Food Safety Scan for Apr 28, 2015

Likely botulism source found
USDA food safety gaps

Home-canned potatoes tagged as likely botulism outbreak source

Potato salad made from home-canned potatoes is probably what triggered a recent botulism outbreak in people who attended a church lunch in Lancaster on Apr 19, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and the Fairfield Department of Health announced yesterday.

Also, two more illnesses have been detected, raising the outbreak total to 31. So far, 21 cases have been confirmed, including a previously reported fatal illness, and 10 are suspected. Patients received antitoxin provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Health officials said in a statement that 12 people are still hospitalized.

Authorities said they narrowed the suspected source of the outbreak based on lab tests and interviews with people who attended the church potluck.

Sietske de Fijter, Ohio's chief of infectious diseases, said yesterday that investigators interviewed nearly everyone who got sick, comparing their answers with those who didn't become ill, the Columbus Dispatch reported yesterday. She said potato salad was the common denominator and that lab testing confirmed botulism.

Botulism is caused by the botulinum toxin produced by Clostridium bacteria and can result when low-acid foods such as beans haven't been canned properly.
Apr 27 ODH press release
Apr 27 Dispatch


Consumer Federation report cites USDA food safety shortcomings

In an analysis on the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) primary meat and poultry food safety regulatory program, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) today noted what it sees as key failures—such as a lack of consequences for repeat offenders—and recommended steps for improvement.

The USDA program, known as the Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (PR/HACCP) regulation, was implemented in 1998 and requires meat and poultry manufacturers to develop food safety systems to identify and prevent contamination of products in plants.

The CFA report cites two key ongoing problems with PR/HACCP:

  1. Too often plants fail to develop effective food safety plans, and the USDA has failed to adequately identify problems with those plans.
  2. Plants are repeatedly cited for recurring violations with little consequence.

The report also identifies how a 1998 court case (Supreme Beef v USDA) limited the ability of the USDA to enforce its regulations, effectively barring the government from shutting down plants that fail to meet safety standards for Salmonella. Consumer groups have argued that Congress should provide USDA with authority to enforce food safety standards, according to a CFA news release.

"Enforceable standards would allow the agency to take decisive action when a problem is first identified rather than after an outbreak has already occurred," said Chris Waldrop, CFA director of food policy.

The CFA also recommends that the USDA (1) develop a better way to evaluate plants' HACCP plans, (2) require plants to identify high-risk pathogens in their HACCP plans, (3) establish clear procedures and repercussions for repeated violations, and (4) improve sampling programs to target the riskiest facilities and products.
Apr 28 CFA news release
Full report
Report summary

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