Category Archives: Food Safety

Sep 19 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: September 19

Confusing ‘Sell-by’ and ‘Best-before’ Labeling Leads to Billions of Pounds of Wasted Food
Inconsistent “sell-by” and “best-before” dates on package labels lead Americans to needlessly discard billions of pounds of food every year, according to a new study by Harvard Law School and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The labels are meant to inform retailers about a food product’s peak freshness. "The labeling system is aimed at helping consumers understand freshness, but it fails—they think it's about safety. And (consumers) are wasting money and wasting food because of this misunderstanding," said co-author Emily Broad Lieb, who led the report from the Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic. The study recommends that “sell-by” dates be reconfigured so as to be invisible to consumers, that a uniform label system is created and that technology-based “smart labels” be used more often. "Under the current patchwork of state and federal laws, consumers are left in the lurch, forced to decipher the differences between 'sell-by' and 'best if used by,' and too often food is either thrown out prematurely, or families wind up consuming dangerous or spoiled food," said Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), in a release. Read more on food safety.

Study: Hospitals that Perform the Most Surgeries Also Have Lowest Readmission Rates
A new study from the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that the higher quality of care during a surgical procedure, the lower the likelihood of the patient being readmitted for additional surgery. It also found that hospitals that performed the most procedures also, on average, delivered a higher quality of care. In a review of about 480,000 patients discharged from more than 3,000 U.S. hospitals, the researchers found that one in seven were readmitted within 30 days, with the hospitals that did the most procedures having both the lowest readmission rates and the lowest death rates. Hospitals with the most surgeries had readmission rates of about 12.7 percent, compared to 16.8 percent for hospitals with the fewest procedures. "If hospitals performing very few surgeries do not have the volume required to create highly reliable care systems despite their best quality-improvement efforts, perhaps they should not be performing them," said Don Goldmann, MD, chief medical and scientific officer of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Boston, who was not involved in the study. "This is a provocative suggestion and deserves careful consideration before being implemented." Read more on access to health care.

HHS ‘Meaningful Consent’ Website to Help Providers, Patients Understands EHR Sharing
As electronic health records (EHRs) become more common, a new website from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will help health care providers and patients determine exactly how they want their electronic patient health information shared. Meaningful Consent will address issues such as the laws and policies related to the health information exchange (HIE). It also includes strategies and tools for providers, certain health information organizations and other implementers of health information technology. The site also provides background, lessons learned, videos and customizable tools from the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s eConsent pilot project, which tested the use of tablet computers to provide patients with better information on EHRs. Read more on technology.

Aug 7 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: August 7

Conflicts of Interest in Determination of Food Additive Safety
Who determines whether a food additive is safe? Often it’s people with ties to the food additive industry, according to a new conflict-of-interest study from The Pew Charitable Trusts in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. From 1997 to 2012, about 20 percent of safety determinations submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration were authored by employees of food additive manufacturers, and 13 percent were authored by someone working a consultant selected by the manufacturer. Researchers also found that the expert panels tasked with conducting most of the safety assessments rely on many of the same experts over and over again. "There's a cadre of 10 people that serve on almost all of these expert panels," said study author Thomas Neltner, director of Pew's food additives project. "Three-quarters of the panels contained at least one of these people. One person served on 44 percent of the panels, which tells us there's not only conflicts of interest, but there's a very small group of people making these decisions." Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, sees these results as a clear problem that needs to be addressed. "These committees give a very superficial, one-sided review," he said. "They want to please the sponsor, and then maybe they will get more business because they've proven themselves trustworthy, but it's no way to run a food safety review process." Read more on food safety.

CDC: 1 in 8 Preschoolers Obese, Raising their Risk for Adult Obesity
About one in eight—or 12 percent—of preschoolers are obese. However, after decades spent watching that number climb, nineteen states and territories are seeing drops in obesity among low-income preschoolers, according to the latest Vital Signs report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Overweight and obese children are five times more likely to grow up to be obese adults, so early intervention by state and local health officials is critical. The report provides a number of ways they can help, including the creation of partnerships with community members to make community changes that promote healthy eating and active living, as well as making it easier for families with children to buy healthy, affordable foods and beverages in their neighborhoods. Read more on obesity.

