Joe Whitworth – Food Safety Website Breaking news for everyone's consumption Sat, 22 Aug 2020 19:50:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Joe Whitworth – Food Safety Website 32 32 Public Health England investigating rise in E. coli O157 infections Sun, 23 Aug 2020 04:03:29 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Public Health England is investigating a spike in reports of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infections this month.

Potential sources of the increase in E. coli O157 cases are not yet clear but recent warm weather may have played a role.

The latest available data shows in the week ending Aug. 16, there were 27 E. coli O157 notifications. The past four weeks had seen 11, 13, 6 and 7 respectively.

Based on 2019 statistics for the week ending Aug. 18, there were 13 E. coli O157 notifications. The previous four weeks had three weeks with 12 and one with 14.

Source as yet unknown
“Since the beginning of August, Public Health England has noted a general increase in reports of E. coli O157 infections, in particular in the West and East Midlands,” said a PHE statement sent to Food Safety Website.

“An increase in E. coli activity at this time of year is not unusual, especially given recent climatic conditions. Public Health England is actively investigating this situation. A possible source of these outbreaks remains unclear at this point in time.”

Some services at the gastrointestinal bacteria reference unit (GBRU), which is part of PHE, have been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, detection of STEC from stool specimens and isolates using PCR and confirmation of identity and typing of Salmonella, Shigella, STEC and Listeria using whole genome sequencing are continuing.

Precautions for public
Symptoms of E. coli infection include abdominal cramps and diarrhea that can become bloody. Fever and vomiting may also occur. The incubation period can range from three to eight days and most patients recover within 10 days.

HUS is a serious condition that can lead to kidney failure, permanent health problems, and even death. It is most often triggered by STEC infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Early symptoms include decreased urine output, diarrhea, and feeling slow and tired. HUS usually develops one to two weeks after initial symptoms of E. coli infection.

E. coli is transmitted to humans primarily through consumption of contaminated food, such as raw or undercooked ground meat, raw milk, and raw vegetables and sprouts.

“E. coli can cause a serious infection in those with weakened immune systems or vulnerable groups, including babies, the elderly or pregnant women,” according to PHE.

“Some infections can be severe and people who are infected may go on to develop complications which may be life-threatening. As with all instances of diarrhea and vomiting, it is important that people keep hydrated and stay away from work or school for as long as symptoms persist. If you do notice blood in your stool, contact your GP immediately.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety Website, click here.)

]]> 0
Sweden investigating Campylobacter increase Sat, 22 Aug 2020 04:05:15 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Public health officials in Sweden have noted an increase in the number of people falling ill with Campylobacter infections this month.

The rise coincides with an increase in Campylobacter in broiler flocks since the end of July, according to Folkhalsomyndigheten (Public Health Agency of Sweden).

This agency, regional infection control units, National Veterinary Institute (SVA), Livsmedelsverket (National Food Agency), Swedish Board of Agriculture and Swedish Work Environment Authority are investigating causes of the increase and trying to reduce the number of cases.

During the four weeks before the increase, the number of reported cases with domestic infections or where information about country of infection was missing were 88 cases in week 28 in early July; 77 in week 29; 88 in week 30 and 94 in week 31. In week 32 at the start of August infections increased to 149 and they reached 161 in week 33.

Investigating sudden rise in infections
The rise has affected different parts of the country but one county, Sörmland, found 12 cases in July and already there have been 19 in August.

Rikard Dryselius, a microbiologist at Folkhalsomyndigheten, said the general increase is seen in most counties across Sweden, especially in those with a large enough population base.

“We do not know yet whether it is an outbreak or not. The information we have is a sudden increase in the number of human cases that, according to the Swedish National Veterinary Institute, follows a sudden increase among large broiler flocks. Typing is under way and comparisons will be performed,” he told Food Safety Website.

The SVA reports information weekly on the proportion of Campylobacter positive flocks. This shows an increase for week 29, 30 and 31.

Campylobacter infection is more common in the summer, but the increase comes after a period when the incidence has been unusually low. The prevalence of Campylobacter in broiler flocks has been very low during the first half of the year.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is one plausible explanation for the low numbers as similar patterns have also been observed for other diseases, which we intend to investigate further. An additional explanation could also be the low level of Campylobacter positive broiler flocks, as you can see in the statistics of SVA,” said Dryselius.

Tackling Campylobacter problem
For the past three years, Folkhalsomyndigheten and Livsmedelsverket have compared Campylobacter from fresh chicken bought in stores during the summer with Campylobacter from human cases during the corresponding period.

This work found about a third of cases could be linked to chicken meat and the majority to Swedish conventionally bred chicken.

