NEWS SCAN: E coli from walnuts, food recall search tool, rising antibiotic use

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Canadian E coli illnesses spark walnut recall
Canada's food safety agency yesterday announced that a Quebec company has recalled its packaged and bulk walnuts, imported from the United States, because they are suspected in an Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak in the country's eastern provinces. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said recalled walnuts, distributed by Amira Enterprises, Inc., carry the Amira, Tia, and Merit Selection brand names. Products include raw shelled walnuts sold from bulk bins, prepackaged nuts, mixes that contain walnuts, and salad toppings. It said the products were available between Jan 1 and today for distribution in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and Ontario, though they may also have been distributed nationally. The CFIA did not say how many illnesses have been linked to the walnuts and reported that the Public Health Agency of Canada is investigating the outbreak along with its provincial health partners.
Apr 3 CFIA press release

FDA revamps food recall search tool
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today unveiled a revamped online search tool designed to make it easier for consumers to find information about recalls of food and other products. The agency's updated product recall site presents information about recalls in a tabular format, replacing the scroll-down list used previously. The table organizes information from news releases on recalls since 2009 by date, product brand name, product description, reason for the recall, and the recalling firm, the FDA said. The table also provides links to the recall news release for more detailed information, along with photos if available. The recall search engine was redesigned in response to the recently enacted Food Safety Modernization Act, which requires the FDA to provide a consumer-friendly recall search tool. Mike Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods, said the new search page marks the completion of one of the first major actions called for by the new law. In redesigning the search engine, the agency consulted with several stakeholder groups, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumers Union, and Food Marketing Institute.
Apr 4 FDA press release
FDA product recalls page

Use of broad-spectrum antibiotics up sharply
The use of carbapenems, powerful antibiotics often considered the last resort for patients who have multidrug-resistant infections, more than doubled at Veterans Health Administration hospitals in 5 years, according to a study reported today at a meeting of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) in Dallas. Makoto Jones, MD, of the University of Utah School of Medicine, and colleagues used the VA's barcode system of administering medications to trace antibiotic usage at 110 hospitals from 2005 through 2009, according to a SHEA press release. They found that overall antibiotic use increased gradually, but the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics rose more sharply: carbapenems, 102%; intravenous vancomycin, 79%; and combinations of penicillin with beta-lactamase inhibitors, 41%. Fluoroquinolones were the most commonly prescribed antibiotics, accounting for 20% of the total. "The increased carbapenem use, which has also been described in non-VA facilities in the US, is alarming because carbapenem-resistant bacteria are becoming more common," the SHEA statement said. "Overuse of these drugs could weaken their efficacy, threatening their effectiveness against these [multidrug-resistant] and other emerging infections." The researchers also found that more than half of all patients received at least one dose of an antibiotic during their hospital stay, regardless of their presenting condition.
Apr 4 SHEA press release

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