Category Archives: Food Safety
EBOLA UPDATE: African Death Toll Hits 932 as Liberia Shuts Down a Major Hospital Over Continued Infections
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
St. Joseph's Catholic hospital in the Liberia capital of Monrovia has been shut down after the death of its hospital director from Ebola and the subsequent infections of six staff members, including two nuns and a priest. The World Health Organization reports that there were 45 deaths in the three days leading to August 4—bringing the death toll so far to 932—and is calling for an emergency meeting to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" and to discuss what additional public health measures can be taken. Read more on infectious diseases.
‘Gluten-free’ Labels Must Now Fully Meet FDA Standards
What does a “gluten-free” food label actually mean? Exactly what it says, as of yesterday. August 5 was the deadline for all U.S. foods bearing a gluten-free label claim to meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) final rule covering the issue. The rule sets a gluten limit of less than 20 ppm (parts per million) in foods that carry the label, which is the lowest level that can be detected. The agency issued the rule last August, giving manufacturers one year to bring their product lines into compliance. “Gluten-free” labeling is critical to people with celiac disease, which has no cure and can only be treated through diet. "This standard ’gluten-free’ definition eliminates uncertainty about how food producers label their products. People with celiac disease can rest assured that foods labeled 'gluten-free' meet a clear standard established and enforced by FDA," said Felicia Billingslea, director of FDA's division of food labeling and standards, in a release. Read more on food safety.
Study: Daily Aspirin Linked to Reduction in Risk for Some Cancers
A daily dose of aspirin is linked to a reduction in the risk of developing and dying from colon, stomach and esophageal cancers, according to a new study in the Annals of Oncology. Researchers analyzed the results of available studies, determining “that most people between the ages of 50 and 65 would benefit from a daily aspirin," said lead researcher Jack Cuzick, head of the Center for Cancer Prevention at Queen Mary, University of London, adding, “It looks like if everyone took a daily aspirin, there would be less cancer, and that would far outweigh any side effects.” The most serious side effect associated with aspirin is gastrointestinal bleeding. According to HealthDay, Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, said that while the study does not mean that everyone should be taking aspirin as a cancer-prevention measure, if does mean they should discuss the possibility with their doctors. Read more on cancer.
United States, Mexico to Enhance Safety of Certain Agricultural Products
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Mexico’s National Service for Agro-Alimentary Public Health, Safety and Quality and Federal Commission for the Protection from Sanitary Risks have entered an agreement to form a partnership to improve and promote the safety of fresh and minimally processed agricultural products. Each year, Mexico exports approximately $4.6 billion in fresh vegetables; $3.1 billion in fresh fruit, excluding bananas; $1.9 billion in wine and beer; and $1.5 billion in snacks to the United States.
The preventive practices and verification measures will include:
- Exchanging information to better understand each other’s produce safety systems
- Developing effective culturally-specific education and outreach materials that support industry compliance with produce safety standards
- Identifying common approaches for training auditors who will verify compliance with such standards
- Enhancing collaboration on laboratory activities as well as outbreak response and traceback activities
“To be successful as regulators, the FDA must continue developing new strategies and partnerships that allow us to more comprehensively and collectively respond to the challenges that come with globalization,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, in a release. “The FDA is working with our Mexican government counterparts as well as stakeholders from industry, commerce, agriculture, and academia to ensure the safety of products for American and Mexican consumers.” Read more on food safety.
JAMA: Health Experts Call for End on Blood Donation Ban for Gay and Bisexual MenEx
perts writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association have called for the repeal of a 30-year ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instituted the ban for any man who had sex with another man in 1983, near the beginning of the AIDS crisis. Now, however, the experts said that technological and societal advances mean the ban should be lifted. "We think it's time for the FDA to take a serious look at its policy, because it's out of step with peer countries, it's out of step with modern medicine, it's out of step with public opinion, and we feel it may be legally problematic," said Glenn Cohen, who directs Harvard Law School's Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics, who co-wrote the article with Jeremy Feigenbaum of Harvard Law School and Eli Adashi, MD, of Brown University's medical school. They also noted that the ban is not in line with other FDA policies regarding people considered high-risk donors due to their sexual behavior. Read more on HIV/AIDS.
