Beach Beat: Public’s right to know should trump trade secrets

by Coral Beach, Managing Editor, Food Safety News

ICYMI, as the texters say, the FDA finally came clean about a dirty food production operation, naming Dixie Dew Products Inc. as the manufacturer of soy-based goo marketed as an allergen-free alternative to peanut butter.

The revelation Friday evening came weeks after FDA inspectors found filthy conditions, insect infestation and broken food safety equipment at the Kentucky production plant. They went in to check the plant on March 3 because little kids across the country were infected from with the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 that was found in unopened jars of soy nut butter produced by Dixie Dew.

The violations were immediately evident, and the outbreak victim list was growing, but the Food and Drug Administration waited four weeks to name the producer. In the meantime, individual companies that had used the soy paste in their branded products were left to initiate their own recalls and consumers were left in the dark.

How much faster would products have been recalled if FDA had made public the name of the manufacturer and its list of customers? We will never know.

What we do know is that the outbreak count climbed from 12 sick people in five states to 29 people in a dozen states in the four weeks between the initial outbreak announcement and the FDA’s move to go public.

Twenty-four of the 29 victims are children, according to the Friday update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The median age of the victims is 8. A dozen victims have required hospitalization and nine victims have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure.

Why didn’t FDA reveal Dixie Dew as the manufacturer and use its considerable power to force all companies involved to immediately initiate recalls? Federal law protects “confidential corporate information” is the standard response from FDA officials.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty tired of that refrain. It’s true that federal agencies can’t lobby Congress, but FDA should take a cue from the folks over at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service who figured out how to get a rule change. The FSIS can and does collect and release retail distribution details and other information that helps consumers identify recalled meat and poultry products.

At least one member of Congress thinks its time for a change in the way FDA handles such situations. Representative Rosa Delauro, D-CT, praised FDA for shutting down Dixie Dew this past week, but called for the agency to do more.

“Not only did Dixie Dew fail to take action to prevent contamination of its products, we do not even know all of the names and locations of where the recalled products were sold,” DeLauro said in a news release.

“While the FDA made the right decision in shutting down the Dixie Dew plant, the agency should take another step forward and reverse its policy of withholding the names and locations of stores and schools where recalled food products are sold.

“As we have seen with Dixie Dew, it is irresponsible and insufficient to rely on the good faith of food corporations to provide all the necessary recall information. Americans deserve to know these details to ensure their health and safety.”

Research published in the March edition of the Journal of Environmental Health supports the argument for public disclosure.

Authored by a trio of food safety heavy hitters from academia — Benjamin Chapman of North Carolina State University, Maria Sol Erdozaim of Kansas State University, and Douglas Powell formerly of K-State and currently living and consulting in Australia — the special report on when to go public pulls together information from dozens of sources.

“The intent of this special report is to contribute to the discourse on public risk communication related to foodborne hazards, and to argue for the establishment of guidelines for determining what is timely, the information content of going-public messages, and to aid public health entities in protecting consumers’ health,” the researchers wrote.

Chapman and his fellow researchers examined numerous examples of foodborne illness outbreaks and how government responded and why. Some common denominators emerged in the answers to the “why” question:

  • Concern about public panic and/or information overload, which can lead to recall numbness;
  • Fear that the source of a pathogen could be misidentified, causing undeserved damage to specific companies or segments of industry, such as when FDA incorrectly identified domestic tomatoes as a source, later to discover that imported peppers were actually the cause of an outbreak; and
  • A lack of guidelines or procedures for determining when to go public, which encourages officials to wait longer to release information.

The researchers address each of these points and others, citing various government people and policies as well as previous research.

“There is no indication in the literature that consumers benefit from paternalistic protection decisions to guard against information overload,” Chapman, Erdozaim and Powell found on the point of public panic.

“Good risk communication practice is to be open and transparent; withholding information, for whatever seemingly logical reason, denies consumers the opportunity to take measures to protect their health. The information might eventually leak out anyway, thereby undermining an organization’s credibility.”

It’s worth the time to read the rest of the Chapman, Erdozaim, Powell report, but for those who don’t have time, let me cut to the chase for you.

“Public health officials have a challenging job: it can be difficult to discern true signals about an emerging risk from random noise. But establishing some ground rules — and publicizing those rules — would help build public trust,” the trio of food safety researchers contend.

