Sunday, March 29, 2009

What's in our food?

The New York Times, CNN Headline News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, ABC Evening News... the news has been filled with reports of Salmonella in peanut butter and other peanut products, and right here in Georgia! But, many other problems occur in our foods. Microbes, antibiotics, hormones, genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), pesticides, and much more... But, what's impacting human health and what's not? And, who's responsible for the oversight? There's lots to cover and discuss here. Wade in to direct where we'll go with this last topic for the semester.


  1. More than 125 consumer peanut butter products, from more than 70 companies, have been recalled in the ongoing U.S. salmonella outbreak.

    The most recent person to get sick fell ill on Jan 8. Since it takes up to three weeks for cases to be reported to the CDC, more cases are expected. So far, the CDC has received reports of six deaths and 107 hospitalizations among the 486 people sickened in 43 U.S. states and one Canadian province.
    PetSmart's Great Choice Dog Biscuits -- is made with peanut paste linked to the salmonella outbreak.

    To find out how they got sick, the CDC last weekend interviewed 57 people ill with the outbreak strain of salmonella and compared their food-consumption histories to 399 healthy people.

    The result: Sick people outside institutions tended to have eaten the Kellog's Austin and Keebler brands of peanut-butter crackers already linked to contaminated peanut paste. Kellog's recalled the products as soon as it learned of the possible contamination, the day before the CDC investigation began.

    Adults and children sickened at hospitals, nursing homes, and schools tended to have eaten the King Nut brand of peanut butter. In all 14 institutions for which detailed information is available, the CDC and state health departments traced salmonella illnesses to the King Nut brand of peanut butter.

    King Nut peanut butter is sold in large containers only to institutions. No commercial peanut butter brands sold in grocery stores have been linked to the salmonella outbreak.

  2. There are some 40,000 cases of salmonella infection each year; about 600 of them are fatal. Last spring, an outbreak that killed one and sickened some 1,300 people was linked to Mexican Serrano peppers. In the past 15 years, only two outbreaks have been linked to peanut butter. Feces from some animal is a strong possibility. A leak in the roof, for example, caused one of the early outbreaks. How salmonella got into the water that was on the roof, no one knows for sure. Maybe birds, for instance, which accumulate around peanut butter processing plants.

    The roasting of peanuts is the only step that will kill the salmonella. If contamination occurs after the roasting process, the game is over and salmonella is going to survive. Studies have shown that salmonella can survive for many months in peanut butter once it's present. Fatty foods are also more protective of salmonella, so when it gets into the acid of the stomach -- which is our first line of defense -- it may not get destroyed. Peanut butter, being a highly fatty food, could survive better.

  3. I haven't looked at the peanut butter stuff or anything, but I have a couple of comments about two things that I've recently learned about foods. One thing is about the microbes that get into our food at home. I forget the numbers, but a lot of food poisoning is from what we fix and eat at home.
    The other thing doesn't really concern us here in the US because we have food standards and stuff, but it is a major problem in Africa and Southeast Asia. Basically, most of the foods that they grow and eat are contaminated with dangerous toxins- the two that I know of are aflatoxins and fumonisins. Aflatoxins are highly correlated with liver cancer and fumonisins with oesophageal cancer. Recent studies have also associated them with HIV transmission and progression. A paper from Peanut CRSP here on campus that hasn't been published yet reports that corn in Africa accounts for something like 50 percent of the HIV there- likely because of the fumonisin it is infected with.
    I know that this isn't exactly what we're talking about, but it does have to do with food contamination and it seems to be a major problem in Africa that needs to be looked at (Peanut CRSP is the first to realize this correlation, to my knowledge).
    I'll find those numbers for the kitchen contamination and post them in a few hours.

  4. P.S. Fumonisin and Aflatoxin are also fairly easily managed- it's just that no one is paying them any attention.

  5. here are some cases of contamination


    August 2006–February 2007: Salmonella-tainted peanut butter from the Peter Pan and Great Value brands sickened hundreds of people in 44 states. The CDC is still investigating how a Georgia manufacturing plant was contaminated.


    November–December: 71 people became sick with E. coli after eating at Taco Bell restaurants in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The fast-food chain initially blamed its green onion supply, though investigations by the CDC later suggested that lettuce was the source of the problem.

    September–October: Prewashed, bagged spinach from Dole was contaminated with E. coli. At least 205 consumers fell ill; three died. Investigators traced the strain back to the field in California and said that in this instance, washing could not have removed the bacteria.


