days after that, the CDC posted a notice on its website about the investigation of 17 cases across seven states.
“We knew right away that this was going to get bad and that it would get bad quickly,” said Matthew Wise, deputy branch chief for outbreak response at the Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch of the CDC. “We saw illnesses ramp up quickly.” He added that the agency saw a lot of illness subclusters, all with romaine lettuce as the common ingredient.
The epidemiological evidence clearly indicated chopped romaine lettuce, and it appeared that all the affected romaine was coming from the Yuma, Arizona growing region, noted Stic Harris, director of the Coordinated Outbreak Response & Evaluation Network at FDA. But then things got even more confusing, as an Alaskan correctional facility was also investigating a cluster of cases. This allowed the agency to trace the source directly back to Harrison Farms as the sole supplier to the correctional facility. However, as the multi-agency investigation continued, they uncovered that the source was not just one farm. “There were three dozen farms in the Yuma region that supplied romaine lettuce,” said Harris, adding that we may never know which exact farm, and even if it was one farm, that was the source of the outbreak.
During June, July and August, the FDA sent a multidisciplinary team of 16-18 people to conduct an environmental assessment of the affected area. Upon taking 111 samples, they found 13 different Shiga toxin-producing E. coli strains, but only three matched the strain of the outbreak. Water from 14 locations, including discharge, reservoir and canal water, was also tested. The environmental assessment found pervasive contamination in the water. But here was the big problem, said Harris: “There was no smoking gun. We don’t know how the E.coli got into the water, and we don’t know how the water got onto the lettuce.” He added that additional research is needed, and that government and non-government work must continue to identify the source.
There are several challenges associated with the complexity of this type of produce outbreak, said Harris and Wise:
The production lot information disappears at the point of service
Having a commingled product hinders traceback
Records present a challenge because agencies try to look at each company and their individual records, and every company has their own way of doing things—this takes time
The breadth of the impacted area—trying to do an environmental assessment for that area was staggering work
People who eat lettuce eat it often
Many people don’t remember what type of lettuce they ate
The product has a short shelf life
Communication: The packaging isn’t transparent on where it’s grown
Scott Horsfall, CEO, California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement, chimed in on the challenges posed by the complexity of the outbreak. “If you compare these numbers with the 2016 spinach outbreak…they’re very similar [in the] total number of illnesses [and] number of states involved. But in [the spinach outbreak], it led to a specific farm. What we saw this time was very different.”
When it comes to food safety compliance, learning lessons the hard way is never a good practice. Violations, non-compliance and documentation mishaps put a major damper on your business. From delays in production to the dreaded recall, these mistakes can cost thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Don’t learn these lessons the hard way. See our Case Studies and learn how companies are avoiding these costly mistakes with TraceGains.
One of the large successes in dealing with the outbreak is that the agencies issued public warnings quickly, said Wise. The produce industry also came together to form the Leafy Greens Food Safety Task Force. In addition, FDA is expanding its sampling for the coming harvests, according to Harris. “I think that in terms of the speed of the environmental assessment, we need to be quicker with that. We apparently hadn’t done one in quite a long time at FDA,” he said.
Harris and Wise also stressed that for industry to work more effectively together, they need to work with the FDA and CDC before there is an outbreak.
“This outbreak was a frustrating experience for all of us,” said Horsfall. “We have to communicate more and better when we can. And as an industry, stop these outbreaks from happening.”
Just in time for Thanksgiving, consumers are worrying about whether the turkey they are buying for the holiday is contaminated with Salmonella. A multistate outbreak of drug-resistant Salmonella linked to raw turkey products has been going on for months, but now USDA is facing increasing pressure to name any associated turkey brands. According to the CDC, “a single, common supplier of raw turkey products or of live turkeys has not been identified.”
As of the agency’s last update (November 5), 164 people across 35 states have been infected with the outbreak stream of Salmonella Reading. 63 people have been hospitalized, and one death has been reported. Three people reported living in households where raw turkey pet food was given to pets.
Thus far the CDC isn’t advising retailers to stop sell raw turkey. It is stresses that consumers should follow the basic food safety steps to prevent Salmonella infections, including proper handwashing, cooking the turkey to the proper temperature (including reheating the meat), keeping food prep areas clean, proper thawing of turkey in the refrigerator and avoiding feeding pets raw food.