“We propose that communicators and public health organizations develop guidelines for public disclosure of risks based on the questions in (the table at right). … Communication is important for educating the public about steps that individuals can take to reduce the spread of infectious disease and to protect themselves.

“Not naming the source of an outbreak or giving recall information too late affects the public’s trust in agencies. Furthermore, when the agencies themselves do not have a standard procedure regarding when to name or not name implicated firms in an outbreak, it seems as though the agencies’ priority is the firm and not public health.”

Well said.

This opinion piece first appeared at Food Safety News and is reposted with permission.

Recalls and Alerts: March 30 – April 2, 2017

Here is today’s list of food safety recalls, product withdrawals, allergy alerts and miscellaneous compliance issues. The live links will take you directly to the official recall notices and company news releases that contain detailed information for each recall and alert.

If you would like to receive automatic email alerts for all new articles posted on eFoodAlert, please submit your request using the sidebar link.

United States

Outbreak Alert/Recall Update: FDA has suspended the Food Facility Registration of Dixie Dew Products, Inc., manufacturer of the I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter that is behind an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, which has sickened 29 people in 12 states, sending 12 of the victims to hospital. The suspension comes on the heels of an FDA investigation into the operations of Dixie Dew and the discovery of numerous, serious and long-standing deviations from good manufacturing practices.

Allergy Alert: Reser’s Fine Foods, Inc. recalls Reser’s Macaroni Salad (16 oz.; Use by April 24, 2017; UPC 71117.19007) due to undeclared milk. The recalled product was distributed to grocery retailers and distributors in AL, CO, GA, KS, LA, MD, MO, MS, NY, OK, PA, TX, and WI.

Allergy Alert: Lifestyle Evolution recalls NuGo Slim Crunchy Peanut Butter nutrition bars (Manufacturing code B16119A; Best by 28-Jul-17; UPC (bar) 6 91535 20701 1; UPC (box) 6 91535 20702 8) due to undeclared milk.

Allergy Alert: Aldi, in cooperation with Olde York, recalls Clancy’s Snack Combo bags. Due to a packaging error, the product may contain undeclared milk. Please refer to the recall notice for additional details.

Food Safety Recall: Conagra Brands recalls Hunt’s Chili Kits (44.8 oz; UPC 20-0-27000-42063-2; Lot codes 3534619500, 3534622200 and 3534619600; Best by dates Apr 04, 2018, May 01, 2018 and Apr 05, 2018 respectively) due to possible Salmonella contamination.

Food Safety Recall: Sigma Alimentos Congelados recalls Menu del Sol Frozen Beans and Cheese Burritos (2 lb; Lot #C3018; BEST BY MAR01 18; UPC 45230-05601) after Listeria monocytogenes was detected in a sample during routine product testing. The recalled products were sold via retail outlets in California and Nevada.

Food Safety Recall: Hannaford (Chelmsford, MA) recalls 80 percent ground beef produced and sold at the store March 31, because the product may contain glass fragments.

Canada

Allergy Alert: La Cie McCormick Canada recalls Thai Kitchen Original Pad Thai Stir-fry Sauce (236 ml; Best before 2018JN27; UPC 7 37628 00510 9) due to undeclared peanuts. The recalled product was sold through retailers in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Saskatchewan.

Allergy Alert: Pêcherie Manicouagan inc. (Baie-Comeau, QC) recalls various products due to undeclared milk, egg, soy and sulfites. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of items.

Food Safety Recall: Central Smith Creamery recalls Wholesome Farms brand Vanilla Sundae Cup (115 mL; Product code 017032 and case of 48 x 115 ml; Product code 7382200017032029 2/1/17; UPC 00074865915427) due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. This recall was triggered by Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) test results. The product was distributed to food service customers in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and possibly to other provinces nationwide.

Food Safety Recall (Update): Frankly Fresh Salads Inc. and H.Y. Louie Co. Ltd. recall various Chef Destinations, Frankly Fresh Salads and Fresh St. brands Fresh Guacamole and 7 Layer Dip due to potential Listeria monocytogenes contamination. This is an expansion of an earlier recall. Please refer to the recall notice for complete details.