CDC Re-Opens Clinical TB Lab; Safety Reviews of Other Labs Continues
Less than two weeks after closing laboratories due to two serious lapses with anthrax and avian flu virus and an intensive review by its CDC’s internal Laboratory Safety Improvement Working Group, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has resumed the transfer of inactivated materials out of its high-containment Clinical Tuberculosis Laboratory. The moratorium on material transfers remains in effect for BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories, with those supporting direct patient care receiving priority review. The working group’s ongoing lab assessments focus on two main areas:
- Each lab must demonstrate that its protocols for key control points—such as inactivation of a pathogen—are not only being used but that they are being used by appropriately trained and supervised individuals.
- Each lab is expected to establish redundant controls, similar to the two-key system used in other contexts for critical control points. For example, in the TB lab when heat is used to kill a pathogen, a second trained lab technician will witness the process to make sure the right temperature is used for the right amount of time. Both individuals then sign off on the process.
HHS: $83.4M to Improve Community Access to Primary Health Care
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is awarding $83.4 million to 60 Teaching Health Centers as part of the Affordable Care Act. The funds will go toward training more than 550 residents during the 2014-15 academic year, with the goal of strengthening primary care and improving access to health care in U.S. communities. Areas covered will include family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, gynecology, psychiatry, geriatrics and general dentistry. “This program not only provides training to primary care medical and dental residents, but also galvanizes communities,” said Health Resources and Services Administration Administrator Mary K. Wakefield, PhD, RN. “It brings hospitals, academic centers, health centers, and community organizations together to provide top-notch medical education and services in areas of the country that need them most.” Read more on access to care.
Community Preventive Services Task Force Recommends Universal Motorcycle Helmet Laws
Universal motorcycle helmet laws can prevent injuries and save lives while also saving communities the high health care costs associated with collisions, according to a new review of 69 studies and a separate economic review of 22 studies by the Community Preventive Services Task Force. Based on the conclusions, the task force—an independent, nonfederal, unpaid panel of public health and prevention experts—recommends all U.S. communities adopt universal helmet laws, with are more effective than no law or partial helmet laws at preventing severe injuries. The study found that the United States and other high-income communities saw substantial decreases in motorcycle-related deaths and injuries after enacting universal helmet laws, but the inverse when universal laws were repealed or replaced with other laws. Read more on injury prevention.
Study: Fungus Behind 2013 Yogurt Recall a Larger Threat than Previously Believed
The fungus behind an outbreak that led to the September 2013 recall of Chobani brand Greek yogurt is more dangerous than first believed, according to a new study in mBio, the online journal of the American Society for Microbiology. Initially the company believed that the Murcor circinelloides fungus was only a potential danger to people with compromised immune systems. However, as additional gastrointestinal were reported researchers continued their study, concluding that the “harmless” fungus was actually a strain with the ability to cause disease. “When people think about food-borne pathogens, normally they list bacteria, viruses, and maybe parasites. Fungal pathogens are not considered as food-borne pathogens. However, this incidence indicates that we need to pay more attention to fungi. Fungal pathogens can threaten our health systems as food-borne pathogens” said Soo Chan Lee of Duke University, an author on the study. Read more on food safety.
CDC: One in 25 U.S. Drivers Report Falling Asleep at the Wheel in the Previous 30 Days
Approximately one in 25 U.S. drivers reported falling asleep while driving at least once in the previous 30 days, according to the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC data found that, from 2009-2010, people who slept six or fewer hours per night, snored or unintentionally fell asleep during the day were most likely to fall asleep behind the wheel. They also identified binge drinking and unsafe seatbelt use as linked to a higher risk of falling asleep while driving. The report data was culled from information from the 92,102 respondents in 10 states and Puerto Rico to the 2011–2012 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys. Read more on transportation.
Study: Adults with Dyslexia Far More Likely to Have Been Abused as Children
Approximately one third of dyslexic adults report having been physically abused as children, according to a new study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. The percentage was far less—seven percent—for adults without dyslexia. Researchers say more work is needed to identify the cause or causes for this disparity. “It is possible that for some children, the presence of dyslexia and related learning problems may place them at relatively higher risk for physical abuse, perhaps due to adult frustrations with chronic learning failure" said study co-author, Stephen Hooper, professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, and Associate Dean and Chair of Allied Health Sciences at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, in a release. "Alternatively, given the known association between brain dysfunction and maltreatment, it could be that the experience of physical abuse may also contribute to and/or exacerbate such learning problems, secondary to increased neurologic burden." Read more on violence.
