As of December 17, seven infections were reported, with four hospitalizations and one death across five states. The hard-boiled eggs were sold both in bulk pails to food processors, restaurants and retailers, as well as directly to consumers at the retail level, and have “Best If Used By Dates” through March 2, 2020.
FDA used whole genome sequencing to find a genetic match in the outbreak strain from samples collected at Almark’s facility during agency inspections in February and December of this year.
In the latest FDA update about the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak involving romaine lettuce, the agency has stated that consumers should not eat romaine lettuce that has been harvested from Salinas, California. Traceback investigations related to three different E. coli outbreaks (three different strains, all of which involve romaine lettuce) have pointed to a common grower located in Salinas. Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response, called the identification of a common grower a “notable development” but also stated in a press announcement, “Because of the expansive nature of these outbreaks, our investigation remains a complicated work in progress, and it is too soon to draw definitive conclusions.”
FDA, CDC and California partners have sent out a team to conduct new investigations at ranches used by the grower as part of the process in finding the contamination source, according to an FDA update.
Thus far, 102 illnesses have been reported across 23 states, with 58 hospitalizations. No deaths have been reported. The last illness onset was reported on November 18.
Thus far Swedesboro, NJ-based Missa Bay, LLC has recalled more than 75,000 pounds of salad products because of a lettuce ingredient that might be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. This lettuce was also found to be in packaged salad that the Maryland Department of Health said contained E. coli.
FDA states that thus far lettuce grown indoors has not been indicated in the outbreak.
Yesterday Arkansas-based Simmons Prepared Foods, Inc. initiated a Class I recall of 2,071,397 pounds of poultry products over concern of foreign matter contamination. The products, which were produced between October 21 and November 4, were shipped to Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.
Thus far there have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions related to product consumption.
During the past year, the headlines have been filled with stories of foodborne illness, product recalls, and consumers becoming sick from tainted food. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Sean O’Leary, CEO at FoodLogiQ, talks food safety, traceability, and how small percentages can translate into big victories for the food industry and for the people they serve.
Food Safety Tech: From your perspective, what is the current sentiment of consumers with regard to food safety?
Sean O’Leary: Over the last few years, the consumer mindset has changed about food in general. We’ve watched fad diets come and go; however, the interest in healthy ingredients and the concern about where food comes from has graduated from a passing trend to a full shift into the public consciousness. Consumers are much more discerning about what they eat; they also demand to know where their food comes from, how it was produced, and how it got to their table. We are living in the age of transparency, and consumer expectations are high.
And who can blame them? CDC statistics tell us that approximately 48 million people get sick every year from foodborne illnesses—and that’s just in the United States; 128,000 of them end up in the hospital. When a person is admitted to the hospital, it affects more than just that one individual. If the patient is the sole breadwinner of their family, their illness affects the entire family. If the person who gets sick is a child, there can be long-term consequences that trickle down to his or her whole community. And when you consider that 3,000 people die every year from foodborne illness—that’s one 9/11 every year. That’s unacceptable, because this is a preventable issue, and unfortunately, these illnesses are an underreported public health problem.
My challenge to the food industry is simple: What if we made just a 1% improvement in the number of cases of foodborne illness? That seems like such a small percentage, but when you do that math, that’s 480,000 people who don’t get sick this year; 1,280 people who aren’t admitted to the hospital; and 30 people who don’t die. Those are significant numbers.
FST: To help shed additional light on this subject, FoodLogiQ conducted a national survey to tap into how U.S. consumers feel about issues related to food transparency. What did you learn from those consumer responses?
O’Leary: We polled more than 2,000 people to gauge their sentiment around food traceability and their expectations for food companies regarding foodborne illness and product recalls. The survey also posed questions around consumer preferences regarding their food sources and how they are identified on food labels and menus. The results were enlightening, to say the least.
We learned that a brand or restaurant will pay a high price in terms of customer loyalty if they experience a food recall due to consumer illness. And those customers have some strong opinions regarding how quickly the brand or restaurant should address a food safety issue.
35% of survey respondents told us they would avoid an affected brand or restaurant for a few months, and maybe they would return after the issue had been resolved. Meanwhile, nearly 25% admitted they would never use the brand or visit the restaurant again.
Of the respondents who say they care about the quality of the food they eat, 55% say they expect a recall to be executed within 24 to 48 hours.
In reality, it sometimes takes weeks for a product to be pulled from the store or restaurant. This is frequently due to communication issues, since everyone along the supply chain—the grower, supplier, packing and distribution centers, corporate office, and the retailer or restaurant—all must be notified, and a recall plan must be set in motion. Unfortunately, that communication process takes time. When that communication takes place via email or by phone call, the people responsible for pulling product may not have the information they need or may have received misinformation. This can result in lag time, and potentially unsafe product can still get into the hands of consumers.