Europe

Allergy Alert (UK): Thorntons recalls Thorntons Dark Chocolate Easter Egg with a Personalised Iced Message (265g; All dates; all batches) due to undeclared milk in the icing.

Allergy Alert (Ireland): Thorntons recalls Thorntons Dark Chocolate Easter Egg with a Personalised Iced Message (265g; All dates; all batches) due to undeclared milk in the icing.

Food Safety Recall (Denmark): Midsona Danmark A/S recalls Urtekram økologisk Muesli Crunchy aronia/Urtekram Organic Muesli Crunchy aronia (550g; Lot #23.11.2017 L2; Best by 23/11-2017) due to risk of broken glass in the product.

Some supermarket chains post recall notices on their web sites for the convenience of customers. To see whether a recalled food was carried by your favorite supermarket, follow the live link to the supermarket’s recall website.

*The Kroger umbrella encompasses numerous supermarket, marketplace and convenience store chains
**Includes Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, Dominick’s, Genuardi’s, Randalls, Tom Thumb, Carrs and Pak N’ Save.

Recalls and Alerts: March 23 – 25, 2017

Here is today’s list of food safety recalls, product withdrawals, allergy alerts and miscellaneous compliance issues. The live links will take you directly to the official recall notices and company news releases that contain detailed information for each recall and alert.

If you would like to receive automatic email alerts for all new articles posted on eFoodAlert, please submit your request using the sidebar link.

United States

Allergy Alert: Nutiva expands its earlier recall of Organic Plant Based Protein Superfood 30 Shake – Vanilla to include all lots of both Vanilla and Chocolate flavored products due to undeclared peanut traces. Please refer to the recall notice for detailed product information. The recalled products were sold at Costco stores.

Allergy Alert: Whiskey Hill Smokehouse LLC (Hubbard, OR) recalls approximately 22,466 pounds of beef, venison and ostrich jerky products due to undeclared soy. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products, and to the California Department of Public Health for a list of retailers in the state who carried the recalled products.

Food Safety Alert: New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets warns consumers in Oneida County and the surrounding area not to consume unpasteurized raw milk from the Winters Grass Farm due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination. The advisory follows lab confirmation on March 22, 2017 of Listeria monocytogenes in a sample of unpasteurized milk from Winters Grass Farm. The producer is now prohibited from selling raw milk until subsequent sampling indicates that the product is free of harmful bacteria.

Food Safety Recall: Fred Meyer stores recall Manila Clams, Fr (Item Nos. 093820 and 093824) as the clams may have an unacceptable level of PSP (paralytic shellfish poison) as determined by samples tested by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Food Safety Recall: Lake Farms Raised Catfish, Inc. recalls approx. 1,695 pounds of Siluriformes (Catfish) Fish products due to possible adulteration with Malachite Green and Leucomalachite Green. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Food Safety Recall: Ajinomoto Windsor, Inc. (Lampasas, TX) recalls JOSÉ OLÉ TAQUITOS BEEF CARNE DE RES IN CORN TORTILLAS Crispy and Crunchy (60-oz. plastic bags inside of a corrugated carton; case codes 3366365A, 3366365B, 3366365C, 3366365D; Best By date of December 30, 2017; Est. No. M-5590) two consumer complaints of foreign material in its ready-to-eat beef products on March 14, 2017 and March 21, 2017. The foreign materials were pieces of rubber with white plastic that originated from the establishments processing equipment. The recalled product was shipped to retail locations in California, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming.

Food Safety Recall: Pro Sports Club recalls 36,957 20/20 Life Styles brand Yogurt Peanut Crunch bars (2 oz. net wt.; lot code B.B. 22JUL17 (means best by July 22, 2017), UPC Code 78571 00052) because of possible contamination with E. coli O157:H7. The recalled product was manufactured using an ingredient supplied by SoyNut Butter Company.

Food Safety Recall: OK Food, Inc. (Oklahoma City, OK) recalls 933,272 pounds of ready-to-eat breaded chicken products (produced on various dates from Dec. 19, 2016 through March 7, 2017) after the company received five consumer complaints stating that metal objects were found in the ready-to-eat chicken products and by FSIS inspection personnel during verification activities.