Poultry Recall Connected to Massive Salmonella Outbreak
Sixteen months after the start of a salmonella outbreak that has sickened nearly 600 people across 27 states, Foster Farms has announced it will recall contaminated chicken that has been linked to the outbreak. The California-based poultry company said the recalled products—produced at three facilities on March 8, 10 and 11 of this year—were distributed in California, Hawaii, Washington, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Oregon and Alaska. "This recall is prompted by a single illness associated with specific fresh chicken product, but in the fullest interest of food safety, Foster Farms has broadened the recall to encompass all products packaged at that time. Foster Farms regrets any illness associated with its products," said the company in a statement. Read more on food safety.
Report: Food Sodium Levels at Many Top Chains Continue to Be Unhealthily High
From 2009 to 2013, the nation’s top restaurant chains reduced the sodium in their foods by an average of only 1.5 percent annually, according to a new report from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). In a review of 136 meals from 17 chains, researchers determined that approximately 79 percent of the 81 adult meals contained more than 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium—or one mg more than the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends as a full day’s limit. The study also found efforts to reduce sodium to be inconsistent, with some chains actually increasing the amounts over the studied time period. CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson said the findings indicate that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “wait-and-see” approach to sodium in packaged and restaurant food doesn’t work and that a new approach is needed. Read more on nutrition.
CDC: Antibiotic-resistant Foodborne Germs Remain a Serious Public Health Issue
New data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates both positive and negative trends in the ongoing public health fight against antibiotic-resistant foodborne germs, which contribute to an estimated 430,000 U.S. illnesses every year. According to the data, multi-drug resistant Salmonella—which causes approximately 100,000 U.S. illnesses annually—decreased over the past decade, but Salmonella typhi resistance to certain drugs increased by 68 percent in 2012, meaning one of the common treatments for typhoid fever may not be effective. “Our latest data show some progress in reducing resistance among some germs that make people sick but unfortunately we’re also seeing greater resistance in some pathogens, like certain types of Salmonella,” said Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases. “Infections with antibiotic-resistant germs are often more severe. These data will help doctors prescribe treatments that work and to help CDC and our public health partners identify and stop outbreaks caused by resistant germs faster and protect people’s health.” Read more on food safety.
Four Communities to Share $120M in HUD Grants for Community Revitalization
Four U.S. communities will split nearly $120 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants earmarked for the redevelopment of severely distressed public or HUD-assisted housing and their surrounding neighborhoods. "HUD's Choice Neighborhoods Initiative supports local visions for how to transform high-poverty, distressed communities into neighborhoods of opportunity," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "By working together, with local and state partners we will show why neighborhoods should always be defined by their potential—not their problems. Together, we will work to ensure that no child's future is determined by their zip code and expand opportunity for all."
The four communities are:
- Columbus (Ohio) Metropolitan Housing Authority — Columbus, Ohio
- Housing Authority of the City of Norwalk/Norwalk (Conn.) Redevelopment Agency
- City of Philadelphia, Office of Housing & Community Development/Philadelphia Housing Authority
- Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh/City of Pittsburgh
Read more on housing.
OECD: Economic Crisis Contributed to Global Obesity Crisis
More people than not in the member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are obese, with the economic crisis that began in 2008 contributing even more to the overall increase in body weight and obesity, according to a new OECD report. The analysis found that many of the people and families in the countries hit hardest by the economic crisis were forced to turn to less expensive—but also less healthy—food. For example, from 2008-2009 households in the United Kingdom decreased their food expenditure by 8.5 percent in real terms, while also increasing the average calorie density of purchased foods by 4.8 percent.
Among the other findings:
- One in 5 OECD children are overweight or obese
- The obesity epidemic has spread further in the past five years, but rates have been increasing at a slower pace than before
- People with less education and lower socio-economic status are more likely to be obese, and the gap is generally larger in women
- A growing number of countries have adopted policies to prevent obesity from spreading further
Read more on obesity.
Study: 1 in 5 Medicare Patients Experience Medical Injuries
Approximately 20 percent of Medicare patients experience medical injuries, which are often not linked to any underlying disease or condition, according to a new study in the journal Injury Prevention. Typical injuries include being given the wrong medication, having an allergic reaction to a medication, or receiving any treatment that led to more complications of an existing medical problem. Using data on more than 12,500 Medicare patients who made claims between 1998 and 2005, researchers found that 19 percent experienced at least one adverse medical event and 62 percent of the injuries took place during outpatient care. The highest risks were scene in older people, men and those from lower-income backgrounds. "These injuries are caused by the medical care or management rather than any underlying disease," said lead researcher Mary Carter, director of the Gerontology Program at Towson University in Maryland. "To really improve our ability to prevent these types of adverse events, we have to focus at least as much on outpatient care as we do on inpatient care." Read more on injury prevention.