The faster a food company can address a recall situation and return to business as usual, the faster customers will come back. But comprehensive supply chain transparency is needed to be able to make swift, accurate decisions during this time of crisis. By having a robust end-to-end traceability program and technology that provides real-time data and visibility, companies facing a recall can isolate and surgically withdraw the tainted product out of the supply chain without recalling more items than necessary. That limits the disruption and the waste of good food, which saves the company money.
O’Leary: FoodLogiQ was honored to have the opportunity to share our intricate knowledge of the food supply chain, as well as best practices regarding whole chain traceability during this monumental meeting with the FDA with more than 250 food industry leaders.
In retrospect, one thing is clear—we’re in the midst of a pivotal time of change for the world’s food supply chain. In the United States, the food industry remained status quo for decades, but the introduction of FSMA has brought increased scrutiny and accountability; I think it’s made every food company pause and evaluate where they are with regard to food safety, and that’s a good thing. And now, with the launch of the “New Era” campaign, we’re coming together in a collaborative fashion to map out how technology tools, prevention measures, new business models, and an evolving culture of food safety can be merged as a framework for a long term food safety solution. I agree with the FDA; ‘Smarter Food Safety’ is people-led, FSMA-based, and technology-enabled. It will take all of us working together to reach that goal.
Yesterday Tyson Foods, Inc. announced a recall of its Weaver brand frozen chicken patties over concern that they could be contaminated with foreign materials. The Class I recall affects 39,078 pounds of frozen, fully cooked product that were produced on January 31 of this year and shipped to retailers nationwide. The recall was initiated after Tyson informed FSIS of consumer complaints.
Dole Fresh Vegetables announced a voluntary recall of its 6-oz Dole Baby Spinach bags after a random sample test conducted by the Department of Agriculture in Michigan tested positive for Salmonella. The recalled products were distributed in 10 states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. The products contain Use-by dates of August 5, 2019. No illnesses associated with the recall have been reported.
Last Friday Brand Castle, LLC announced a recall of 25 oz and 32 oz glass jars of its Brand Castle and Sisters’ Gourmet cookie and brownie mix due to concern over E. coli contamination. The voluntary recall is in cooperation with the recall being conducted by ADM Milling, as the company is a supplier of flour to Brand Castle. There is a full list of the affected products, along with product photos, in a company announcement on FDA’s website.
Having the ability to apply barcodes directly to food could change the game of food traceability. One company has developed a patented technology that involves applying a DNA barcode directly to raw materials and finished product to enable traceability of a product throughout the entire supply chain.
Last month SafeTraces, Inc. was granted a U.S. Patent for a new method that encodes and decodes digital information to and from DNA strands. Called safeTracers, these seaweed-based DNA barcodes have been deemed generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by FDA, are non-GMO and Kosher, and can be applied to all food and beverage products, according to SafeTraces. The DNA barcodes were initially developed for low margin industries such as fresh produce, and bulk foods and grains. The safeTracers are generated via the company’s IoT miniDART solution, which creates a unique batch for each lot of product. They are directly applied to food during processing, giving the food item or batch of commodity food a unique tag that contains traceability information.
This technology could be fill a critical piece of the puzzle during a recall, as information about a product could be accessed within minutes.
Another customer of ADM Milling Co., King Arthur Flour, Inc., is voluntarily recalling its five-pound bags of unbleached all-purpose flour due to potential contamination with E. coli O26. The recall affects 14,218 cases of product with six specific lot codes and “best used by” dates of 12/07/19, 12/08/19 and 12/14/19. According to a King Arthur Flour company announcement, ADM Milling notified them that certain wheat used to make the above-mentioned product lots has been linked to an ongoing E.coli outbreak. King Arthur Flour states that this recall does not affect its products sold through the company’s website, Baker’s Catalogue or its Baker’s Store in Norwich, VT.
Just a couple of weeks ago, ADM Milling expanded its flour recall to include all five-pound bags of Bakers Corner All Purpose Flour, which is packaged by ALDI.
Consumers are advised to discard the product or return them to the place of purchase for a credit or refund.
Last week USDA announced two Class I recalls involving possible foreign matter contamination. Perdue Foods, LLC has recalled about 31,703 pounds of certain ready-to-eat chicken products that may be contaminated with bone material. The products, which were shipped nationwide and include plastic trays of Simply Smart Organics Breaded Chicken Breast Tenders (gluten free and whole grain), and Chef Quik Breaded Chicken Tenders Boneless Tender Shaped Chicken Breast Patties with Rib Meat were produced on March 21. The full list of products is on the FSIS website and have the establishment number “EST. P-369” inside the USDA mark of inspection. Thus far there have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions following consumption of these products.
Johnsville, LLC has recalled nearly 95,400 pounds of its ready-to-eat jalapeno cheddar smoked sausage products after a consumer complaint involving green hard plastic in the product. The 14-oz packages of the product were shipped both nationwide and internationally, were produced on March 12 and 13, and have the establishment number “EST. 34224” inside the USDA mark of inspection. Thus far there have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions following consumption of these products.
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