Cargill recently initiated a Class I recall of almost 36 million pounds of ground turkey due to potential contamination from a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella Heidelberg that allegedly caused 76 illnesses and one death. Consumer concern about antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat was increasing even before this outbreak.
A recently-discovered additive may reduce the prevalence and risk of this contamination. Scientists at the University of Minnesota have recently discovered a naturally-occurring lantibiotic that attacks E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. It is reportedly “easily digestible, non-toxic, non-allergenic” and “difficult for bacteria to develop resistance against.” They expect to commercialize the additive within the next three years.
Recent news stories illustrate that bacterial food poisoning is a recurring, high cost, sickening (and in some cases, deadly) problem that requires investing in prevention.
Today’s Washington Post includes an online article about how salmonella infections have increased “by 10 percent in recent years.” (The longitudinal data regarding the total number of U.S. cases from 1996 to 2009 can be found here.)
Additionally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2009 salmonella incidence rate was 15.19 cases per 100,000 population, which is more than twice the National Health Objective of 6.8 cases per 100,000.
Elizabeth Hagen, the Undersecretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, noted that the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 infections has decreased, demonstrating that more stringent regulation and efforts by meat processing companies in particular have lowered contamination at the slaughterhouse level. However, as the recent outbreak in Germany of the world’s deadliest E. coli tragically illustrates, “new and ‘highly infectious and toxic‘” E. coli strains are emerging from a source(s) that is still unknown.
Compounding the human tragedy, some businesses that sell fresh produce have seen their sales fall 35 percent since the outbreak began. EU farmers’ losses are estimated at $611 million per week. Former FDA Commissioner David Acheson has opined that an outbreak like the current one could happen in the U.S.
Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods, provided sound advice for the food industry: “investing in prevention is, ultimately, the only way to provide the protection that consumers expect.”
The FDA has published this quick-and-easy four-step guide to food safety while preparing food for your Super Bowl party. First, wash your hands. (I know, this seems so obvious, but the problems that are literally right in front of your face are the ones that so many people overlook.) Second, keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separate to prevent cross-contamination. Third, cook foods thoroughly. Finally, keep in mind that it’s always better to prevent problems than to respond to them. (Perhaps the FDA should have put this step first.) The site includes other food safety links to help address specific food safety questions.
In any event, enjoy the game.
Pet food manufacturers need to plan proactively to prevent food recalls, too. Even if people are not on the dog food diet, they may be exposed to salmonella by handling contaminated pet food products. The moral of the story for (pet) food processing companies: although people should wash their hands more often, it’s often less expensive to produce a pathogen-free product than to incur expenses for a costly recall after discovering contamination.
Why are some stores still selling a contaminated food a week after it’s been recalled? Perhaps they have not signed up for FDA email notifications re: product recalls. This fast and free service will help your food processing company, restaurant, or retail store stay up-to-date about foods they use, serve, or sell and lower the risk of, e.g., selling salsa containing cilantro that may be contaminated with salmonella.