    Fall: Pilgrim's Pride recalled over 27 million pounds of frozen and prepared poultry products after listeria was found at one of its Pennsylvania processing plants. Eight people died, and 50 became seriously ill in the ensuing outbreak.


    The Malt-o-Meal cereal company recalled approximately 3 million pounds of its Toasty-O's cereal after the product was found to contain salmonella. Nearly 200 people, many of them children, got sick. According to the CDC, this was the first time a manufactured cereal was linked to salmonella transmission.

    Hot dogs and lunch meats from Sara Lee became tainted with listeria following mechanical work at the manufacturing plant. At least 15 died, and six miscarriages were attributed to the outbreak. Eighty customers also became seriously ill.


    August: After 17 people in Colorado contracted E. coli from eating hamburgers, supplier Hudson Foods recalled 25 million pounds of frozen patties. At the time, this was the largest meat recall in U.S. history.

    Spring: The CDC noticed something unusual: Hundreds of Michigan children and schoolteachers were diagnosed with hepatitis A. Investigators discovered that a contaminated shipment of strawberries had been imported the previous year and mislabeled as domestic. The strawberries were used in frozen desserts and served with school lunches. Ultimately, over 9,000 students were vaccinated.

  6. below are some reasons for contamination
    Hand Washing
    Pathogens can be introduced into food from infected humans who handle the food without thoroughly washing their hands.
    These pathogens are thus transferred from trace amounts of fecal matter present on hands to the food.
    Hand Hygiene: Wash Your Hands!
    Handwashing and Hand Hygiene information
    Food and kitchen tools and surfaces may become contaminated from raw food products (i.e., meat and poultry).
    Microbes can be transferred from one food to another by using the same knife, cutting board or other utensil without washing the surface or utensil in between uses.
    A food that is fully cooked can become re-contaminated if it touches other raw foods or drippings from raw foods that contain pathogens.
    Prevent Cross-Contamination
    Cross-contamination is the physical movement or transfer of harmful bacteria from one person, object or place to another.
    Storage and Cooking Temperatures
    Many pathogens need to multiply to a larger number before enough are present in food to cause disease.
    In general, refrigeration or freezing prevents virtually all bacteria from growing.
    If food is heated sufficiently, parasites, viruses and most bacteria are killed.
    How Temperatures Affect Food
    Food Safety and Inspection Service United States Department of Agriculture. Attention: Non-MDH link
    Contamination of Food by Animal Waste
    Many foodborne microbes are present in healthy animals raised for food.

    Meat and poultry may become contaminated during slaughter by small amounts of intestinal contents.
    Fresh fruits and vegetables can be contaminated if they are washed with water that is contaminated by animal manure or human sewage.

  7. And, today's New York Times reports that salmonella in pistachios has caused a recall in California that will likely spread to other pistachio products. Kraft Foods found several types of salmonella in pistachios supplied by Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, CA. Kraft reported their findings to the FDA last week. No illnesses have been linked to the contaminated nuts, but the FDA is warning consumers not to eat pistachios until the scope of the problem is clarified. Kraft Foods has voluntarily recalled a trail mix that contains roasted pistachios.

    Kraft officials became concerned of the potential contamination when inspectors saw that Setton was keeping roasted pistachios with raw pistachios. Raw pistachios, like other nuts, can carry pathogenic microbes (which are killed during the roasting process).

    This appears to be another case of improper food-handling practices.

  8. Here are the numbers that I mentioned earlier:

    A 2003 study estimated that up to 87% of foodborne disease outbreaks that occur in developed countries originated from food that was prepared and consumed in the home. (Redmon & Griffith, 2003)

    In a 1997 study, 33% of kitchens tested positive for E. coli and 67% tested positive for fecal coliforms. (Josephson, Rubino, & Pepper, 1997)

    One place the pathogens are hiding is likely kitchen sponges. They remain wet and serve as reservoirs for the pathogens. They also serve as vehicles. Staph, Salmonella, and C. jejuni can be transferred from the sponges to stainless steel surfaces which can then be transferred to our cut veggies.

  9. The issue of GMOs in our foods was discussed in class last Monday, but has not surfaced here. After some quick checking, I was amazed at how prevalent GMO crops are in the US. I badly underestimated.

    In 2008, the US had 62.5 million hectares (154.4 million acres) planted in GMO crops including maize, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugarbeet, soybean, and papaya. Some of the GMO technology is for herbicide resistance, other for insect resistance. Genetic modifications in papaya made that crop resistant to a viral disease that was wiping out the crop in Hawaii.

