News Scan for Sep 06, 2013

Response to GAO poultry-plan report
Pertussis in Texas
Tularemia in Massachusetts
US, European West Nile

FSIS head rebuts GAO report on poultry inspections

Alfred Almanza, head of the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), took issue with a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report this week that was critical of some aspects of an FSIS poultry inspection plan, saying the GAO omitted key details.

The GAO report asserted that the USDA took some shortcuts in assessing the plan, called the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP).

Almanza, in a Sep 4 opinion piece for Food Safety News (FSN), said that the GAO report was only slightly critical of HIMP. "GAO gave HIMP a thorough review and made just two recommendations, both of which FSIS is already working to fulfill," he wrote.

In addition, the GAO failed to mention that data show that "a system like HIMP will prevent at least 5,000 more foodborne illnesses annually," Almanza asserted. He said that FSIS asked an independent group of experts 10 years ago about the agency's approach, and the experts endorsed it.

He also took issue with the GAO's assumption that the basis for moving forward with HIMP is improved food-production efficiency and cost savings. Almanza said that the plan accomplishes both those goals, but HIMP "is first and foremost about making food safer."

He said that data in support of HIMP include:

  • Under HIMP, FSIS inspectors complete more tasks off the production line that verify food safety performance standards.
  • Fecal material appears about half as often in HIMP operations as it does in non-HIMP operations.
  • The average rate for Salmonella in HIMP operations is 20% lower than in non-HIMP operations.

He concluded, "If finalized and implemented broadly, this new inspection system would enable FSIS to better fulfill our food safety mission. Nothing in the GAO's report contradicts this basic fact."

FSN also reported yesterday that Elisabeth Hagen, MD, USDA's under secretary for food safety, said that the GAO report will not prevent the HIMP project from moving forward.
Sep 4 FSN Almanza opinion piece
Sep 5 FSN
story on Hagen's response
Sep 4 CIDRAP News story "
GAO: USDA took shortcuts in poultry inspection plan"


Pertussis cases near the 2,000 mark in Texas

With almost 2,000 confirmed cases, pertussis (whooping cough) has reached epidemic levels in Texas and could hit a 50-year high, state officials told Reuters yesterday.

The number of cases will likely surpass a recent high of 3,358 in 2009, the state health department said, and two infants who were too young to be vaccinated have died.

Lisa Cornelius, MD, MPH, Texas infectious diseases medical officer, said, "This is extremely concerning. Pertussis is highly infectious and can cause serious complications, especially in babies, so people should take it seriously."

In an alert this week, the Texas Department of State Health Services urged physicians to screen for pertussis and Texans to get vaccinated. Last year, 49 states reported an increase in pertussis, but most states have seen declines so far this year, the story said.
Sep 5 Reuters report


4 people in Massachusetts contract tularemia

Four residents of Nantucket, Mass., have contracted tularemia, the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror reported this week.

The Nantucket Health Department confirmed the cases and advised people to wear respirators when cutting grass over 6 inches tall, which could harbor a rabbit or other small animal infected with Francisella tularensis, the bacterium that causes tularemia. Community officials are warning residents of the small island south of Cape Cod to avoid touching dead small animals or approaching any animal that appears disoriented or sluggish, the story said.

Nantucket Health Department Director Richard Ray said. "We've had a few cases over the years, but not four at one time."

He added, "If there's a dead animal near the side of the road, ignore it, do not let your animal go near it."
Sep 3 Inquirer and Mirror story


West Nile cases near 500 in US, top 100 in Europe

Cases of West Nile virus (WNV) infection in the United States have reached 497, up 201 from 2 weeks ago, and Europe has had 106 WNV illnesses, up 28 cases since last week, according to new updates.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on Sep 3 that 45 states are affected, and 254 (50.5%) of the cases are the more serious neuroinvasive type. Twenty US case-patients have died.

California is the most affected state, with 100 WNV cases, including 7 deaths, followed by Colorado with 72 cases and South Dakota with 71. Both those states have had 1 WNV-related death. Last year at this time the country had 1,993 cases (on its way to 5,674 cases that year), and 1,013 of them were in Texas. To date this year, Texas has just 23 confirmed cases.

In Europe, 28 WNV cases last week and 26 the week before brought its total to 106, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said today. That compares with 289 cases in nations bordering the European Union.
Sep 3 CDC update
Sep 6 ECDC

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