Evidence so far suggests the increase in infections and higher occurrence in broiler flocks is also on this occasion connected, according to Folkhalsomyndigheten.

Folkhalsomyndigheten and the National Veterinary Institute will analyze Campylobacter samples from patients and broiler flocks as part of the investigation.

A total of 8,132 cases of campylobacteriosis were reported in 2018 compared to 10,608 in 2017. Most are considered sporadic but in the past few years, several large outbreaks linked to domestically produced chicken have occurred. In 2016 and 2017, the country had a large outbreak caused by Swedish chicken with an estimated 5,000 more cases reported between August 2016 and May 2017 than normal.

People with infection usually have diarrhea which is often bloody, fever, and stomach cramps. Nausea and vomiting may occur. Symptoms usually start two to five days after the person ingests Campylobacter and last about one week.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety Website, click here.)

]]> 0
Farmer guilty of putting metal in baby food Fri, 21 Aug 2020 04:05:43 +0000 Continue Reading]]> A man who put shards of metal in baby food jars in the United Kingdom has been found guilty of blackmail and contaminating goods.

Nigel Wright began threatening supermarket chain Tesco in spring 2018, writing to his local store in Lincolnshire and warning unless they paid him £750,000 ($982,000) worth of bitcoin – an online currency that would allow the 45-year-old to remain anonymous – he would spike food on their shelves.

Under the pseudonym ‘Guy Brush’, Wright, a farmer, demanded larger sums of money up to £1.5 million ($1.96 million) in bitcoin, telling Tesco he would also contaminate jars with Salmonella, white powder and knives.

He is scheduled to be sentenced in late September.

Heinz and Cow & Gate baby food recalled
In mid-December 2019, a mother in Lockerbie found small knife fragments in the baby food she was about to give her child. When a nationwide recall was issued in that month, a family in Rochdale also contacted the company saying they had thrown out two tins of baby food containing metal.

Cow and Gate baby food recalled in January 2020

This recall involved Heinz and Tesco removing from sale all of the 7+ months Heinz By Nature baby food range after the discovery that a jar had been tampered with as two sharp metal fragments were found in the pot. One month later, Cow & Gate and Tesco recalled 15 varieties of 7+ month Cow & Gate baby food jars sold in the UK following concerns some may have been tampered with.

Wright is believed to have placed three jars of baby food with shards of metal in two Tesco stores between May 2018 and February 2020.

Charles White, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Wright demanded an extraordinary amount of money, and was so determined to secure it that he was prepared to contaminate children’s food on supermarket shelves. It is a testament to the vigilance of parents and the swift action taken by the supermarket, police and other agencies that the public were kept safe.”

Investigation and arrest
When arrested in February 2020, Wright told police he had been threatened to do the extortion by people who said they would harm his family if he did not.

The investigation was run by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit assisted by partners including the National Crime Agency as well as Tesco, Heinz and Cow & Gate. It was supported by the Food Standards Agency, Food Standards Scotland, Public Health England, Public Health Scotland and Police Scotland.

Operation Hancock, which was the largest blackmail inquiry ever in the UK was led by Hertfordshire Assistant Chief Constable Bill Jephson.

“Throughout this investigation, our key focus was to safeguard the public and identify the individual or group involved as they clearly had no concern for the impact of their actions. I hope the conviction of Nigel Wright will serve as a deterrent to anyone who thinks blackmail is a viable criminal option. The resources available to law enforcement to respond to threats of this nature are significant as crimes like this will simply not be tolerated,” he said.

The prosecution was able to prove there was no evidence to support Wright’s claims. Instead, Hertfordshire police found material which pointed to the fact he had acted alone.

Evidence against Wright
A laptop was discovered in his Toyota with draft copies of the extortion letters and access to the email account that “Guy Brush” had used to communicate with Tesco.

Wright searched online for “tesco tampered” and “boy autopsy” and had read an article about the recall of baby food.

The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, also known as the Old Bailey, was shown photos Wright had taken of contaminated jars, positioned next to small knives and with small, green markings on the base of the jar.

As the blackmail continued, an officer posed as a Tesco employee and gave Wright an access code for the £100,000 ($131,000) worth of bitcoin. When Wright was arrested, he had a copy of this access code written on a piece of paper.

White said evidence included the laptop, images Wright had taken of contaminated food and the bitcoin access code.

“He created an elaborate lie saying that he himself was blackmailed, but it is clear Wright was the only person responsible for potentially putting the public’s safety at risk.”

Wright was found guilty of three counts of blackmail and two counts of contaminating goods after a nine day trial. He was remanded in custody and will be sentenced in late September.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety Website, click here.)