Hospitals’ Exchange of Electronic Health Records Climbed 41 Percent from 2008 to 2012
Health information exchange (HIE) between hospitals and providers outside their organizations climbed 41 percent from 2008 to 2012, with six in 10 hospitals exchanging electronic health records (EHR) in 2012, according to a new study in the journal Health Affairs. The researchers say this illustrates how EHRs have become complementary tools that improve health care quality and safety. “We know that the exchange of health information is integral to the ongoing efforts to transform the nation’s health care system and we will continue to see that grow as more hospitals and other providers adopt and use health IT to improve patient health and care,” said Farzad Mostashari, MD, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Our new research is crystal clear: health information exchange is happening and it is growing. But we still have a long road ahead toward universal interoperability.” Read more on technology.

Aug 2 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: August 2

Nine-state Study Shows Statewide Smoking Bans Would Not Hurt Restaurant, Bar Business
Despite the concerns of many proprietors, statewide smoke-free laws would not hurt business at restaurants and bars, according to a new study in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease. Bans on workplace and public area smoking reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, encourage smokers to quit, improve the health employees and reduce the risk for heart attack hospitalizations. The findings of the CDC Foundation study—the largest such analysis, with nine states—line up with previous research. The participating states were chosen because they do not have statewide smoking bans, but do have a good deal of local laws. “Smoke-free laws make good business sense—they improve health, save lives, increase productivity, and reduce health care costs,” said U.S. Centers for Disease and Control Prevention Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. Communities throughout the United States have made great strides in protecting workers and the public from secondhand smoke in the past decade, but too many Americans continue to be exposed to secondhand smoke on the job and in public places.”

Below is a related smoke-free video for the state of Texas. Watch all the videos here.

Read more on tobacco.

FDA Sets New Standards for ‘Gluten-free’ Food Labeling
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set a new standard to define “gluten-free” for voluntary food labeling. People with the autoimmune digestive condition of celiac disease—about 3 million Americans—can manage the condition by eating a diet free of gluten, which is found in naturally in wheat, rye, barley and cross-bred hybrids of these grains. Under the new rules, “gluten-free” labeling is restricted to products that meet all of the FDA requirements, including that the food contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten. The standards also apply to products that claim “no gluten,” “free of gluten” and “without gluten.” FDA is giving food manufacturers one year to come in line with the new standard. “Adherence to a gluten-free diet is the key to treating celiac disease, which can be very disruptive to everyday life,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD. “The FDA’s new ‘gluten-free’ definition will help people with this condition make food choices with confidence and allow them to better manage their health.” Read more on food safety.

CDC: Murders from Guns Down, But Suicide Rate is Up
The latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has both good and bad news on gun violence—and both stress the need for further measures to reduce gun violence, especially early prevention. According to the CDC, gun-murder rate is down, but the suicide rate is up. The murder rate dropped around 15 percent from 2006-07 to 2009-10 in the majority of the fifty largest U.S. cities, but the suicide rate climbed as much as 15 percent in about 75 percent of the cities. In 2009-10 there were approximately 22,500 murders and 38,000 suicides involving a gun. "If there is any question that gun control is a big problem, here's a good example of why," said Victor Fornari, MD, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. "Access to firearms is a serious public health problem. Limiting access to firearms would reduce homicide as well as suicide. As long as guns are available there are going to be these violent outcomes." Read more on violence.

Jul 31 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: July 31

Tainted Salad Mix Linked to Parasite Outbreak in Two States; 13 Other States Still Looking for Answers
State and federal health officials have narrowed in on a prepackaged salad mix as the possible source of a cyclospora outbreak that has sickened 370 people in 15 states. Both Nebraska and Iowa officials have identified the salad as the source; a total of 221 people in those states have fallen ill so far from the stomach-sickening parasite. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is still working to identify the cause in the 13 other states. “FDA will continue to work with its federal, state and local partners in the investigation to determine whether this conclusion applies to the increased number of cases of cyclosporiasis in other states,” the FDA said in a statement. ”Should a specific food item be identified, the FDA, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local partners will work to track it to its source, determine why the outbreak occurred, and if contamination is still a risk, implement preventive action, which will help to keep an outbreak like this from happening again.” Read more on food safety.

