Stories tagged food safety

Sep
21
2008

Deadly milk formula: Melamine added to Chinese baby milk is deadly.
Deadly milk formula: Melamine added to Chinese baby milk is deadly.Courtesy kirikiri

Babies are dying

Four babies have died after drinking milk powder contaminated with melamine. Melamine is a cheap plastic made from oil, and when added to powdered milk, looks like protein in tests. Melamine was in the news over a year ago when pet food from China containing melamine was killing people's pets. In an attempt to regain public confidence, China executed a top drug regulator who was taking bribes to approve substandard medicines, including an antibiotic blamed for at least 10 deaths.

So far 19 people have been arrested while 78 others have been interrogated, according to Yang Zongyong, vice governor of the northern province of Hebei where Sanlu is based.

"We will severely punish and discipline those people and workers who have acted illegally," Health Minister Gao said Saturday. Beijing AFP

Parents are furious

After a month of pride in China's national achievements with hosting the olympics, the food scandal has angry citizens posting quotes like:

"Drink a glass of milk a day, wipe out a country!"

"Foreign milk costs money, domestic milk costs lives" The Independent

Inspection free and government approved

Until a week ago, Sanlu's baby milk formula came with a seal stating "no inspection needed": their 1100 tests met the highest possible standards of government approval.
"So the question should really be whether the victims can sue the Chinese government."

Somebody should have to pay

"In an unprecedented stand yesterday that will test the Communist Party's limits on civil society, more than 70 human rights lawyers from 23 provinces and municipalities announced they will help parents whose babies are sick or have developed kidney stones from drinking tainted infant formula" (read more in the Sunday Herald)

Sep
05
2007

Safer strawberries: Yanyun Zhao, a food technologist at Oregon State University, coats fresh strawberries with a new antimicrobial film that keeps mold away and keeps the berries ripe longer. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)
Safer strawberries: Yanyun Zhao, a food technologist at Oregon State University, coats fresh strawberries with a new antimicrobial film that keeps mold away and keeps the berries ripe longer. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)
We’ve all done it. That leftover food gets wrapped up in tight-fitting plastic wrap to be safely stored in the fridge to be eaten another day.

But what if we wrapped up our food before it was even cooked the first time?

Researchers are working with the concept right now, finding ways to use natural-occurring germ and disease fighters into thin films and powders that could coat our foods before they get to our dinner table. If they’re successful, we could have safe materials coating our foods that could keep them safe from E. coli, salmonella or other food-borne health problems.

Here’s just one idea: strawberries could be coated with a soup-like material made from egg proteins and shrimp shells. That coating would deflect molds from growing on the berries and leave them to be riper for a longer period of time. Likewise, a film made up of a weave of thyme derivatives – which can kill E. coli – could be used in the lining of spinach bags, ending the health alerts like we’ve recently heard about for that vegetable.

Film for food: A continuous biodegradable protein film begins to form using the new ARS film-making process. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Film for food: A continuous biodegradable protein film begins to form using the new ARS film-making process. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture)
The films are made from a variety of natural products that will dissolve in water. And in some cases, they can even be manipulated to carry flavors, although the big push is to make them flavorless so that the coated food’s natural flavor comes through.

To most researchers’ knowledge, none of these new coatings is being used in food products being offered in our stores today. But they’re coming fast. Patents have been applied for and business agreements are being drawn up with food companies to start using this new concept.

Have you ever tried one of those new breath-freshening strips or cough drop film? They look like a piece of tapes, you pop them in your mouth and they quickly dissolve to carry their payload into your mouth. These new food films are just like that. In fact, researchers say consumers should be much more likely to embrace this idea if they’ve tried those products already on the market.

It’s not a radical new idea as it might sound. Wax has been used as a coating on apples and aspirin for a long time. Some frozen pizzas have a thin layer on film over their crusts to keep the pizza sauce from seeping into it before the pizza is cooked.