CDC states that if the information becomes available, it will provide notification related to the supplier(s) related to the outbreak.
Last month Chipotle Mexican Grill closed a location in Powell, Ohio after nearly 650 reported illnesses were tied to the location. The outbreak was caused by Clostridium perfringens, a type of bacteria that thrives at room temperature—in other words, food at this particular Chipotle location may have been kept at unsafe temperatures.
Yesterday FDA provided an update on the multistate outbreak of Cyclospora infections “likely” linked to people who consumed salads from McDonald’s. The outbreak spans across 15 states and has infected 476 people, 21 of whom have been hospitalized. According to FDA’s latest release, the agency is reviewing distribution and supplier information for romaine lettuce and carrots.
Last month, USDA’s FSIS issued a public health alert on beef, pork and poultry salads and wraps, distributed by Caito Foods, LLC, that were potentially contaminated with Cyclospora. Fresh Express, Caito Foods’ supplier, had notified the company that the products with romaine lettuce were being recalled. However, no products related to this particular outbreak have been recalled, according to FDA. In addition, McDonald’s has reportedly ceased using the Fresh Express salad mix at restaurants impacted by the outbreak.
FDA stated that it currently does not have evidence suggesting that this Cyclospora outbreak is connected to the Cyclospora outbreak linked to Del Monte vegetable trays.
The latest report from CDC puts the laboratory-confirmed case count of cyclosporiasis in people who reportedly consumed contaminated Del Monte trays at 237. The infections are in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Seven people have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.
More than one month ago, Del Monte recalled 6- ,12-, and 28-ounce vegetable trayscontaining broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and dill dip. The products were sold to Kwik Trip, Kwik Star, Demond’s, Sentry, Potash, Meehan’s, Country Market, FoodMax Supermarket and Peapod. According to an FDA update, Del Monte is also recalling 28-ounce veggie trays that were distributed to Illinois and Indiana.
FDA, CDC and other federal agencies continue to investigate the multistate outbreak. They are advising that the vegetable trays are neither sold nor consumed.
Today FDA issued an alert after becoming aware that some retailers are still selling Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal, which was recalled in June following a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Mbandaka infections linked to the product. No deaths have been reported, but 100 people in 33 states have become ill, with 30 hospitalizations, according to the CDC.
“Retailers cannot legally offer the cereal for sale and consumers should not purchase Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal,” FDA stated in its update about the agency’s outbreak investigation.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s been hard to miss the food safety-related headlines of the past month: E. coli in romaine lettuce, Salmonella-tainted eggs, norovirus-infected oysters sickening hundreds, and hepatitis A crises across several states, to name just a few. Since 1993 when an E. coli outbreak linked to ground beef at a fast food chain resulted in the deaths of several children, food safety has been on the radar of most major foodservice groups. Yet, surprisingly, food safety often doesn’t have its own crisis management plan within organizations.
At the 2018 Food Safety Consortium, don’t miss the Plenary Panel Discussion: Crisis Management: Don’t let that crisis sink your business!A Single Food Safety Crisis Can Ripple Across Your Operation
A food safety crisis can have tremendous impacts on an organization, leading to lost sales, negative media and social media publicity, unsavory online reviews, temporary restaurant closure, lost wages for your staff, increased scrutiny on other locations, lawsuits and more.
In a 2016 survey of more than 500 consumers, it was revealed that food safety incidents stick with consumers—and that can impact your reputation and your bottom line for much longer than you may realize.
Of the respondents, 62.5% said they were aware of a food safety incident at a restaurant in the last six months.
A foodborne illness outbreak isolated to a single location of a chain restaurant would prevent many of the survey respondents from dining at other locations in the chain; 34.1% of respondents said that if they knew about an outbreak at a single location, they’d avoid eating at other restaurants in the chain for more than six months. Worse, 17% said they’d never eat at the chain again.
If a foodborne illness outbreak is linked to multiple locations of a restaurant, consumers get even tougher. A whopping 37.5% would avoid eating at the entire chain for more than six months. There’s more disturbing news: 31.7% of the respondents said they’d never eat at that chain again.