New Model Shows Kids Consuming Far More Calories than Previously Realized
It takes far more calories for kids to gain weight than was previously realized, according to a new study in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. And, given the high rate of childhood obesity, this means kids are consuming far more calories than either their parents or health care providers realize. The new caloric model takes into account the energy requirements for boys and girls; the fact that kids generally have higher metabolisms than adults; the average drop in physical activity as kids age; and the energy required to maintain a bigger body size as they age. Whereas the old model said a normal-weight girl at age 5 would need to consume about 40 extra calories a day to be 22 pounds overweight by age 10, the new model shows its actually 400 extra calories. "Importantly, given the rather large calorie excesses fueling childhood obesity, this model is a rebuttal to the food industry arguments that exercise alone can be the answer," said David Katz, MD, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center and editor of the journal Childhood Obesity, who was not involved in the study. "For our kids to achieve healthy weight, control of calories in, not just calories out, will have to be part of the formula." Read more on obesity.

Sequester to Close all HUD Offices on Friday, August 2
Every office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will be closed on Friday, August 2 as part of the sequester which is being felt across all of government. The automatic spending cuts took effect March 1. HUD’s plan is to pair its seven required furlough days with holidays and weekends. HUD is encouraging people and businesses that work with the agency to plan around the schedule day of shutdown. Read more on budgets.

Jul 30 2013
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Operation Chuckwagon: Food Safety for Food Trucks

The Public Health Quality Improvement Exchange (PHQIX) is an online communication hub for public health professionals interested in learning and sharing information about quality improvement in public health. Created by RTI International and funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, PHQIX launched in September of 2012 with the goal of sustaining national efforts at quality improvement by providing public health practitioners with the opportunity to learn from the experiences of their colleagues. PHQIX includes:

  • An online database of quality improvement efforts by public health departments across the country
  • Search and query functions to help users find relevant examples for their own work
  • A forum for dialogue on quality improvement

A recent initiative shared on the site called Operation Chuckwagon looked at the maintaining quality control of food safety for mobile food trucks in Northern Kentucky.

Food trucks are growing in popularity across the country as an inexpensive way to try different cuisines, and following some of the weather disasters this past year, some municipalities dispatched food trucks, with cost covered for residents, to areas without power and in need of food. Safety is critical. A recent report in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found an outbreak of 91 salmonella cases linked to lunch trucks in Alberta, Canada. An investigation by food inspectors found many food storage and handling violations.

The Kentucky project increased the percentage of properly licensed mobile food vendors to 100 percent from a baseline of 25 percent, and also achieved a 100 percent compliance rate with required temperature controls, which had been a big problem during initial inspections.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Ted Talley, environmental health manager at the health department, about the quality improvement initiative.

NewPublicHealth: What’s novel about how you’ve approached the food trucks and made it easier for them to have food safety inspections?

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Jul 29 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: July 29

FDA Issues New Food Safety Measures for Foreign Imports
As part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued two new rules regarding the safety of imported foods. The first rule requires that importers verify that suppliers utilize modern, prevention-oriented safety practices. The second rules establishes third-party food safety auditors in the foreign countries that supply food to the United States. Each year the U.S. imports food from about 150 countries, accounting for about 15 percent of the nation’s food supply. “We must work toward global solutions to food safety so that whether you serve your family food grown locally or imported you can be confident that it is safe,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD. “Today’s announcement of these two new proposed rules will help to meet the challenges of our complex global food supply system. Our success will depend in large part on partnerships across nations, industries, and business sectors.” Read more on food safety.