]]> 0
Outbreak investigation finds different Salmonella strain in chicken nuggets Thu, 20 Aug 2020 04:03:18 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Testing of chicken nuggets as part of an outbreak investigation has revealed a different strain of Salmonella.

Public Health England (PHE) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are investigating a 2018 Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak to try and find the source.

Chicken nuggets were tested because they were referenced in a patient interview in relation to the Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak but while negative for that strain they were positive for Salmonella Infantis.

PHE has confirmed there are no cases linked to the Salmonella found in the chicken nuggets. The agency is looking at a number of other Salmonella infections to see if it’s possible to establish a common cause for them.

An initial Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) alert described a foodborne outbreak in the United Kingdom suspected to be caused by Salmonella in frozen chicken nuggets from Poland. While the alert was still live at the time of publication, Food Safety Website has been assured it is incorrect.

Raw product that needs cooking
The chicken nuggets product was sold in a supermarket and the retailer has withdrawn it from sale. The FSA would not say if the item was currently being sold.

Screenshot of RASFF notice that FSN has been assured is incorrect

“Due to confidentiality requirements of RASFF we do not share details on brand or business names. The RASFF portal is a restricted system because it contains commercially sensitive information,” said an FSA spokeswoman.

“As this is a raw product, effective cooking in line with the instructions on the pack, and normal good hygiene practices will prevent illness. Therefore a recall was not required. As the product is produced in Poland, we have notified the authorities in Poland via RASFF to investigate further with the manufacturer.”

The spokeswoman said such products are not ready to eat and require cooking.

“If cooked in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and good hygiene handling practices are followed, such as washing hands after handling the raw products and good kitchen hygiene, then this will be sufficient to protect people from illness.”

Supermarket chain Iceland recently recalled chicken breast toppers and southern fried chicken popsters because Salmonella was found in the products.

The FSA said investigations are ongoing but there’s no confirmed link between the two issues as yet.

Iceland Chip Shop Curry Chicken Breast Toppers 400-gram with best-before dates Feb. 27, March 17 and April 8, 2021 are affected. Southern Fried Chicken Popsters in a 220-gram pack have a best-before date of April 4, 2021.

Raw material for these products came from Poland and they were distributed to Brunei, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Falkland Islands, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guernsey, Ireland, Israel, Jersey, Malta, Norway, Saint Helena, Saudi Arabia Spain and Thailand.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety Website, click here.)

]]> 0
PHE axed with England to get new health agency Wed, 19 Aug 2020 04:03:54 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Public Health England has been scrapped with England to get a new public health authority.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced a new agency called the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) that is focused on controlling infectious disease, pandemics and health protection.

PHE circulates laboratory data on pathogens, infections and communicable diseases of public health importance and reports on outbreaks, incidents and ongoing investigations. PHE Food Water and Environmental Microbiology lab staff are involved in investigating outbreaks of foodborne disease. PHE is also the United Kingdom’s national reference laboratory (NRL) for food microbiology. It is as yet unclear how these and other functions will be transferred to NIHP.

“To give ourselves the best chance of . . . spotting and being ready to respond to other health threats, now and in the future — we are creating a brand new organization to provide a new approach to public health protection and resilience,” said Hancock in a prepared statement.

Plans are to model the new agency on Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI). It will start immediately under interim leadership of Dido Harding and the transition will be complete in spring 2021. Michael Brodie will be interim chief executive officer of PHE and Duncan Selbie, outgoing PHE chief executive, will become a senior advisor to the Department of Health and Social Care on global and public health.

Selbie said the change does not reflect failure on PHE’s part: “The future arrangements for delivering everything else we do for the country including on health improvement and our corporate services will be worked through over the coming weeks and months . . . “

The Health Protection Agency model was scrapped by the government when PHE was launched in 2013 and public health was brought under control of the Department of Health and Social Care. PHE has faced criticism for its handling of aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wide remit and reorganizing during global pandemic
Plans were leaked during the weekend in The Daily Telegraph before being made official a few days later. Speaking before the official announcement, Debbie Wood, executive director of membership and external affairs at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said PHE’s remit extends beyond pandemics.

“They have a wider role in protecting and improving the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reducing health inequalities. Simply scrapping PHE and replacing it with a new unit is not a magic wand that will solve all of the issues the country has faced in dealing with COVID-19,” she said.

“Focusing on sweeping organizational change when we are still in the middle of a pandemic is questionable, and we would urge the UK Government to instead put its resources into addressing the situation on the ground. Test and trace needs improving, and local authorities and public health teams need better support.”