Salmonella Outbreak Causes an Additional 50 Cases; Total Now at 574
With an additional 50 cases, the salmonella outbreak linked to Foster Farms chicken that began in March 2013 now has sickened a total of 574 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC estimates there have been an average of eight new cases per week since an April report on the drug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg. Thirty-seven percent of the cases have led to hospitalization and about 13 percent have developed blood infections, which is three times higher than what’s seen with typical salmonella infections. Read more on food safety.
If you’re planning on foreign travel then the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wants to help you find foods that won’t bite you back. Can I Eat This? is a free app from the agency that lets users search country-by-country for what’s safe to eat and drink. Once you choose the country you’ll be eating in—or where you already are, perhaps standing in line deciding what to order—simply tap the food or drink icon and wait for questions specific to that country.
For example, tapping “eating” in Argentina prompts the app to ask whether you’ll be buying from a street vendor or a store, and your answers prompt even more questions about the food ‘s storage and handling. In Bulgaria, tap “drinking” and you’ll be asked if there’s ice in the drink. Tap “yes” and a scary X will pop up with a warning of “probably not,” because the ice is likely made with tap water, which the CDC has identified as a poor safety choice in that country.
>>Bonus Link: Find more travel health information from the CDC here.
CDC: Mixed Progress in Food Safety Efforts
A new food safety progress report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows mixed results for the country’s safety efforts. While the rate of salmonella infections was down approximately 9 percent in 2013 compared to the previous three years, campylobacter infections—often linked to dairy products and chicken—are up 13 percent since 2006-2008. The CDC also found that vibrio infections, which are often linked to raw shellfish, were at the highest level since tracking began in 1996. “This year’s data show some recent progress in reducing salmonella rates, and also highlight that our work to reduce the burden of foodborne illness is far from over,” said Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases. “To keep salmonella on the decline, we need to work with the food industry and our federal, state and local partners to implement strong actions to control known risks and to detect foodborne germs lurking in unsuspected foods.” The report’s data comes from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), a group of experts from CDC; ten state health departments; the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS); and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Read more on food safety.
FDA: Common Procedure to Remove Uterus, Uterine Fibroids Can Spread Cancer
A common procedure to remove the uterus or uterine fibroids can unintentionally spread cancerous tissue—such as uterine sarcomas—according to a new safety communication from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is discouraging the use of laparoscopic power morcellation. The procedure divides the uterine tissue into smaller fragments in order to remove them via a small abdominal incision. “The FDA’s primary concern as we consider the continued use of these devices is the safety and well-being of patients,” said William Maisel, MD, MPH, deputy director for science and chief scientist at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “There is no reliable way to determine if a uterine fibroid is cancerous prior to removal. Patients should know that the FDA is discouraging the use of laparoscopic power morcellation for hysterectomy or myomectomy, and they should discuss the risks and benefits of the available treatment options with their health care professionals.” Read more on cancer.
Approximately 12M U.S. Outpatients Misdiagnosed Each Year
Approximately 12 million U.S. adults are misdiagnosed each year in doctors’ office and other outpatient settings, with an estimated half of those mistakes potentially leading to serious harm, according to a new study set to be published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety. The overall total means about one in every 20 patients are misdiagnosed. For the study researchers used data from three studies covering a sample pool of approximately 3,000 medical records. "It's important to outline the fact that this is a problem," said Hardeep Singh, MD, the study's lead author and a patient safety researcher at Baylor College of Medicine and at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, both in Houston, according to Reuters. "Because of the large number of outpatient visits, this is a huge vulnerability. This is a huge number and we need to do something about it.” Read more on access to care.
Urban Gardeners May Be Unaware of Harmful Soil Contaminants
In their quest to consume healthier foods, urban gardeners may actually be unaware of the presence of soil contaminants and how to deal with the issue, putting both gardeners and consumers at risk, according to a new study in PLOS One. Potential contaminants include heavy metals, petroleum products and asbestos, which can result when urban soil is near pollution sources, such as industrial areas and roads with heavy traffic. “Our study suggests gardeners generally recognize the importance of knowing a garden site’s prior uses, but they may lack the information and expertise to determine accurately the prior use of their garden site and potential contaminants in the soil,” said Keeve Nachman, PhD, senior author of the study and director of the Food Production and Public Health Program with the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. “They may also have misperceptions or gaps in knowledge about how best to minimize their risk of exposure to contaminants that may be in urban soil.” Read more food safety.