Study: U.S. Adults with Atrial Fibrillation to Double by 2030
At the current rate, the number of U.S. adults with atrial fibrillation (AF) will more than double to an estimated 12 million cases by 2030, according to a new study in the American Journal of Cardiology. About 5 million Americans suffered from the dangerous irregular heartbeat in 2010, which can lead to severe chest pains, limit the ability to exercise or even cause heart failure. "Even AF patients without symptoms are at five-fold increased risk of stroke, which often leads to major disability or death," said study coauthor Daniel Singer, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. The risk for the illness, which is most common in older people, can be reduced through preventive health care that includes the diagnosis and treatment of hypertension, diabetes and sleep apnea, as well as by getting exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight. Read more on heart health.

Tips on Preventing Playground Injuries
About 600,000 kids were injured at playgrounds in 2012, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, including about 210,000 on monkey bars/climbing structures, 151,000 on swing sets, 125,000 on slides, 10,000 on seesaws/teeterboards and 56,000 on other playground equipment. However, with proper knowledge and care, it’s possible to prevent injuries, according to the Commission. "Parents and caretakers should steer clear from playgrounds with asphalt or concrete surfaces, metal or wood swing sets, or any apparatus that can trap a child's head,” said Jennifer Weiss, MD, an American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons spokeswoman. “Before children start to play, remind them of basic playground rules, such as one person on the slide at a time, and no running in front of moving swings and teeter-totters. Make sure that you can clearly see your child on the playground at all times.”

Other safety tips for parents and caregivers include:

  • Use age-appropriate playground equipment
  • Avoid swing sets with metal or wood seats—stick to plastic and rubber
  • Be careful in the sun
  • Make sure there is enough space for play

Read more on safety.

Jul 12 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: July 12

CDC: Youth Homicide Rate at a 30-Year Low
The youth homicide rate reached a 30-year low in 2010, though a slowing of the decline since 2000 indicates the increased need for youth violence prevention strategies, according to a new data in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). The 2010 rate was 7.5 per 100,000 U.S. youth, ages 10 to 24. Higher-risk youth, including males and non-Hispanic black youth, have seen slower declines in the homicide rate. “We are encouraged to see a decline in the homicide rate among our youth but unfortunately, homicide continues to rank in the top three leading causes of death for our young people,” said Linda C. Degutis, DrPH, MSN, director, CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Our youth represent our future and one homicide is one too many.  Comprehensive approaches that include evidence-based prevention strategies are essential to eliminate homicide as a leading cause of death of young people.” Read more on violence.

FDA Proposes Arsenic Limit for Apple Juice
The U.S. Food and Drug administration has proposed a limit of 10 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic in apple juice, which is about the same levels permitted in drinking water. Inorganic arsenic, which is both naturally occurring in the environment and a product of arsenic-containing pesticides, is a known carcinogen linked to skin lesions, developmental effects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity and diabetes. The non-profit Consumer Reports called the proposal a "reasonable first step in protecting consumers from unnecessary exposure to arsenic." Now that the FDA has released its proposed guidance, we look forward to analyzing the agency's risk assessment, submitting comments, and continuing the dialogue on this important public health issue," said Urvashi Rangan, Director of Consumer Safety and Sustainability at the organization. Read more on food safety.

Study: Air Pollution Kills 2.1 Million People Each Year
As many as 2.1 million people die every year because of global air pollution, according to a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters. About 470,000 of those are linked to human-caused increases in ozone, although climate change is only a small factor. Fine particulate matter air pollution can get into the lungs, causing cancer and other respiratory illnesses. "Our estimates make outdoor air pollution among the most important environmental risk factors for health," study co-author Jason West, of the University of North Carolina, said in a release. "Many of these deaths are estimated to occur in East Asia and South Asia, where population is high and air pollution is severe." Read more on environment.

Jun 5 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: June 5

Recession Saw Parents Cut Back on Care for Kids with Special Health Needs
The financial struggles of the recent recession led many families to cut back on health care treatments for children with chronic physical or emotional problems, according to the journal Health Affairs. About one in every five U.S. kids fits these criteria. "Those are children who require health or related services beyond those required by children generally," said researcher Pinar Karaca-Mandic, an assistant professor of public health at the University of Minnesota. "A child with asthma would fit in this category, for example. A child with depression, ADHD or a physical limitation would also fit this definition." Researchers analyzed government data on out-of-pocket costs for families with private insurance from 2001 to 2009, finding expenses climbed steadily until 2007, when spending for generally healthy children jumped but spending for kids with special health needs dropped. Dental care and prescription medications were the services most likely to see cut backs. Christina Bethell, professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland, said the findings demonstrate that "We're not putting a system of care together for kids that appears to be optimal, and families are struggling.” Read more on access to health care.