Unite, a union representing some PHE employees, said instead of merging it into a new body, PHE should continue its present role and money cut from its budget by the government should be restored. Unite national officer for health Jackie Williams said PHE and its staff are being lined up as the fall guy.

“We are calling for PHE to continue in its present role and allowed to do its vital work, rather than spend huge amounts of time, effort and money reorganizing England’s public health structures in the middle of a global pandemic,” she said.

“The lack of consultation is both appalling and insulting. PHE needs to have the resources to do the job it is designed to do, which is protecting the public health of the people in England, without inappropriate buck-passing political interference.”

Other PHE responsibilities
Christina Marriott, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, questioned the timing of plans to scrap the national public health agency in the midst of a global pandemic and before any public inquiry has started.

“Public health cannot be defined as a narrow health protection agenda. COVID-19 has shown that tackling non-communicable diseases such as obesity and diabetes, including their health inequalities, is vital if England’s population is to be resilient to pandemics. It may be appropriate for the functions to sit in different agencies – but clear accountability for outcomes in health improvement, health inequalities and health protection must be established.”

Ian Johnson, nutrition researcher and Emeritus Fellow, Quadram Institute Bioscience, said the responsibilities of PHE in relation to non-communicable diseases must not be forgotten.

“I very much hope that the excellent contributions that PHE currently makes to the field of public health nutrition, particularly in relation to food policy and the management of obesity, will be supported and strengthened for the future,” he said.

Beth Thompson, head of UK/EU Policy at Wellcome, said people mustn’t lose sight of the fact that public health threats are not limited to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

“We cannot afford to neglect urgent public health challenges such as mental health and drug-resistant infections.”

Professor Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health, University of Edinburgh, said the overwhelming burden of death and disease is caused by chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia and others.

“A significant proportion of these diseases are preventable and PHE plays a central role in that through its health improvement functions. This involves addressing health inequalities, overweight and obesity, smoking, harmful use of alcohol, drug misuse, air pollution and a huge range of other important public health priorities. There is a real risk that reorganization threatens these functions. We don’t yet know how or where they will continue to be delivered,” Bauld said

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety Website, click here.)

]]> 0
Tiger Brands to sell processed meat division traced to deadly outbreak Tue, 18 Aug 2020 04:05:06 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Tiger Brands is to sell its processed meats division, which includes the business implicated in the Listeria outbreak in South Africa in 2017 and 2018.

The transaction includes two separate deals — Molare Proprietary Ltd. will buy the abattoir business at Olifantsfontein and Silver Blade Abattoir Proprietary Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Country Bird Holdings, will acquire the meat processing businesses at Germiston, Polokwane and Pretoria.

Molare, a major supplier of pigs to the abattoir business, will pay 117 million Rand ($6.7 million) for this deal while Silver Blade has agreed a 311 million Rand ($17.8 million) purchase for the meat processing businesses and all the inventories with the transaction expected to be effective beginning in November this year.

Listeria outbreak
The value added meat products (VAMP) business units operate from an abattoir and three meat processing facilities in South Africa, where they produce and package products such as polony, viennas, bacon and sausages.

The listeriosis outbreak began in 2017 and was declared over in September 2018 with 1,065 confirmed cases and 218 deaths and is now the subject of a class action law suit. It was traced in March 2018 to a ready-to-eat processed meat product called polony made at the plant in Polokwane and run by Enterprise Foods, which is owned by Tiger Brands.

Country Bird operates the Supreme Chicken brand, which provides frozen chickens for households, Nutri Feeds brand, which is active in animal nutrition, Opti Agri brand supplying day old chicks into the poultry market, Country Bird Logistics brand which provides a wholesale branch to Country Bird´s operations and poultry related operations in eight other African countries.

Noel Doyle, CEO of Tiger Brands, said almost 1,000 jobs will be safeguarded with the sale of the business.

“This is no small matter, particularly given the escalating unemployment in South Africa in the context of the severely constrained environment and poor economic outlook. We felt that it was our duty to our employees, customers and consumers to ensure that the processed meats category – an important source of protein to many South Africans – properly recovered after the listeriosis outbreak,” he said.

No impact on class action
Tiger Brands conducted a review in 2017 looking at selling its VAMP business. However, the outbreak and closure of manufacturing facilities delayed the evaluation. When the business re-opened at the beginning of the 2019 financial year, a review was started.

In late 2019, a Tiger Brands stock market statement said the business was “not an ideal fit within its portfolio” and that consideration should be given to exiting the category with several offers received.

Tiger Brands said the transactions do not impact the class action law suit or affect its commitment to resolve the ongoing legal process. Any potential liability under the class action will not transfer to the new owners.