Food Safety Recall: ChloroFields (Lawrence, KS) recalls Asian Mix Microgreens (1.5 oz clamshell; sell by date of 3/26/2017; UPC 853763007096) after FDA finds Salmonella in the finished product. The sprouted Microgreens were distributed throughout Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri, and were made available through retail grocery stores, including Whote Foods Markets.

Canada

Allergy Alert: Purposeful Excellence Inc. recalls Booby Boons Lactation Cookies – Chocolate Chip (168g; DEC31/2017) due to undeclared peanut. The recalled product was sold nationally and through Internet sales.

Allergy Alert: Traiteur AL-É-G inc. recalls various prepared dishes due to undeclared mustard and sulfites. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of products.

Food Safety Recall: Frankly Fresh Salads, Inc., and H.Y. Louie Co. Ltd. recall Chef Destinations, Frankly Fresh Salads and Fresh St. brands Fresh Guacamole (300g; Best before 17 MR 22) after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency discovers Listeria monocytogenes contamination in a sample of the product. The recalled products were sold at retail in British Columbia and may have been distributed nationally.

Food Safety Recall: Boucherie Mario Allen inc. recalls Lard au pots maison/Lard in glass jars (500 mL; all lots up to and including 22 March 2017) due to improper storage and labeling.

Food Recall: Gevinoth Yisroel Dairy Products recalls Fresh & Healthy brand Chunk Feta Cheese (227g; Product code JN 27 17; UPC 7 20742 26226 8) due to E. coli contamination. The product was available at retail in Ontario.

Europe

Allergy Alert (Denmark): Biogan A/S recalls LOOV Delicate Ginger Breads (120 g net wt.; Best by 29.03.2017) and LOOV boghvede Brunkager/LOOV Buckwheat Brown Cakes (120g net wt.; Best by 20.03.2017) due to undeclared gluten.

Allergy Alert (Ireland): The Porterhouse Brewing Company advises that Hersbrucker Pils (330 ml bottle; best before 05.10.2017) contains undeclared sulphur dioxide.

Allergy Alert (Sweden): Findus Sverige AB recalls Findus brand Skinkcrêpes/Ham crêpes (250g; Lot L7002VL6343; best before 06.2018 and Lot L7002VL6327; best before 05.2018) due to undeclared fish and seafood.

Food Safety Recall (Belgium): Mathonet-Gabriel s.a. recalls Mousse de Truite Saumonée Fumée (150g; Best by 04/04/2017; Lot M-0622) due to Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

Food Safety Recall (Denmark): Kakshidi Food Trading ApS recalls Lao Gan Ma Mushroom in Chili Oil (210g net wt.; Best before 17/10/2017) because the product may contain glass fragments.

Food Safety Recall (Ireland): Marks and Spencer recalls M & S Chicken & Vegetable Soup (600g; Use by 30/3/17; Product of UK) due to customer complaints of an off-taint.

Food Safety Recall (Luxembourg): Bonneterre et Cie recalls Bonneterre brand Camembert de Normandie au lait cru Bio/Normandy Camembert cheese made with organic raw milk (250g wooden pkg; Expiry 09/04/2017; Lot 039151) due to Salmonella contamiantion.

Food Safety Recall (UK): Marks and Spencer recalls Chicken and Vegetable Soup (600g; use by date 30 March 2017; product code 00711135) due to possible chemical contamination.

Food Recall (UK): Cleone Foods recalls Island Delight Jerk Chicken Flaky Patties and Island Delight Lamb Shortcrust Patties (140g; 26 March 2017) due to incorrect labelling.

Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands

Food Safety Recall (Hong Kong): The Centre for Food Safety announces a recall of all the frozen and chilled meat and poultry imported from 21 plants currently under investigation by Brazilian authorities.

Australia and New Zealand

Allergy Alert: Yummy Snack Foods recalls Yummy Mini Tub Yoghurt Sultanas (300;g Best Before 8/2/18) due to undeclared peanut. The product was sold at IGAs and independent supermarkets in NSW, QLD, VIC, SA and WA.

Some supermarket chains post recall notices on their web sites for the convenience of customers. To see whether a recalled food was carried by your favorite supermarket, follow the live link to the supermarket’s recall website.

*The Kroger umbrella encompasses numerous supermarket, marketplace and convenience store chains
**Includes Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, Dominick’s, Genuardi’s, Randalls, Tom Thumb, Carrs and Pak N’ Save.