Posted: February 9th, 2009 - 5:35pm
by Casey Jacob
Last week, an E.coli outbreak involving at least 17 kids and 3 adults was linked to a Denver cattle show.
In light of that, a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News spent a day at the petting zoo at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo asking parents if they were worried about the "germs" their kids were being exposed to.
Some said yes; many others were confident in the precautions they were taking.
The stepfather of a three-year-old wasn't worried. "We wash his hands," he said.
One mother said of her thumb-sucking two-year-old,
“I can’t keep her in a bubble. [But] it’s definitely something I think about every day with her.”
One of the largest petting zoo outbreaks of E.coli O157:H7 to date was linked to the North Carolina State Fair in 2004. A study of the outbreak by Goode and colleagues found,
Persons became infected after contact with manure and engaging in hand-to-mouth behaviors in a petting zoo having substantial E coli O157:H7 contamination.
Use of alcohol-based hand-sanitizing gels was not protective [against infection with E.coli O157:H7], although knowledge of the risk for zoonotic infection was protective.
In the San Antonio article, Bill Marler was quoted as saying the threat of exposure to new and dangerous pathogens was too high for him to risk taking a small child or anyone with a compromised immune system to a petting zoo.
Posted: February 3rd, 2009 - 8:33am
by Doug Powell
Chapman and I have thrown around the idea that one of the reasons Canadians seem complacent about foodborne illness – despite several high-profile devastating outbreaks – is the availability of public health care. If someone loses a kidney because of E. coli O157:H7 or a liver because of hepatitis A, the cost is borne by the system. In the U.S. those without health care coverage would be out $100,000 – at a minimum. So Canadian lawsuits are kept to a minimum, media coverage remains stagnant, and everyone goes back to sleep.
As Jim Romahn wrote in Dec. after a $27 million settlement for victims in the Maple Leaf listeria outbreak that killed 20 and sickened hundreds was announced, CEO Michael H. McCain is a wily strategist.
For $27 million, tops, he has bought freedom from a court case that could have proven highly embarrassing to Maple Leaf. The ongoing coverage could well have become the final nail in consumer confidence in Maple Leaf products. The lawyers were sure to ask who knew what and when. They were sure to ask about the degree of plant contamination as the company continued to ship products, failing to first hold them for testing and clearance.
• Someone who was ill for up to 48 hours would receive $750
• Up to a week receives $3,000
•Up to two weeks receives $5,500
• Up to a month receives $8,000
• If listeriosis led to a secondary infection that didn't cause ongoing symptoms, such as meningitis or pneumonia, the settlement is $35,000
• If listeriosis caused sustained or permanent symptoms, the settlement is $75,000 plus $750 for each day of hospitalization
• If secondary complications affected the nervous system and caused “serious and permanent impairment of physical and/or mental function,” payment is $125,000 plus $750 for each day of hospitalization. A family member who was affected psychologically could receive $10,000.
• A death would lead to a $120,000 payment to the victim's estate. A spouse would be eligible for an additional $35,000, while children could receive $30,000, parents could receive $20,000 and siblings or grandchildren could receive $5,000. Funeral expenses up to $13,500 would also be covered.
• Anyone who “sustained psychological injuries or trauma for up to 60 days” after eating tainted meat, without any injuries, could receive up to $4,000.
• Anyone who was at particular risk, such as pregnant women and the elderly, but did not become ill could receive up to $6,000 for psychological trauma that lasted up to 60 days.
• If psychological symptoms lasted more than 60 days, compensation is set at $13,500.
• Those in the vulnerable group who experienced psychological symptoms for more than 60 days could receive $17,500.
All three women reported eating different types of soft cheese, the release said. One woman delivered her baby, who also tested positive for listeriosis, but the other two suffered miscarriages.
"It is very important that pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems avoid eating foods that are more likely to contain the Listeria bacteria, such as soft cheeses -- including Brie, feta and Mexican style soft or semi-soft cheese -- unless the product clearly states it is made with pasteurized milk," Dr. Damon state director of public health, said in the release.
Pregnant women are about 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis. About a third of all reported cases in Illinois happen during pregnancy. Infection during pregnancy may result in spontaneous abortion during the second and third trimesters, or stillbirth.
Posted: January 27th, 2009 - 5:08pm
by Casey Jacob
A press release this weekend explained that Maple Leaf Foods now tests for listeria daily in its plants.
And it looks like the company wants to address one of the tough issues by releasing data from its microbiological testing.
The release stated, “Over the past three months Maple Leaf has collected over 42,300 test results across its 24 packaged meat plants… Our rate of positives tests across our plants is consistently less than 1%...”
Ben also noticed a statement on Maple Leaf’s website this weekend that indicated some action on another tough issue: communication with vulnerable people about possible risks involved with eating the company’s products.
Posted: January 22nd, 2009 - 2:06pm
by Doug Powell
Last night I watched The Bad Mother’s Handbook, a British made-for-TV drama starring Robert Pattinson. In it, Pattinson plays a lovable nerd, Daniel, who falls in love with pregnant teenager, Charlotte.