“We cannot overstate the significant and far reaching consequences of the listeriosis crisis, particularly on the victims of the outbreak and their families. Tiger Brands remains committed to following due process to ensure that an equitable resolution of the matter is reached in the shortest possible time,” said Doyle.

In June, the Johannesburg Division of the Gauteng High Court ruled in favor of Tiger Brands telling the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), two accredited national laboratories and some meat producers to provide epidemiological information for the class action lawsuit.

Tiger Brands said the ruling would help provide access to information relevant to the proceedings and enable parties on both sides to move matters forward. The firm issued subpoenas in May 2019 to NICD and other parties requesting the information and later filed an application to the High Court.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety Website, click here.)

]]> 0
FSA: Tech is useful but cannot replace physical inspection Sat, 15 Aug 2020 04:08:00 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Remote food safety assessments are useful but cannot replace a physical inspection, according to the Food Standards Agency.

Virtual food hygiene inspections are being used in the United Kingdom but local authorities cannot give a business a food hygiene rating based only on a digital overview.

Michael Jackson, head of the FSA’s Regulatory Compliance Division, said the global spread of coronavirus has brought an unprecedented set of challenges.

“During this difficult time, new and innovative ways to help local authorities form a view of food hygiene standards at businesses have been developed. These offer real potential for the future but have not yet been properly tried and tested,” he said.

“Our view is that, at present, remote food safety assessments conducted virtually are a useful tool to help inform a view of a business’s hygiene standards, but they cannot replace a physical inspection. Remote food safety assessments are not suitable for all businesses and where they have been used during the pandemic we will be evaluating the experience of local authorities and food businesses to determine the appropriate circumstances for them to be used to inform inspections in the longer term.”

A council’s experience
In the initial phases of the pandemic, FSA advised local authorities to defer planned inspections and focus resources on urgent reactive work, such as investigating foodborne outbreaks and doing remote assessments of poorly compliant and other high-risk businesses with onsite visits only where there was evidence of potentially serious public health risks.

In late June, the advice changed with the focus on resuming physical inspections for poorly compliant and high-risk businesses, including those that changed activities during the pandemic or reopened after a prolonged closure. Initial remote assessment will be used to target areas to focus on during the subsequent onsite visit to manage resources and minimize time onsite.

Tendring District Council’s environmental health team piloted Digital Inspections from Scores on the Doors (SOTD), allowing staff at the council in Essex, England, to inspect food premises remotely during the shutdown. The tool was put together after a conversation with Transparency Data when the country went into lockdown.

Tendring has been using virtual inspections for COVID-19 checks, low-risk food inspections, and to offer guidance; allowing staff to see the inside of premises when site visits were not possible and respond to questions quickly.

The council is speaking with the FSA about using virtual inspections and sharing findings from the work. The agency contacted the council to remind them the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) Brand Standard only permits ratings to be given following an inspection, partial inspection, or audit.

A wider conversation to be had
The FSA is gathering case studies from local authorities on their experience of using remote assessment to inform hygiene inspections. The agency will also be doing a formal evaluation looking at appropriate circumstances for using this approach in the longer term based on local authority and food businesses’ experiences. This will begin in the autumn.

Each business is given a score from A to D with A being the highest risk. For example, a hospital would be classed as A, while a corner shop with pre-wrapped sweets would be a D. Remote inspections are aimed at lower risk sites to help with the backlog facing councils due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of local authority resources. Many businesses adapted to takeaway services during the outbreak.

Limitations with virtual assessments include what can be observed using technology, and officers cannot use techniques associated with a physical inspection to find pest control, cross-contamination, and temperature issues. There can also be problems with the integrity of evidence supplied virtually.

View on the ground
An experienced environmental health officer (EHO) said technology certainly has a role to play as part of the job but not for inspections.

“An inspection is unannounced, here I am, I am looking everywhere. If it’s a pub that one of our contractors inspected and the toilet seats were kicked off, the door locks smashed and the cellar needed a paint. I am happy to accept a series of photos, a What’s App video and some invoices from the contractors and the FSA says we can comply with those,” the EHO told Food Safety Website.

“If it saves a long drive to premises just to see that I am fine with it but not an inspection that turns out a risk rating for how soon we go back, what we are doing and also the food hygiene rating. You want to be looking under everywhere, smelling and getting the feel for it. I can’t check the use-by dates and fridge door seals. I am not against modern technology but not for inspections. I’ve been to places for years and then they’ll let slip about some walk-in freezers upstairs. So what’s it going to be like with the food business operator holding the camera? You can’t replace an hour on-site with someone walking around with a phone.

