Tuesday, April 27, 2010

CDC reports little change in foodborne illness

Little or no progress has been made in reducing the incidence of foodborne illness in the United States in recent years, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC did see progress during 2009 in reducing the incidence of E. coli to the national health target of one case per 100,000 of the population, but it has missed public health objectives for all other foodborne illnesses measured as part of its Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, or FoodNet – and for listeria for five years in a row.
The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) said that the reduction in E. coli was good news, but that it should be viewed cautiously, considering that the CDC has met this target before, in 2004, only to see the number of cases rebound.
The Consumer Federation of America said in a statement: “CFA hopes that the government and the industry will be appropriately modest about this news until this type of performance can be achieved year after year. It will take sustained and dedicated effort in order to maintain this recent success.”
Despite 2009 being marked by a widespread salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products, salmonella cases were down during the year compared to the 1996-1998 period. However, at 15.19 cases per 100,000 people, the number of cases was still more than double the national health target of 6.8.
A listeria target of 0.25 cases per 100,000 people was set in 2000, following the Ball Park franks incident, in which 21 people died from eating Bil Mar hotdogs. But the incidence of listeria was at its highest level in a decade in 2009, the CDC found, at 0.34 cases.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Extra helping of education needed in obesity battle

Much discussion has been heard during the past few months about childhood obesity and what ought be done to reduce its incidence. Despite the high volume and fierce intensity of the debate, a key component to addressing childhood obesity and, indeed, adult obesity has been omitted from the equation — the need for nutrition education in schools. The goal of programs targeting childhood obesity such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign is to provide healthier foods in schools, help children become more physically active and make healthy foods available to consumers throughout the country. Other programs addressing this issue have similar goals, and while they all have the laudable target of making sure consumers have ready access to healthy foods, they neglect the daunting challenge of attempting to ensure both children and adults understand why and know how they need to manage their food intake and physical activity levels. Producing and promoting food and beverage products perceived as healthier, making sure students in schools have access to healthier foods, and even posting calorie counts on food service menus are all good ideas, but if consumers do not understand why they should be consuming such foods or in what portion sizes, such efforts will be wasted. For people in the food and beverage industries as well as medical and public health officials it may be obvious what individuals and parents need to do to manage their own weight as well as the weight of their children. But as the incidence of obesity in adults and children has worsened, it is clear that expanded education is needed beyond the efforts of federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state public health agencies. It is easy to place the blame for obesity in children on the parents, but in many cases adults may be equally as ignorant of their nutritional and exercise needs as their children. For the adults, programs are in place to help them learn what they need to do to improve their health and wellness. For children, the structured environment of a classroom provides the ideal venue for addressing one of the most challenging public health issues before the country today. For a long time, nutrition education was relegated in schools to courses such as home economics. But as budget constraints have forced school districts to pare curriculums, many programs that featured a nutrition education component have been suspended. Today, nutrition education is often included in health studies. Instead, it should be incorporated into considerably more diverse curriculums such as biology, science and even mathematics. As society has evolved, access to a variety of food and beverages has become easier. In turn, this means that greater efforts must be undertaken to ensure students comprehend diet and nutrition fundamentals. Such education efforts, if successful, will have many long-term benefits. The most notable promise would be realized by shifting the focus of health management away from addressing a specific condition that may be associated with obesity to preventing such a condition from occurring. It has become strikingly evident that simply telling consumers they need to eat better is not a viable obesity prevention effort. To aid in ending the obesity epidemic among children, subjects like nutrition science and weight management should be addressed in the structured format of the classroom. Only by educating children in all aspects of nutrition science so they learn the role positive nutrition practices play in a healthy life will the issue of obesity truly be addressed.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Consider six E. coli types adulterants: S.T.O.P.