CDC: Older Americans, Pregnant Women at Greatest Risk for Listeria
Older Americans, pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune systems account for approximately 90 percent of all Listeria food poisoning cases each year, according to the a new Vital Signs report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report outlines safety measures to help prevent the bacterial infection, including knowing which foods are highest risk and how to prepare them properly. About 1,600 people contract Listeria annually and it is the third leading cause of food poisoning deaths. Read more on food safety.

Health of Black, Hispanic Teens Most Affected by Fast Food Near Schools
Fast food restaurants near schools have the greatest negative impact on the health of black and Hispanic teens in lower-income neighborhoods, according to a new study in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing. Those teens were more likely than white of Hispanic kids to be overweight or obese. For all students, fast food one mile closer to school basically offset the benefits of one day of exercise per week; for black and Hispanic teens it offset up to three days of exercise. "The findings imply that it is important to examine the behaviors and contexts associated with low-income and ethnic minority status in urban areas," study co-author Sonya Grier, associate professor of marketing at American University, noted in the release. "These populations not only are the fastest growing but also have the highest rates of obesity, and research is relatively limited." Read more on obesity.

May 14 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: May 14

FDA’s New Food Defense Tool Helps Stop Intentional Contamination
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has developed a new Food Defense Plan Builder tool to help owners and operators of food facilities create plans to minimize intentional contamination. While rare, intentional contamination, intentional contamination can be a serious public health problem. For example more than 40 people in Kansas became sick in 2009 when an employee put pesticide in salsa. Based on FDA’s food defense guidance documents, the tool uses a series of pointed questions to develop a customized food defense plan, including a vulnerability assessment; broad and focused mitigation strategies; and an action plan. Read more on food safety.

Text4baby Programs Gives Pregnant Women, Mothers Critical Information
The 2013 Text4baby State Enrollment Content will promote the mobile health tool while providing pregnant women with important information on their pregnancy and their child’s first year of life. By texting “BABY” (or “BEBE” for Spanish) to 511411, they will receive three free weekly text messages addressing issues such as labor signs and symptoms; prenatal care; developmental milestones; immunizations; nutrition; birth defect prevention; and safe sleep. The program is supported by more than 950 health departments, academic institutions, health plans, businesses and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Under the contest, the states with the highest enrollment percentages will be recognized at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in Boston, Mass. in early November. Read more on maternal and infant health.

Citing High Cancer Risk, Angelina Jolie Undergoes Preventive Double Mastectomy
A mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene makes a woman five times more likely to develop breast cancer in her life. On Tuesday in an op-ed in The New York Times, Angelina Jolie — who carries a “faulty” BRCA1 — announced she has undergone a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing the cancer. Her physicians had estimated an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. "I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer,” she wrote. “It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested." A woman with one of the faulty genes is at an average 60 percent risk of developing breast cancer; a woman without a mutated gene is at an average 12 percent risk. Today CNN anchor Zoraida Sambolin also announced she is getting a double mastectomy. Read more on cancer.

May 7 2013
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Caffeine in Your Jelly Beans?

file Image courtesy of FDA.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it will investigate the safety of caffeine in food products, especially the effects of caffeine on children and teens. The FDA’s announcement comes as an increasing number of food companies have introduced food products that contain caffeine—including gum, jelly beans, hot sauce, marshmallows and Cracker Jacks.

Caffeine can be addictive, and can lead to high blood pressure and insomnia, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). AAP discourages the use of caffeine by kids and teens. Caffeine levels vary in the new foods on the market. According to the FDA, a caffeinated version of Wrigley’s gum contains as much caffeine as four ounces of coffee, per piece. The new caffeinated gum packs each contain eight pieces of gum.

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