“It’s the terminology and what you apply it to, an inspection is completely different than checking those little things. I am fully supportive of keeping the core code of practice, the brand standard, and the core interventions of inspection, re-visits, advice visits, and notices and blending in some of these other techniques. A picture can provide more intelligence to inform my next onsite inspection. We can give businesses an opportunity to send us stuff showing what they do. Use the technology, make it easier, make us better informed and give a business the opportunity to respond but not to replace the inspection.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety Website, click here.)

]]> 0
Inquiry criticizes handling of I Cook Foods Listeria case Thu, 13 Aug 2020 04:08:21 +0000 Continue Reading]]> A parliamentary inquiry into the closure of an Australian catering business has found the council failed in its role as a regulator.

I Cook Foods, which provided pre-packed meals to hospitals and the aged care sector, was temporarily closed in February 2019 during attempts to find the source of infection after an 86-year-old woman with listeriosis died.

The investigation led to a closure order which ultimately resulted in the loss of contracts and clients, employees being made redundant, and shutting down the business. Witnesses told the inquiry it was not normal for a site to remain shut under a closure order for a month. I Cook Foods was charged with 48 breaches of the Food Act but these were later dropped by the City of Greater Dandenong.

Council failed in aspects of the regulatory role
The Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee made 13 recommendations following an eight-week investigation that concluded I Cook Foods was not subject to a sound and proper process and there were significant shortcomings in how the firm was dealt with by food safety regulators.

“We found that the closure order was validly executed but that the framework in which the decision to impose the order was made and the processes that led to this decision were inadequate and that I Cook Foods was not dealt with in a fair or consistent way,” said committee chair Fiona Patten.

“The City of Greater Dandenong Council failed in many aspects of their role as regulator. In fact, the committee received evidence of inconsistent reporting practices, fluctuation in inspection procedures, inadequate processes, inadequate adherence to the processes in place, and poor communication by the City of Greater Dandenong.”

The committee heard evidence that highlighted outdated provisions in the Food Act 1984 contributed to difficulties in the investigation. The Department of Health and Human Services needs more powers for food safety regulation in Victoria, according to the inquiry.

“The Food Act 1984 is complex and outdated and should be amended to ensure that certain processes are consistently regulated and decrease the likelihood of situations such as this one arising in the future,” said Patten.

Spotlight on conflict of interest
The committee considered whether there was improper conduct in the closure of I Cook Foods due to a conflict of interest relating to the council CEO’s position on the board of rival business, Community Chef, and/or pending sale of this firm to the State Government.

“It is problematic for the chief executive officer of a local council to have conflicting interests within the same industry they are empowered to regulate,” according to the inquiry report.

Community Chef, created with 14 Victorian local councils, had been operating at a loss since 2016 and did gain additional business following the closure of I Cook Foods but the committee could not determine if this was directly due to any of the parties involved.

At the time of closure, I Cook Foods employed 41 staff and was estimated to provide 7,000 meals per week. Clients were emailed on Feb. 21, 2019 about its closure. This was before I Cook Foods had been formally notified of the closure order.

“It is unacceptable and improper that clients of I Cook Foods Pty Ltd were notified of its closure prior to the business being closed,” said the committee.

Listeria positives possibly related
The trigger for the investigation was an 86-year-old woman contracting Listeriosis at Knox Private Hospital. Of 25 samples taken from the I Cook Foods premises in February 2019, Listeria monocytogenes strains in four food samples of ham and corned beef sandwiches were possibly related to the human sample. Levels found were under the limit in the Food Standards Code.

The City of Greater Dandenong’s three to four-yearly portfolio rotation policy for environmental health officers were not followed in relation to I Cook Foods Pty Ltd.

Ian Cook, director of the company, told a hearing the company had never been cited for unsafe practices. Records from the Dandenong council demonstrated concerns about the presence of Listeria, and food safety practices dating back to 2015. Some issues included problems with the floor, large oven placement, a configuration of walkways, rusty or damaged equipment, and deficiencies in the food safety plan. Between 2016 and 2018 the council received 13 notifications or complaints about food originating from the facility.

Cook alleged an environmental health officer at the council planted a slug during an inspection of the company’s premises, a claim the EHO denied when asked by the committee. Victoria Police is investigating the closure of I Cook Foods.

“The City of Greater Dandenong did not ensure that long-term food safety issues at I Cook Foods were properly addressed in line with its food safety management processes and did not adequately communicate these issues to I Cook Foods as they arose. The abrupt nature of the escalation of known food safety issues at I Cook Foods is concerning and points to deficiencies in process and access to procedural fairness,” according to the committee.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety Website, click here.)