Though Pattinson’s role is only supporting, he has a food safety moment when he runs to pregnant Charlotte, saving her from soft serve ice cream:
Daniel Gale (Pattinson): NO! Listeria can be present in soft cheese and squidgy ice cream, so you best get a Zoom instead.
What Pattinson’s character fails to mention is why the pregnant Charlotte should avoid indulging in this tasty treat. Listeriosis, the illness associated with Listeria monocytogenes, can be passed from mother to unborn child causing premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth or serious health problems in newborns, even when the mother is not experiencing symptoms of illness. The CDC has a list of foods to avoid while pregnant (http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/pregnancy_gateway/infection_list.htm#protect).
Posted: January 6th, 2009 - 12:07pm
by Doug Powell
Daughter Braunwynn returned to Ontario last night after a great visit.
Her super-sweet 16 is less than two weeks away, so during lunch on Sunday with Amy and Sorenne and Bob, we asked what she might be studying at university (not a fair question cause I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up).
She mentioned science, psychology, maybe journalism – she liked writing.
Amy and I sorta jumped, saying that if she wanted to write, then write, and that maybe J-school wasn’t the best place to learn writing.
Braunwynn, the 15-year-old, gets it; Canadian journalists covering Michael McCain, Maple Leaf and listeria? Not so much.
There are exceptions, like Rob Cribb at the Star, but a couple of holiday puff pieces stood out. On Jan. 4, 2009, the Canadian Press correctly noted that the Canadian government has not yet named the leader of a promised probe into the listeriosis outbreak that killed 20 people -- a lag critics say discredits an already suspect process.
But then they go on to excessively quote the union dude who thinks that inspectors with beer-like listeria googles are the solution. He represents the food inspectors union. Of course he wants more inspectors. As new NC State professorial thingy Ben wrote, more inspectors is not the answer.
Then there’s the researchers. They always want more research. And new technology. Oh, and to blame consumers. Because you know, consumers are the weak link when it comes to ready-to-eat deli meats. And when the researcher making such public proclamations is an advisor to Maple Leaf, that should be disclosed. Journalism 101. I’m sure glad my previously pregnant wife didn’t rely on your expert advice.
For the budding journalists, there are still basic questions to be answered, questions that have nothing to do with more research, more inspectors, a public inquiry or any other narrow special interest, but questions that may help prevent any future unnecessary deaths of 20 people and unnecessary illness of hundreds if not thousands of people:
• who knew what when;
• why aren’t listeria test results publically available; and,
• if listeria is everywhere, why aren’t there warnings for vulnerable populations?
Maybe I'm cynical about the whole thing, but I don't see overworked meat inspectors being the most important factor leading to the Maple Leaf/Listeria outbreak. I don't know what more inspectors would have done about Listeria living deep inside a slicer.
Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union representing food inspectors through the Public Service Alliance of Canada thinks the lack of inspectors and resources is exactly what the problem was -- and he's trumpeting that opinion again today.
"They sort of put all the right pieces in place except for one thing: they haven't been given any resources to do it. With all the government's talk about how well resourced the agency was, and how they were going to make sure that whatever needed to be done was done, they haven't come up with a single penny yet."
The union is calling for 1,000 more inspectors and veterinarians across the entire food-safety system. At least 200 more are needed for processed-meat inspection alone, Kingston says. "If you talk to the average inspector out there, they figure they've probably got about twice as many plants as they feel comfortable with."
So what will these extra inspectors do, and how are they going to help companies like Maple Leaf implement the culture of food safety we hear so much about? Regulators need to evolve and do a better job helping folks from farm-to-fork to develop a food safety culture, and verify that their steps reduce risk are being implemented.
The best part of the article was related to the political dancing-with-stars mess around this magical inquiry:
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz's office deferred questions about the delay to the Prime Minister's Office. "An announcement will be made in due course," said PMO spokesman Dimitri Soudas.
Dr. Mitchell’s no lightweight. Among other achievements, he was Director of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs at Health Canada from 1982-1988,an associate director at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine from 1988-2001, and the current president of the American Association of Retired Veterinarians.
I want to congratulate and encourage Jim Romahn for his article Maple Leaf, Michael McCain, and Unanswered Questions. I read his article on the FSnet list serve webpage. I do not claim to be an expert in the microbiology of Listeria or manufacturing procedures to avoid it but I do want to encourage Jim, and others in his profession, because the picture of cause and control in this Maple Leaf case is incomplete.
While Michael McCain seems to be gathering year–end goodwill for his handling of the Listeria contamination in the Maple Leaf plant, I think it is too early for applause. Effective long term solutions have not been put in place.
Jim is on-point in arguing for better health protection in Canada. He is helping expose a glaring lack of complete information that should be readily available from Health Canada, CFIA, or Maple Leaf Foods about the source and spread of the Listeria found in sliced meat cold cuts that killed 20 Canadians and sickened many others. Specifically, he is spotlighting the continuing lack of the better labeling and improved manufacturing procedures needed to protect elderly, immune weakened, and pregnant persons. This example of poor health protection in Canada has been seen before. Listeriosis in people has occurred previously in Canada and because of regulatory inaction, it can happen again.