    While field corn (maize) is largely used for animal feed, ethanol production, etc., what about the insect resistant GMOs in sweet corn which is for human consumption. The trade off there is insecticidal applications to the food crop vs consumption of GMO sweet corn.

    And, on the horizon.... genetic modifications of tomatoes to slow ripening and extend storage and shelf-life!

    By the way, the 'terminator' gene that we discussed as being used to insure that seed produced by GMO crops are sterile actually was NOT implemented.

  10. people getting sick isnt the only problem with the salmonella outbreak. another problem involves the farmers that produce the peanuts. this outbreak couldnt have happened at a worse time for farmers. the 2008 harvest was too large. only 1.8 million tons were needed and 2.5 million tons were produced. and there was a 300,000 ton carryover from 2007. so going into the 2009 season peanut farmers are already at 900,000 tons before the harvest. so with the outbreak and the bad economy the demand is going to be down. so the harvest needed for 2009 is going to be much less than the previous years. with the demand down, the farmers cant get contracts with companies and therefore cant get loans with the banks. salmonella doesnt come from the peanuts, they come from contamination of the jar or some other part of the production process. roasted peanuts are cooked at 400 degrees and it kills all salmonella. most all of the peanut products have been removed from store's shelves. farmers are anticipating that the salmonella scare will disipate and consumer demand will skyrocket. the companies will then be more than willing to sign contracts with farmers. this will def. help with the economy. these companies are hurting farmers and their families by not inspecting properly. these setbacks are devistating. this outbreak should be a wakeup call to the health agencies to have higher standards.

  11. I just had to redo everything to be able to comment again and "now" was just a short test word, so here's the real thing.
    According to Daniel More, M. D., at http://, childhood allergies are on the rise; over the past 10 years, the prevalence of food allergies has increased by nearly 20%, with 4% of all cildren having some form of food allergy. If you're a parent, either your child has food allergies, or your child's friend has them. One hypothesis for this increase is the hygiene hypothesis, which claims that in our world of increased hand washing, antibiotics, and multiplied number of childhood vaccines, children are less exposed to endotoxins, which have been shown to shift the immune system away from an allergic response early in childhood. This may be partly true; however, I have my own hypothesis: gmo's.

    I am by no means a child, and yet, about eight years ago, I developed anaphylactic symptoms. After testing, I found out that I am allergic to milk, soy, and eggs, together with a small sensitivity to corn and wheat. I spent the major part of my life being able to eat whatever I pleased. I now have to carry an "epi pen" with me at all times, just in case. About 15 to 20 years ago, I listened to all the hype about how good soy is for you, and for women in particular, and I started eating tofu, soymilk, fake cheese (made with soy instead of milk), and on and on. Of course, at that point in time, most soy products were already genetically modified. The only way to ensure that you are not eating gmo products is to eat organic foods, since food manufacturers are not required to divulge that any ingredients in their products come from GM crops. Soy is in almost ALL processed food, so I have to cook from scratch and read all labels. I have to bake my own bread. Cooking oil that is labeled "Vegetable Oil" is really soybean oil. Manufacturers also use many different names for soy, so one has to really get educated about that in order to avoid it. Sometimes it's even called "natural flavoring."

    According to the Center for Food Safety,, "The genetic engineering of plants and animals is looming as one of the greatest and most intractable environmental challenges of the 21st Century." This technology has fundamentally altered some of our most important staple food crops. "Currently, up to 40 percent of U. S. corn is genetically engineered as is 80 percent of soybeans. It has been estimated that upwards of 60 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves -- from soda to soup, crackers to condiments -- contain genetically engineered ingredients...A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer. As for environmental impacts, the use of genetic engineering in agriculture will lead to uncontrolled biological pollution, threatening numerous microbial, plant and animal species with extinction, and the potential contamination of all non-genetically engineered life forms with novel and possibly hazardous genetic material." We've already discussed in class how wind drift causes cross-pollination. Genetic engineering causes a permanent change in the plant's DNA. And, as I've already stated, to make matters worse, food manufacturers are not required to divulge the inclusion of any GM food in their products.