]]> 0
Auditors find overdue inspections and poor recordkeeping Wed, 12 Aug 2020 04:05:32 +0000 Continue Reading]]> An audit report in an Australian state has found many inspections of food businesses were overdue, recordkeeping was poor, and follow-up and enforcement were not always completed or consistent.

The Western Australian Auditor General’s report focused on food safety regulation by two local government entities, one a metropolitan and the other a regional one, with large numbers of restaurants, cafes, and bars in their districts. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic scope of the audit was amended and it was decided not to identify the local governments.

Auditor General Caroline Spencer said the audit found overdue inspections, poor recordkeeping, and gaps in enforcement.

“These weaknesses increase the risk that unsafe food practices are not fixed, and the public consumes hazardous food. Both entities have advised us that they are in the process of completing overdue inspections and improving their inspection and enforcement practices and reporting. Ultimately, it makes good business sense to maintain clean premises and comply with food safety standards to avoid any reputational damage from serving food that makes people ill,” she said.

Spencer added the findings are not about encouraging more regulation of businesses, as this can lead to an unnecessary burden on food firms.

In 2016-17, Western Australia had 23,000 registered food businesses. Across the state, more than 7,000 cases of intestinal infectious disease were reported in 2017. The Department of Health estimates that a 1 percent decrease in foodborne illness could save the community and health system nearly AUS $6 million (the U.S. $4.3 million) annually.

Overdue inspections detailed
Low-risk firms are inspected every 18 months from the starting point, which is the initial inspection frequency after a business is classified, with a minimum of 24 and a maximum of 12 months.

Medium risk companies are inspected every 12 months from the starting point or a maximum of six and a minimum of 18 months. High-risk sites are inspected every six months from the start or a maximum of three and a minimum of 12 months.

The audit report found current inspection and enforcement processes in the two local government agencies do not support an effective risk-based approach for regulating food businesses. Nearly 30 percent of high and medium risk inspections were overdue as 214 of 741 food business visits were pending as of November 2019.

The first government agency had 48 percent of high and 33 percent of medium risk firms overdue for inspection. On average, they were overdue by around 270 days. The second entity had 44 percent of high and 21 percent of medium risk businesses overdue. On average, they were late by more than 400 days.

These deviations mean businesses are paying annual fees for inspections that are not performed and they may miss out on information and advice on food safety practices. Both agencies told the auditor that some inspections could not be completed because businesses had canceled their registration or were closed.

Business information gaps
Both entities had incomplete records of inspections and inaccurate business register data. In a sample of 35 Australian Food Safety Assessment paper inspection forms, some were difficult to read, missing details, or an assessment against each standard was not recorded. Both agencies said they are developing an electronic form to improve the quality and completeness of inspection information. An electronic version of this inspection form is already available.

Company information in registers was not always accurate or complete as 47 of 1,204 businesses across both entities had no record of inspection and one agency had 15 companies in which the next inspection pre-dates the last one. Incomplete or inaccurate information can result in missed visits, and firms not being inspected according to appropriate risk classification.

Auditors found an instance where risk was not reassessed for business after multiple serious non-compliances were identified. In a review of 41 inspections across both entities, there were 30 inspections that identified non-compliance in food skills and knowledge, cleanliness, maintenance, handwashing facilities, or protecting food from contamination.

Both entities were not following up instances of identified non-compliance in a consistent way, to ensure food safety issues were fixed. Environmental Health Officers only recommended an improvement notice for two businesses, but these were never issued. One company had a follow-up inspection, while the other was later fined AUS $250 (the U.S. $180) for hazardous foods being thawed with no temperature control.

According to the Department of Health records, in 2018-19, only 2.6 percent of 734 inspections across both local government entities led to formal enforcement. Less than 1 percent of all inspections resulted in an improvement notice, the first option for non-compliance.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety Website, click here.)

]]> 0
Three of four UK Listeria outbreaks unsolved in 2018 Tue, 11 Aug 2020 04:04:15 +0000 Continue Reading]]> The source of infection was not found for three of four Listeria outbreaks in England in 2018.

The one which was solved was an international outbreak that involved 12 cases in England from 2015 to 2018 and was traced to frozen sweetcorn and vegetables produced by Greenyard in Hungary.

The company found the cause of contamination, a persistent presence of Listeria monocytogenes in one of the freezing tunnels, and closed down this tunnel at the plant. In June 2019, the factory was sold to Roger & Roger, a producer of potato and corn snacks.