So what do you think? Would you eat food with thin film on it if you knew it would be safer food? I think this is pretty much a no-brainer “yes” to me. Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

It's out there...

by Liza on Dec. 20th, 2006

In other ominous food safety news, a study just published in Pediatrics shows that just being near meat or poultry in the grocery store is a risk factor for Salmonella infections in infants. (And by now you probably know about the E. coli infections related to spinach and lettuce...)

Dec
12
2006

The Minnesota Department of Health is investigating seven suspected cases of E. coli infection linked to Taco John's restaurants in Albert Lea and Austin. Almost three dozen people in Iowa came down with suspected E. coli infections after eating at a Taco Johns in Cedar Falls.

There's no indication that these infections are linked to the E. coli outbreak (64 cases) related to Taco Bell restaurants in the Northeast, but the Centers for Disease control haven't ruled a connection out, either.

Investigators initially thought contaminated green onions were the source of the infections, but follow-up testing on the samples was negative for E. coli. So we still don't know what the contaminated food was. But fresh produce is a likely culprit.

Bagged lettuce: Packaged produce, like this lettuce, makes it easier for us to  consume the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. But packaged, fresh produce is increasingly linked to outbreaks of food-borne illness. (Photo courtesy Michael Dietsch)
Bagged lettuce: Packaged produce, like this lettuce, makes it easier for us to consume the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. But packaged, fresh produce is increasingly linked to outbreaks of food-borne illness. (Photo courtesy Michael Dietsch)

And it's hardly the first time fresh produce has been implicated in outbreaks of food-borne disease. These latest cases follow hard on the heels of salmonella cases linked to tomatoes, and the nationwide E. coli outbreak linked to bagged spinach. (All in the last three months!)

According to the Washington Post,

"The number of produce-related outbreaks of food-borne illness has increased from 40 in 1999 to 86 in 2004, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Americans are now more likely to get sick from eating contaminated produce than from any other food item, the center said."

Why the increase?
Well, more people are eating fresh produce, especially pre-cut and packaged fruits and vegetables. Distribution has improved, as has electronic reporting of outbreaks. And the aging population of the US is more susceptible to food-borne disease. And produce is a particularly difficult challenge: with contaminated meat, cooking to the proper temperature will kill the bacteria that cause disease. (Food safety experts call this a "kill step.") But produce is often meant to be eaten raw—no kill step.

(For more on the SOURCES of E. coli in fresh produce, see the thread on the September spinach outbreak.)

So what do we do?
Again, according to the Washington Post,

"Consumer advocates think that tougher mandatory food safety standards and stepped-up enforcement are the answer. The country's largest food distributors and restaurants are pursuing self-regulation, arguing that government rules can take years to put in place. Produce growers and packers have suggested a voluntary system with elements of mandatory oversight."

But none of these are ready to be implemented right away.

Some folks are advocating for better and more frequent inspection of processing plants by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the agency is chronically short-staffed and underfunded. And the FDA doesn't have authority over food production at the farm level. Buyers such as Safeway and Albertsons have hired their own inspectors. But inspectors and food safety experts agree that there's no consistency because federal guidelines aren't specific enough.

The article says,

"'We don't have enough science to base those (guidelines) on to be comprehensive," said Kevin Reilly, a California food safety official who is participating in the investigation of the E. coli outbreak traced to bagged spinach. 'What's necessary is an agreed-upon set of agricultural practices. Instead of "Be aware of water quality," we need to say, "Test it with this frequency and in this fashion."'"

In the meantime, scientists are looking at various ways to kill potential contaminants without ruining the produce or having to cook it.

Unless something changes, there WILL be another outbreak.

My $0.02? I don't want to read any more stories about children or grandparents having kidney failure or even dying from E. coli infection. So I guess I'm all for killing off the bacteria, if we can. But part of me thinks, yes, I want safe food, but I also want CLEAN food. Even if eating poop can be made safe, I still don't want to eat poop!

What do you think? Do you worry about food safety? Do you rely on pre-cut and or packaged fruits and vegetables? What safety measures would you like to see? Any ideas about how we can improve the situation?