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Health Department Use of Social Media to Identify Foodborne Illness — Chicago, Illinois, 2013–2014

September 4, 2014 Comments off

Health Department Use of Social Media to Identify Foodborne Illness — Chicago, Illinois, 2013–2014
Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (CDC)

An estimated 55 million to 105 million persons in the United States experience acute gastroenteritis caused by foodborne illness each year, resulting in costs of $2–$4 billion annually (1). Many persons do not seek treatment, resulting in underreporting of the actual number of cases and cost of the illnesses (2). To prevent foodborne illness, local health departments nationwide license and inspect restaurants (3) and track and respond to foodborne illness complaints. New technology might allow health departments to engage with the public to improve foodborne illness surveillance (4). For example, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene examined restaurant reviews from an online review website to identify foodborne illness complaints (5). On March 23, 2013, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and its civic partners launched FoodBorne Chicago (6), a website (https://www.foodbornechicago.orgExternal Web Site Icon) aimed at improving food safety in Chicago by identifying and responding to complaints on Twitter about possible foodborne illnesses. In 10 months, project staff members responded to 270 Twitter messages (tweets) and provided links to the FoodBorne Chicago complaint form. A total of 193 complaints of possible foodborne illness were submitted through FoodBorne Chicago, and 133 restaurants in the city were inspected. Inspection reports indicated 21 (15.8%) restaurants failed inspection, and 33 (24.8%) passed with conditions indicating critical or serious violations. Eight tweets and 19 complaint forms to FoodBorne Chicago described seeking medical treatment. Collaboration between public health professionals and the public via social media might improve foodborne illness surveillance and response. CDPH is working to disseminate FoodBorne Chicago via freely available open source software.

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Using Online Reviews by Restaurant Patrons to Identify Unreported Cases of Foodborne Illness — New York City, 2012–2013

June 11, 2014 Comments off

Using Online Reviews by Restaurant Patrons to Identify Unreported Cases of Foodborne Illness — New York City, 2012–2013
Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (CDC)

While investigating an outbreak of gastrointestinal disease associated with a restaurant, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) noted that patrons had reported illnesses on the business review website Yelp (http://www.yelp.com) that had not been reported to DOHMH. To explore the potential of using Yelp to identify unreported outbreaks, DOHMH worked with Columbia University and Yelp on a pilot project to prospectively identify restaurant reviews on Yelp that referred to foodborne illness. During July 1, 2012–March 31, 2013, approximately 294,000 Yelp restaurant reviews were analyzed by a software program developed for the project. The program identified 893 reviews that required further evaluation by a foodborne disease epidemiologist. Of the 893 reviews, 499 (56%) described an event consistent with foodborne illness (e.g., patrons reported diarrhea or vomiting after their meal), and 468 of those described an illness within 4 weeks of the review or did not provide a period. Only 3% of the illnesses referred to in the 468 reviews had also been reported directly to DOHMH via telephone and online systems during the same period. Closer examination determined that 129 of the 468 reviews required further investigation, resulting in telephone interviews with 27 reviewers. From those 27 interviews, three previously unreported restaurant-related outbreaks linked to 16 illnesses met DOHMH outbreak investigation criteria; environmental investigation of the three restaurants identified multiple food-handling violations. The results suggest that online restaurant reviews might help to identify unreported outbreaks of foodborne illness and restaurants with deficiencies in food handling. However, investigating reports of illness in this manner might require considerable time and resources.

Preventing Norovirus Outbreaks; Food service has a key role

June 5, 2014 Comments off

Preventing Norovirus Outbreaks; Food service has a key role
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Norovirus often gets attention for outbreaks on cruise ships, but those account for only about 1% of all reported norovirus outbreaks. Norovirus is very contagious, and outbreaks can occur anywhere people gather or food is served. People with norovirus usually vomit and have diarrhea. Some may need to be hospitalized and can even die. Infected people can spread norovirus to others through close contact or by contaminating food and surfaces. Food service workers who have norovirus can contaminate food and make many people sick. In norovirus outbreaks for which investigators reported the source of contamination, 70% are caused by infected food workers.

CRS — The Federal Food Safety System: A Primer (updated)

March 11, 2014 Comments off

The Federal Food Safety System: A Primer (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

Numerous federal, state, and local agencies share responsibilities for regulating the safety of the U.S. food supply. Federal responsibility for food safety rests primarily with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). FDA, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for ensuring the safety of all domestic and imported food products (except for most meats and poultry). FDA also has oversight of all seafood, fish, and shellfish products. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulates most meat and poultry and some egg products. State and local food safety authorities collaborate with federal agencies for inspection and other food safety functions, and they regulate retail food establishments. Other federal agencies also play a role. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has identified as many as 15 federal agencies, including FDA and FSIS, as collectively administering at least 30 laws related to food safety. State and local food safety authorities collaborate with federal agencies for inspection and other food safety functions, and they regulate retail food establishments.

CRS — Food Fraud and “Economically Motivated Adulteration” of Food and Food Ingredients

February 19, 2014 Comments off

Food Fraud and “Economically Motivated Adulteration” of Food and Food Ingredients (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via MSPB Watch)

Food fraud, or the act of defrauding buyers of food or ingredients for economic gain—whether they be consumers or food manufacturers, retailers, and importers—has vexed the food industry throughout history. Some of the earliest reported cases of food fraud, dating back thousands of years, involved olive oil, tea, wine, and spices. These products continue to be associated with fraud, along with some other foods. Although the vast majority of fraud incidents do not pose a public health risk, some cases have resulted in actual or potential public health risks. Perhaps the most high-profile case has involved the addition of melamine to high-protein feed and milk-based products to artificially inflate protein values in products that may have been diluted. In 2007, pet food adulterated with melamine reportedly killed a large number of dogs and cats in the United States, followed by reports that melamine-contaminated baby formula had sickened thousands of Chinese children. Fraud was also a motive behind Peanut Corporation of America’s actions in connection with the Salmonella outbreak in 2009, which killed 9 people and sickened 700. Reports also indicate that fish and seafood fraud is widespread, consisting mostly of a lowervalued species, which may be associated with some types of food poisoning or allergens, mislabeled as a higher-value species. Other types of foods associated with fraud include honey, meat and grain-based foods, fruit juices, organic foods, coffee, and some highly processed foods.

FDA warns against using Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice

February 10, 2014 Comments off

FDA warns against using Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice
Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Fast Facts

  • Government officials are investigating a cluster of illnesses associated with Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice Mexican Flavor sold in 5- and 25-pound bags.
  • Out of an abundance of caution, the FDA is warning food service companies and consumers not to use any Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice products sold in 5- and 25-pound bags.
  • These products are sold to food service companies that typically distribute to restaurants, schools, hospitals and other commercial establishments. However, the products may be available over the Internet and at warehouse-type retailers.
  • Food service companies and consumers who have purchased the products should not use the rice, and should return it to their point of purchase or dispose of it.
  • Uncle Ben’s Brand Ready to Heat, Boxed, Bag or Cup products sold at grocery stores and other retail outlets are not being recalled.

FDA proposes rule to prevent food safety risks during transportation

February 3, 2014 Comments off

FDA proposes rule to prevent food safety risks during transportation
Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today proposed a rule that would require certain shippers, receivers, and carriers who transport food by motor or rail vehicles to take steps to prevent the contamination of human and animal food during transportation.

Part of the implementation of the Sanitary Food Transportation Act of 2005, the proposal marks the seventh and final major rule in the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act’s (FSMA) central framework aimed at systematically building preventive measures across the food system. The proposed rule is open for public comment through May 31, 2014.

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