This multi-country incident included 54 clinical cases of listeriosis in Australia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, and the UK with 10 deaths. The outbreak was detected in Finland using whole-genome sequencing (WGS).

Traceability information indicated that frozen corn was produced in Hungary and packed in Poland. It was found that people had eaten the frozen sweetcorn uncooked, although instructions on the packaging told consumers to cook it. Implicated frozen products were distributed to 116 countries.

The second incident involved four people with illness onset in 2017 and 2018. The third outbreak sickened three people and the final one had five reported cases all in 2018.

Increase in Listeria from 2017
In 2018, 156 cases of listeriosis were reported in England and Wales and 32 people died which was higher than the 135 infections in 2017 but otherwise the lowest total since 2011.

Most infections were in those older than 80, particularly in men aged 70 and over. Of the 18 cases in the 10 to 19 and 20 to 29 age groups, 17 were female and 14 were associated with pregnancy. Pregnancy-associated infections accounted for 26 of all reported cases and, where known, a third of these cases resulted in stillbirth or miscarriage.

Nearly a quarter of 130 non-pregnancy associated cases died. This represented a 2.7 percent decline in the proportion of reported deaths (n=45) compared to the preceding six years.

National surveillance of listeriosis in England and Wales is coordinated by the Gastrointestinal Infections team at Public Health England (PHE).

In England, the North East had the highest incidence rate whilst the East of England had the lowest. Wales reported five cases in 2018. July was the peak month for listeriosis reporting in 2018. Cases were infected with different strains of Listeria monocytogenes and no outbreaks influenced this peak. In 2016 and 2017 numbers peaked in October and July respectively.

Despite an increase in 2018, the number of cases remains low compared to previous years, according to PHE.

“As a predominantly foodborne infection, this severe disease is largely preventable. It remains imperative that sporadic cases of illness and clusters of the disease continue to be monitored and investigated to inform the continued risk assessment of the food chain.”

NRL work on Listeria and E. coli
Meanwhile, PHE experts were told of two Listeria and five Salmonella clusters in a 12 month period, according to a report.

The UK’s National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for food microbiology is provided by PHE for the Food Standards Agency (FSA). The annual report of the NRL’s activities between April 2019 and March 2020 covers Listeria monocytogenes, coagulase-positive staphylococci, E. coli including STEC, Campylobacter, Salmonella and antimicrobial resistance.

There were two Epidemic Intelligence Information System (EPIS) inquiries of Listeria monocytogenes clusters sent from the Listeria European Reference Laboratory (EURL) held by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES). The NRL contacted PHE to respond to the EURL with the requested information. EPIS is a web-based platform that allows certain public health experts to assess whether current and emerging threats have a potential impact on Europe.

An FSA inquiry concerned a lab using an alternative method to ISO 11290-1 for Listeria detection; the NRL requested further details of the test and gave recommendations. Investigations were still ongoing at the time of the report.

The NRL received 14 outbreak alerts from the EURL for E. coli run by the Istituto Superiore di Sanità; nine from the United States, and five from individual EU countries.

Campylobacter and Salmonella
In July 2019, the Swedish National Veterinary Institute (SVA) as EURL for Campylobacter sent a questionnaire to all NRLs on implementation of the Process Hygiene Criteria (PHC), including sampling and methodological aspects. This was sent to FSA to refine answers and then collated information was submitted.

There were messages on five EPIS Salmonella clusters between April and March 2019 from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) the EURL for Salmonella. RIVM also wrote to NRLs in March 2020 to ask whether Salmonella testing on poultry before slaughter was still being performed under Regulation (EU) No. 200/2012, as COVID-19 was causing many EU countries to lockdown and experience staff shortages.

In March this year, the EURL launched monitoring of Salmonella Mikawasima isolates in food, animals, animal feed, and the environment, to investigate the source of human cases. Due to COVID-19, there will be a delay in the UK reporting data.

The EURL for antimicrobial resistance, run by the National Food Institute, sent an urgent inquiry on behalf of ECDC and EFSA in January 2020 for NRLs to share WGS data on OXA-244 carbapenemase-producing E. coli from food, feed or animals to support an outbreak investigation.

In April 2019, it was decided to stop testing to detect Staphylococcus enterotoxin from all food and drink matrices from June of that year. Demand for toxin detection in coagulase-positive staphylococci in the UK is very low, with on average one request every two years. The UK NRL outsources this method to an NRL in the Netherlands when a request is received from an official control lab and is related to official control work.

From September 2019 the FSA requested NRLs do not attend any EU meetings, after a government statement in August. However, it was agreed individual experts could attend EURL meetings, as these are of public health importance for the UK.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety Website, click here.)

]]> 0