    An article, "Enjoy Pesticides in Every Bite of GMO Food?" from, explains more about the genetic engineering process. The pesticide BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) is produced naturally from a soil bacterium and has a history of safe use. Organic farmers use it. The spray form is broken down within a few days to two weeks by sunlight, high temperatures, or can be rinsed off by rain or consumers. However, it's a whole different story when the Bt toxin is inserted into the DNA of a plant. Genetic engineers say that, once modified, the plant does the work, and not the farmer. "Moreover, they say that Bt-toxin is quickly destroyed in our stomach...and even if it survived, since humans and other mammals have no receptors for the toxin, it would not interact with us anyway...These arguments, however, are just that-unsupported assumptions. Research tells a different story...Mice fed Bt-toxin showed significant immune responses-as potent as cholera toxin. In addition, Bt caused their immune systems to become sensitive to formerly harmess compounds, suggesting that exposure might make a person allergic to a wide range of substances. The EPA's own expert advisors said that the mouse and farm worker studies..'suggest that Bt proteins could act as antigenic and allergenic sources.' The Bt-toxin produced in GM crops is 'vastly different from the bacterial (Bt-toxins) used in organic and traditional farming and forestry.'" GM plants produce 3,000-5000 times the amount of toxin as the sprays. A Bt producing GM plant continuously produces the toxin in every cell where it does not dissipate by weather and cannot be washed off. The plant-produced Bt toxin is always active and more likely to trigger an immune response than the natural variety.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) offer three criteria designed to reduce the likelihood that allergenic GM crops are approved. The Bt-toxin produced in GM corn fails all three criteria. "For example, the specific Bt-toxin found in Monsanto's Yield Guard and Syngenta's Bt 11 corn varieties is called Cry1AB. In 1998, an FDA researcher discovered that Cry1Ab shared a sequence of 9-12 amino acids with vitellogenin, an egg yolk allergen. The study concluded that 'the similarity...might be sufficient to warrant additional evaluation.' No additional evaluation took place."

    There is a ton more information, but let me wind this up for now with this statement from the same paper. "The potential dangers of breathing BM pollen had been identified in a letter to the US FDA in 1998 by the UK Joint Food Safety and Standards Group. They had even warned that genes from inhaled pollen might transfer into the DNA of bacteria in the respiratory system...years later UK scientists confirmed that after consuming GM soybeans, the foreign inserted genes can transfer into the DNA of gut bacteria. If this also happens with Bt genes, then years after we decide to stop eating GM corn chips, our own gut bacteria may continue to produce Bt-toxin within our intestines."

  12. Dr. David Buntin will be on hand in our class tomorrow to discuss GMOs. Thanks Cam for the observations on the peanut situation. You are exactly correct, and there is no realy prediction what crop plantings will replace the peanuts.

  13. i found a really good site about pros and cons of genetic engineering of plants:
    Less tillage needed, especially with crops containing herbicide tolerance transgenes, therefore conserves fertility through minimising soil damage through compression.
    The Starlink debacle is indeed a lesson that the GM food producers will learn from. Identity Preservation Systems are being put in place, verified by DNA analysis, to ensure that GM and non-GM supplies are kept separate.
    Reduces labour costs
    Environmentally relatively benign herbicides are used and less of them.
    No insecticidal sprays needed on crops that have insecticidal Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)-toxin genes engineered into them.
    GM plants are carefully tested for environmental and ecological impact, including their effects on earthworms and beneficial insects.
    Helps solve the problem of world hunger by creating varieties which will make more efficient utilisation of scarce land and give higher yields because of better pest resistance, nutrient utilisation etc...
    GE agriculture claims low tillage weed control: this can be achieved by ending the practice of monoculture and instead introducing proper crop rotations designed specifically to combat the weeds of the particular locality. Monoculture creates a weed paradise.
    Genetic pollution from transgenes spreads into other organisms through pollen, seeds and microbial processes. It is fundamentally different from other forms of pollution because once the genes are out, they cannot be recalled.
    Risks destroying organic farming which rules out the use of GM organisms.
    Sustainable organic agriculture creates much needed jobs in depressed rural economies.
    Promotes "agribusiness", therefore more herbicide use. Herbicides are responsible for much illness in farm workers and contaminate drinking water.
    As with weed control, control of insect damage is achievable with properly designed crop rotation and other forms of good husbandry such as intercropping. Healthy plants not imbalanced by chemical fertilisers build up their own defences against insect attack.
    Transgenic herbicide resistant cultivars could escape into the wild and become problematic 'volunteers' in agriculture. These volunteers will require increased use of more toxic herbicides.

  14. Dr. Buntin provided some interesting perspectives in anticipating public concerns with transgenic and GMO plant crops in his session with us yesterday. Lots of our previous discussions on this topic had been directed to microbial contaminations of our foods. But, let's focus on the transgenics for a couple of weeks here. I'll post an additional topic for your consideration, thought, research and comment. It will be far more focused within this broad aspect of our current "What's in Our Food?" topic. Shift to the new one for our ethical discussions.