WASHINGTON – This past week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was urged by Safe Tables Our Priority and victims of foodborne illness to recognize six other potentially deadly types of E. coli pathogens as adulterants, in addition to the E. coli O157:H7. All seven strains are linked to human illness and are transmitted through feces-contaminated beef products, the group said.
"The U.S.D.A. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have known for decades of the public health risks posed by non-O157 strains of E. coli," said Nancy Donley, S.T.O.P. president, whose son died from the foodborne illness in 1993. "Yet, 10 years after requiring public health laboratories to report positive test results for these strains from infected people, nothing has been done to prevent meat contaminated with these strains from entering into commerce."
In 1994, E. coli O157:H7 was declared an adulterant in ground beef in the aftermath of an outbreak that sickened more than 700 people and killed at least four. The C.D.C. has since identified six additional strains of shiga-toxin producing E. coli (S.T.E.C.) -- O26, O111, O103, O121, O45 and O145 — associated with severe illness and death. Just like E. coli O157:H7, these S.T.E.C. strains get into the nation's beef supply when cattle feces contaminate meat during slaughter and processing, the group pointed out.
Ms. Donley and other victim members of S.T.O.P. demanded that U.S.D.A. enact health-based strategies to prevent all types of E. coli-contaminated beef from reaching consumers' tables at a demonstration outside U.S.D.A. offices.
This includes:
• Recognizing as adulterants the six additional E. coli strains.
• Expanding the definition of adulterant to include E .coli O157:H7 when in any type of beef, not just ground beef or beef intended for ground beef.
• Implementing better ways of tracing all S.T.E.C. outbreaks to prevent widespread illness and deaths.
• Asking Congress for mandatory U.S.D.A. recall authority. All government agency food recalls are currently voluntary and issued by the companies responsible.
Producing meat that is as safe as possible is the industry’s No. 1 priority, responded James Hodges, American Meat Institute executive vice president, in a statement. “Federal inspectors are present in our plants every day to ensure we are operating in compliance with federal rules and that the technologies we use to destroy bacteria are working to ensure that only safe and wholesome products enter the marketplace,” he added.
“Our enemy is pathogenic bacteria and these bacteria respond to scientific interventions, not regulatory bans,” Mr. Hodges continued. “The food-safety strategies in place in plants today are far more effective in enhancing food safety than outlawing a pathogen that nature presents us.”
Mr. Hodges said industry has used Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point plans that require plants to analyze what problems might occur and then put in place ways to prevent those problems for two decades. “We believe so strongly in H.A.C.C.P.’s benefits that we petitioned the U.S.D.A. to mandate H.A.C.C.P. for all federally inspected plants,” he added. “H.A.C.C.P. became mandatory for large plants in 1998, medium sized plants in 1999 and small plants in 2000. As part of H.A.C.C.P. plans, plants use ‘hurdle strategies’ that are like roadblocks for bacteria throughout a plant. No other industry has the level of regulation and inspection as the meat industry.”
Technology does not exist yet to guarantee eliminating E. coli O157:H7 in raw agricultural products, including ground beef, “but we are getting close,” Mr. Hodges said. Government data show industry has made great progress, he added.
“According to U.S.D.A., the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 on raw ground beef has declined by 63% since 2000 to a prevalence rate of one-third of 1%,” Mr. Hodges said. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show those human cases of E. coli O157:H7 from all sources – not just meat – have declined by 44% since 2000. Government estimates show that three illnesses per 100,000 population occur each year from the consumption of nearly 10 billion lbs. of ground beef. That is an occurrence of one illness per 5 million servings of ground beef, which is far lower than many other foods we consume.”
E. coli O157:H7 is considered an “adulterant” in non-intact beef products, such as ground beef, which means if the pathogen is found, the product cannot be sold and if it is in the marketplace it must be recalled. “Some groups have raised concern about another strain of E. coli called non-O157 Shiga-toxin producing E. coli or “non-O157 S.T.E.C.s,” Mr. Hodges said. “It’s important to note that there have been no known outbreaks of non-O157 S.T.E.C.s associated with meat products in the U.S.”
Consumers should be assured that the highly-effective interventions currently in place to control E. coli O157:H7 will also destroy non-O157 S.T.E.C.s, Mr. Hodges continued. “If a regulatory change could destroy bacteria, we would be lobbying for it,” he said. “But changing a bacteria’s legal status won’t make it disappear. Only preventative food-safety technologies will destroy pathogens. And the final food-safety step — cooking ground beef to 160°F – works equally well against various strains of E. coli and a host of other bacteria, in the event that they are present on meat.
“We share the frustration of those who argue for a regulatory change because the industry also wants to eliminate pathogens on all meat products,” Mr. Hodges added. “We spend millions of dollars annually to achieve that goal. We simply believe that science and technology offers a better solution than regulatory bans that won’t eliminate the pathogen.
“Finally, we ask consumers to keep in mind that the industry benefits by selling food that is as safe as we can possibly make it and we will continue to look for new and better scientific strategies to improve meat safety,” he concluded.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Great Link for Government Recalls

To provide better service in alerting the American people to unsafe, hazardous or defective products, six federal agencies with vastly different jurisdictions have joined together to create www.recalls.gov -- a "one stop shop" for U.S. Government recalls.

Follow the link below to obtain the latest recall information, to report a dangerous product, or to learn important safety tips.