Listeria in cold cuts is a health threat that continues to exist in Canada. The recent hype from Maple Leaf in advertising the end of Listeria risk is just talk without support. If the company or the federal bureaucracy have evidence that labeling and manufacturing procedure changes are unnecessary, they should publish the evidence for the public to see.
As a result of inadequate labeling/manufacturing regulations, inadequate enforcement, and excessive collegiality between the federal bureaucrat and the industry it regulates, the Listeria public health threat continues to exist in Canada. About 10 years ago, the U.S. found Listeria in wieners. They changed labeling and required a post packaging cooking step. These changes appear to be the reason for no Listeria in U.S. cold cuts. For these 10 years, an apparently effective regulatory example has been on paper and worked effectively in practice to prevent Listeria in cold cuts in the U.S. The evidence of need for better Canadian labeling and manufacturing procedures for cold cuts seems obvious. What am I missing in this seemingly black-white image?
Investigative journalism is an important factor in uncovering the stinking wet spots that can exist within big bureaucracies and industries. Investigative reporting is particularly important in instances in which the public is indifferent to the issue or prefers to believe that the government can be trusted to always do what is right. Everyone has a responsibility to be vigilant about government action and inaction.
The investigative journalist reviews the evidence, thinks about alternatives, asks questions, and writes articles. In this case they write articles about why Canadians have died unnecessarily. Investigative journalism is a critically important element in effecting change. Jim Romahn has the right line of questions. He deserves nomination for yet another journalistic award.
In Canada, the labeling and manufacturing controls needed to control Listeria in cold cuts are not in place. Just as Canadians experienced no outbreak of Listeria for a decade, there may be none for years to come. What we do know is that the 2008 Listeria outbreak in Canada has not motivated sufficient change to prevent another outbreak and more unnecessary deaths. It is this flaw that Jim Romahn is addressing and the investigation I applaud.
Posted: December 22nd, 2008 - 4:11am
by Doug Powell
Canadian reporter Jim Romahn writes:
Michael H. McCain is a wily strategist.
First, as president and chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Foods Inc., he made a big deal of dismissing advice from the company’s lawyers and accountants to not admit any liability for Canada’s most notorious case of food poisoning last summer.
In fact, the spin doctors had much more to say about that than the failure to safeguard consumers of Maple Leaf deli meats.
Now McCain has pulled an even better trick.
He has claimed the high moral ground in settling class-action lawsuits.
For $27 million, tops, he has bought freedom from a court case that could have proven highly embarrassing to Maple Leaf.
The ongoing coverage could well have become the final nail in consumer confidence in Maple Leaf products.
The lawyers were sure to ask who knew what and when.
They were sure to ask about the degree of plant contamination as the company continued to ship products, failing to first hold them for testing and clearance.
That, of course, is what’s being done now.
The lawyers will trot out evidence that more than half of the samples – one each from different batches or products – collected by municipal health units across Ontario contained Listeria monocytogenes.
The lawyers would no doubt challenge McCain’s claim that Listeria are so common in food-processing plants that it’s challenging at the best of times to eliminate them. They might have conceded that to be true of listeria in general, but would ask how Maple Leaf handled the more dangerous strain that showed up at the Bartor Road plant in Toronto.
The lawyers will ask why Maple Leaf ignored Health Canada warnings that cold cuts should not be served to people with weak immune systems – i.e. the elderly, infants and young children, pregnant women and those under medical treatment to suppress their immune systems.
Why do Maple Leaf’s cold cuts fail to warn these people about Health Canada’s advice? Of course, the same could be said of the labels on any Canadian-made cold cuts. Buyer beware!
The last place Canadians can turn to for answers to these questions is the inquiry Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised in the heated exchanges of an election campaign as the Listeria crisis continued.
I notice that Harper did not promise a PUBLIC inquiry.
He has not named a person or panel to head an inquiry.
He has not promised to reveal a report of an inquiry or its recommendations.
I’m certain the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Maple Leaf will be lobbying hard for Harper and his government to forget the promise of an inquiry. And, failing that to “contain the damage,” as the public relations are wont to advise.
So two goals scored by McCain so far. Will he make it a hat trick.
I sincerely hope not, but given Canada’s record on food safety in the food business, I’m far from optimistic.
• why won’t Maple Leaf make their listeria test results public; and,??????
• what is Maple Leaf Food's advice to those folks vulnerable to listeria.??????
Rob Cribb of the Toronto Star reports today that thousands of pages of documents detailing the federal government's handling of this summer's listeria outbreak are being withheld.
The Star and the CBC are seeking the records, which include emails sent between officials with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Maple Leaf Foods and the City of Toronto, through an access to information request.
The CFIA has imposed extensions of a year or more on top of the normal 30-day deadline for responding to such requests.
The joint investigation used the federal access to information law in the hope that a request would yield records showing what went wrong, when officials first knew of the outbreak's potential impact and how quickly the system kicked in to protect Canadians.
None of the records first requested four months ago have been released.
Repeated requests for an interview with Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz have been denied.