Foodborne illness rates holding at 1996-98 levels

by Eric Schroeder
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ATLANTA — Despite several high-profile Salmonella outbreaks during the past few years, the incidence of the most common foodborne illnesses has changed very little over the past three years, according to a 10-state report issued April 9 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the C.D.C., Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Listeria, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157, Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio, and Yersinia did not change significantly when compared to the previous three years (2005-07). In the case of Salmonella, the incidence of infections has remained between 14 and 16 cases per 100,000 persons since the first years of the surveillance in 1996-98. Of concern, though, is the fact that the 2008 incident rate for Salmonella is more than twice the stated goal as part of the government’s Healthy People 2010 targets. The 2008 rate also does not include the outbreak linkedto peanuts that has stretched into 2009.

The study considers outbreaks in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Tennessee — states considered to be representative of the entire U.S. population.

"This year’s report confirms a very important concern, especially with two high-profile Salmonella outbreaks in the last year," said Robert Tauxe, M.D., M.P.H., deputy director of the C.D.C.’s Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases. "We recognize that we have reached a plateau in the prevention of foodborne disease and there must be new efforts to develop and evaluate food safety practices from the farm to the table. The foodborne division at C.D.C. is planning to increase the capacity of several health departments so that outbreaks can be better detected and investigated."

Of the 18,499 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection identified by the C.D.C. in 2008, the most common cause was Salmonella, with 7,444 cases identified, followed by Campylobacter, with 5,825 cases.

The full report, "Preliminary FoodNet Data on the Incidence of Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food — 10 States, United States, 2008," is available on-line at

Avoid pistachio nuts, F.D.A. says

Despite the C.D.C. report, several food manufacturers found themselves embroiled in another recall involving nuts.

Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc. recalled all products made with the company’s pistachio nuts harvested during the 2008 crop year. Setton Farms is the second largest pistachio producer in the United States with more than 5,000 acres of trees.

In a news conference April 6, officials with the Food and Drug Administration advised consumers to avoid eating pistachio nuts for the time being. Officials made the comments after Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella recalled some of its products due to Salmonella contamination. Initially, products with a best before date between Jan. 6, 2010, and Jan. 19, 2010, were included in the recall. But after investigators from the California Department of Public Health and the F.D.A. visited the company’s California facility and identified Salmonella contamination in "critical areas" of the facility the company initiated a recall of all nuts processed during 2008.

A failure to adhere to Good Manufacturing Practices by mixing raw and roasted pistachio nuts during processing appears to be at the heart of the Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc. recall.

David Acheson, assistant commissioner for food protection at the F.D.A., told the Washington Post the company was apparently aware it had a Salmonella problem because its internal testing found the bacteria on roasted nuts. Managers ran those nuts through the roasting process a second time to kill the bacteria before shipping them to customers. They may have used the same machinery to process the reconditioned product as well as raw product.

The F.D.A. said the product contamination involves several strains of Salmonella. Several illnesses have been reported that the agency said may be associated with pistachio consumption. It is not yet known whether any of the Salmonella strains found in the pistachio products are linked to a specific foodborne illness outbreak.

The F.D.A. learned of the problem on March 24 when it was informed by Kraft Foods Inc. that its Back to Nature brand of trail mix was found to be contaminated with Salmonella. Kraft identified the source of the contamination to be pistachios from Setton and initiated a recall of its products.

Since March 30, in addition to Setton and Kraft Foods, several other companies, including Frito-Lay, Kroger Co., John B. Sanfilippo, Publix Supermarkets, Inc., Whole Foods Market, Fritz Company, Inc., and Pine River Pre-Pack, Inc., have initiated recalls. The F.D.A. has established a web site to help consumers and the food industry track the products that have been recalled. Visit for more information.

Collaborative web site launched

In an effort to inform consumers about brands and companies not involved in the current recall of pistachio products, Cal-Pure, a co-op of California pistachio growers, and the Western Pistachio Association launched The site is accessible directly through the F.D.A. web site devoted to the recall of products manufactured by Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc. and its parent company Setton International.

The site lists brands unaffected by the recall and will be updated as the recall situation evolves, according to the developers.

Setton Farms of Terra Bella, Inc. is a division of Setton International Foods, Inc., Commack, N.Y. In addition to the processing and sale of pistachio nuts, the company processes dried fruits, edible seeds, chocolate and yogurt panned items and candies for the snack industry. The company’s Terra Bella facility has the capacity to process 60 million lbs of pistachios per year.

California state lawmakers introduce food safety legislation

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — In response to the Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc. recall, two California legislators, Mike Feuer and Karen Bass, both of Los Angeles, have introduced food safety legislation that would, among other things, require food processors to report positive test results for a "dangerous contaminant" to state authorities within 24-hours.

"Once again California consumers and retailers are facing another food product recall," Ms. Bass said. "That’s unacceptable."

The proposed legislation has three primary points. First, food processors would be required to adopt "detailed plans" to ensure their products are safe. Second, food processors would have to undergo periodic testing. The legislation does not define what type of testing is proposed. And finally, manufacturers would be required to report positive test results to state authorities within 24 hours.

"We must also protect and support California’s food industry," Mr. Feuer said. "Businesses working hard to protect public health can suffer major losses when less scrupulous operators don’t do their part."

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, March 31, 2009, starting on Page 1. Click here to search that archive.

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