Study: 1 in 10 U.S. Adults Have Diabetes
Nearly one in 10 U.S. adults had diabetes in 2010, nearly double the percentage a little more than two decades ago, in 1988, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study determined that 21 million American adults—or 9.3 percent of all American adults—had either type 1 or type 2 diabetes in 2010. As many as 95 percent of diabetes cases are type 2 cases. "This study also highlights that the increase in diabetes really tracks closely with the epidemic of obesity,” said Elizabeth Selvin, the study's lead author and an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The diabetes epidemic is really a direct consequence of the rise in obesity.” However, the report did find that cases of undiagnosed diabetes were down, indicating new screen techniques are effective. It also found that overall blood sugar control was improved. Read more on obesity.
U.S. Health Care Costs Climbed 3.2% in 2013, to $329.2 Billion
The cost of new medicines, price increases on some branded drugs and patent expirations helped cause the first rise in the overall cost of health services in the United States in three years, according to a new report from IMS Health Holdings Inc., a health care information company. Americans spent a total of $329.2 billion on health services in 2013, up from 3.2 percent from 2012, which had seen a 1 percent decline. However, the report noted that expanded use of cheaper generic drugs—86 percent of all prescription drugs—did help costs from rising even higher. Read more on access to health care.
HHS: Significant Improvement on Leading Health Indicators that Influence Reduction in Preventable Disease and Death
A new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Healthy People 2020, finds that the country’s health is importing in more than half—14 of 26—of the critical measures known to have a major influence in reducing preventable disease and death. The Leading Health Indicators include categories such as access to care; maternal and child health; tobacco use; nutrition; and physical activity. “The Leading Health Indicators are intended to motivate action to improve the health of the whole population,” said Howard Koh, MD, Assistant Secretary for Health, in a release. “Today’s LHI Progress Report shows that we are doing just that.” Among the indicators that been met or are improving:
- Fewer adults smoking cigarettes
- Fewer children exposed to secondhand smoke
- More adults meeting physical activity targets
- Fewer adolescents using alcohol or illicit drugs
Read more on HHS.
Study: Americans Twice as Likely to Get Food Poisoning from Restaurants than at Home
Americans are twice as likely to get food poisoning from food at a restaurant than they are from food at home, according to a new study from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The organization analyzed “solved” outbreaks over a ten-year period, finding that 1,610 outbreaks in restaurants sickened more than 28,000 people while 893 outbreaks linked to private homes sickened approximately 13,000 people. The study also determined that of the 104 outbreaks linked to milk, about 70 percent were caused by raw milk—meaning that while less than one percent of consumers drink raw milk, they account for 70 percent of the illnesses caused by milk-borne outbreaks. The researchers also expressed concern over the 42 percent drop in reported outbreaks from 2011 to 2012. "Underreporting of outbreaks has reached epidemic proportions," said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. "Yet the details gleaned from outbreak investigations provide essential information so public health officials can shape food safety policy and make science-based recommendations to consumers. Despite the improvements in food safety policy in the past decade, far too many Americans still are getting sick, being hospitalized, or even dying due to contaminated food." Read more on food safety.
Study: Antipsychotic Medications for Foster Care Youth Remain High
Use of antipsychotic medications for unlabeled indications such as treatment for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is increasing among youth in foster care, according to a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Psychopharmacology. Researchers from the University of Maryland, Morgan State University and the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions analyzed data on 266,590 youth ages 2-17 years and continuously enrolled in a mid-Atlantic state Medicaid program in 2006, finding that approximately one-third of the ADHD-diagnosed foster care youth included in the assessment received atypical antipsychotics. This study adds critical hard data to our understanding of a persistent and unacceptable trend in pediatric psychiatry," said Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, and President, Child Mind Institute, in a release. "Our poorest, most vulnerable children, lacking access to evidence-based care, are receiving potentially harmful treatment with little oversight. The highlight of Burcu et al.'s paper for any reader should be the simple but necessary recommendations for antipsychotic prescribing and monitoring in these populations." Read more on prescription drugs.