Food safety incidents don’t have to be large scale to be significant and get into the consumer eye. They happen every day, in small scale, for many foodservice operations. Think about how the following incidents could impact food safety in your organization:
A power outage knocks out refrigeration for a single location for 12 hours
A boil water advisory is issued for a large city
A fire extinguisher is discharged in a kitchen to put out a small fire
A hurricane brings widespread flooding to a metropolitan area
A child whose parent asks about peanut allergies is served a food containing peanuts
A child becomes ill in a restaurant and vomits
A kitchen employee is diagnosed with hepatitis A and continues to work without disclosing the illness
A location is closed by the health department for a pest infestation
Several locations were supplied with a food item involved in a major recall for contamination
Each of these incidents is related to food safety. Would your employees, from the top down, know what actions to take in each specific situation? Most senior or executive-level C-suite personnel might know what to do, but that type of training often never makes it down to the operator level. When an incident does happen, it leaves location level management and employees scrambling to figure out what to do; often, the steps they take are incorrect, and can even exacerbate the situation.
What’s Trending in Food Safety Incidents
Over the last 24 months, we’ve helped many major brands in resolving crisis situations. The top five types of crisis incidents we’ve assisted with include:
– Potential Hepatitis A exposure
– Potential Norovirus outbreaks/exposure
– Health department closure
– Power outages
– Boil water advisory
Just as organizations prepare for other crises—fire drills, food shortages, staffing problems, active shooters—having crisis plans for food safety incidents can help an organization’s players know what to do when a food safety incident occurs. This goes beyond risk mitigation to actually knowing what steps to take when specific types of crisis happen. Proper planning for crisis management includes:
Identifying the most likely crisis situations and developing a plan of action for each of them.
Identifying who all the key players are going to be in the management of the crises, from C-suite to public relations to individual location responsibilities, and communicating that to all team members
Outlining all the steps to be taken in a crisis
Building familiarity with a defined plan for operators of an individual location
Presenting an opportunity to practice the plan before a crisis occurs (training)
Crisis management doesn’t end with the crisis; following any crisis, key stakeholders should review the crisis management plan for that incident to determine if updates or changes are needed
What to Look for in a Crisis Management Partner
Crisis management isn’t something to go alone if you don’t have internal expertise on your team. Crisis management goes beyond public relations—it should include training and step-by-step processes for each specific type of crisis. So what should you look for in a food safety crisis management partner?
A partner who has food safety knowledge and practical experience in dealing with crisis
A partner who has familiarity with the different types of crises you outline as critical for your organization
A partner who engages team members and can help you conduct training from the top down
Crisis management should be part of every organization’s plan already, but if it’s not, there are some key reasons to act now. A number of current events are having a substantial impact on the foodservice community, increasing the need for food safety crisis management plans.
Hepatitis A outbreaks. States including California, Michigan, Kentucky and Indiana have had a significant increase in the number of hepatitis A cases reported. While this problem doesn’t start in the foodservice community, it does impact it—because as communities see higher cases, the chances of a food handler coming into contact with an ill person and contracting hepatitis A increase. Hepatitis A can be easily spread through food, so it’s critical that foodservice operations have a crisis management plan to deal with exposure incidents.
Norovirus. Norovirus-related outbreaks and foodservice operation closures—and the media exposure that goes along with them—have been on the rise for the last several years. Norovirus can create problems for operations in a number of ways, from employees working while sick, to customers getting sick in the establishment, to foods being contaminated with norovirus. Knowing how to respond to norovirus incidents is critically important, as norovirus outbreaks can lead to location closures, costly disinfection costs, unwanted publicity, lawsuits, and more.
Increasing turnover. With unemployment rates at record lows, foodservice operations are facing an employment crisis, unable to hire enough workers. This can increase the opportunity for food safety incidents as routine tasks and processes may be “short cut” during an employment shortage.
Delivery. The skyrocketing demand for delivery has led chains to quickly put together delivery plans. Crisis management should be addressed as part of any delivery plan, as there are any number of variables which could lead to potential incidents in delivery.
Don’t wait until a food safety incident occurs to figure out your crisis management plan. Start work today to ensure that when a food safety crisis occurs, your team and your brand can weather the storm.
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