Category Archives: Food Safety

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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Apr 26 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: April 26

Mammography Rates Remained Steady After Change in Guidelines
The proportion of women undergoing screening for breast cancer every year did not change after U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released recommendations saying there wasn't enough evidence to support routine mammograms for women in their 40s, according to a new study published in the journal Cancer. In 2009, the Task Force changed their recommendations to state that women aged 50 to 74 should have a mammogram every other year, and screenings for women under age 50 should be evaluated by each woman with her doctor, according to individual risk factors. "When there are conflicting versions of guidelines, providers may err on the side of screening," said David Howard, a health policy researcher from Emory University in Atlanta, in an interview with Reuters. Read more on cancer.

Latest HIV Vaccine Study Halted
The National Institutes of Health halted a study testing an experimental HIV vaccine after an independent review board found the vaccine did not prevent HIV infection and did not reduce the amount of HIV in the blood. The trial, started in 2009, is the latest in a series of failed HIV vaccine trials, according to Reuters. The halted study included more than 2,500 volunteers in 19 U.S. cities. Study populations included men who have sex with men and transgender people who have sex with men. Read more on HIV.

CDC's Food Safety Report Card: Some Foodborne Illnesses Spiked in 2012
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released the "nation’s annual food safety report card," and it shows that 2012 rates of infections from two types of foodborne bacteria—campylobacter and Vibrio—have increased significantly when compared to a baseline period of 2006-2008, while rates of most others have not changed during the same period. The data are part of the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network report. Campylobacter infections have been linked to tranmission in many foods, including poultry, raw milk and produce. These infections were at their highest level since 2000, up 14 percent since 2006-2008. Vibrio infections, often associated with raw shellfish, were up 43 percent.

“The U.S. food supply remains one of the safest in the world,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “However, some foodborne diseases continue to pose a challenge. We have the ability, through investments in emerging technologies, to identify outbreaks even more quickly and implement interventions even faster to protect people from the dangers posed by contaminated food.” Read more on food safety.

Apr 19 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: April 19

Hookahs Not a Safe Alternative to Cigarettes
Despite the belief of many, smoking tobacco using a hookah is not a safe alternative to cigarettes, according to a new study in the American Association for Cancer Research’s Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Hookah use produces higher levels of carbon monoxide and benzene, linked with heart or respiratory conditions and increased risk of leukemia, respectively. “People want to know if it is a lesser health risk if they switch from cigarettes to smoking a water pipe on a daily basis,” said UC San Francisco research chemist Peyton Jacob III, PhD. “We found that water-pipe smoking is not a safe alternative to cigarette smoking, nor is it likely to be an effective harm-reduction strategy.” The mix of toxins produced by a hookah is due to the combination of the two difference materials smoked, according to researcher Neal Benowitz, MD, of the San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. “You’re basically burning a charcoal briquette on top of the tobacco,” Benowitz said, “and most of what you’re smoking is a moist fruit preparation, which is mixed with the tobacco. It smells good and it tastes good.” Read more on tobacco.

CDC: Number of U.S. Foodborne Illness Cases at a Standstill
After dropping for many years, the number of foodborne illnesses in the United States has apparently leveled out, according to a new study in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. About 48 million people—or one in six—suffer from a foodborne illness each year. The most common cause is salmonella. "It is still the case now that numbers were lower than they were back in the 1990s," said Robert Tauxe, MD, deputy director of the division of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "But right now we're just about where we were in 2006 to 2008, and we may need to identify additional ways to reduce contamination, as well as heightening awareness among consumers about the importance of thoroughly cooking and safely handling ground beef in their own homes." Read more on food safety.

Exercise, Healthy Eating Helps Keep Sleep Apnea in Check
The combination of exercise and healthy eating is a simple way to ease the effects of mild sleep apnea, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. The key is weight loss. Researchers “found obese study participants who went through a one-year lifestyle intervention were about half as likely to see their sleep apnea progress to more severe disease,” according to Reuters. "It usually takes at least a few years to progress from mild disease to the more severe disease, and mostly it's due to weight gain," said Henri Tuomilehto, MD, who led the new study at the Oivauni Sleep Clinic in Kuopio, Finland. "With these results, we can say that if we change our lifestyle…we really can stop the progression of sleep apnea.” Read more on obesity.

Apr 11 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: April 11

FDA Budget Includes Funds for Food, Medical Product Safety Improvements
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) requested $4.7 billion budget will include funds to support the Food Safety Modernization Act and to help ensure the safety of medical products. However, the budget will also include a $15 million cut related to human drug, biologics and medical device programs. “Our budget increases are targeted to strategic areas that will benefit patients and consumers and overall strengthen our economy,” said Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., Commissioner of Food and Drugs. “Through the good work of the FDA, Americans will receive life-saving medicines approved as fast as or faster than anywhere in the world, confidence in the medical products they rely on daily, and a food supply that is among the safest in the world.” Read more on food safety.

Study: No Link Between Fertility Drugs, Increased Ovarian Cancer Risk
There is no link between fertility drugs and an increased risk of ovarian cancer, according to a new study in the journal Fertility and Sterility. While previous studies have suggested a connection, Albert Asante, MD, lead author of the study and a clinical fellow in the division of reproductive endocrinology at the Mayo Clinic, said the results show that “women who need to use fertility drugs to get pregnant should not worry about using these fertility drugs." The study looked at the medical information of approximately 1,900 women who participated in an ovarian cancer study at the Mayo Clinic. Approximately 13 out of every 100,000 women will develop ovarian cancer in their lives. Read more on cancer.

Unemployment Stress Can Lead to Severe Cardiovascular Troubles
The stress and anxiety of unemployment can cause both immediate and long-lasting cardiovascular problems. There’s even a possibility of something called “broken heart syndrome.” "In a very stressful situation, you can actually get a severe release of adrenaline and sympathetic nerve discharges that cause the heart to beat irregularly," said John Higgins, MD, a sports cardiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, according to HealthDay. In the most severe cases this can lead to heart attack. However, Kavitha Chinnaiyan, MD, director of cardiac imaging at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., said steps can be taken to reduce the damage. "We know from studies that behaviors such as meditation, yoga and tai chi work specifically to reduce our response to stress," she said, noting that meditation in particular “helps you see your choices and have a clearer perspective of what to do next. Stress may still be around us, but meditation gives us a better ability to cope with it." Learn more on the connection between stable employment and health in an INFOGRAPHIC.

Jan 25 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: January 25

Hopkins Researchers Use Twitter to Track the Flu
A new method of tracking influenza cases using Twitter could also be utilized to track other illnesses, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins University. The researchers, along with computer scientists, created an algorithm that uses human language-processing technologies to filter out general discussion about the flu and zeroes in on messages about actual flu cases, according to Reuters. The National Institutes of Health's Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study contributed funding to the research. Read more on influenza.

Recalls Announced by Two Well-known Food Companies
Some well-known food companies recalled products yesterday. ConAgra Foods, of Omaha, Neb., has initiated a voluntary recall for lots of its 8 ounce Hunt's Tomato Sauce (regular variety) and Hunt's Tomato Sauce No Salt Added. There are no concerns about the actual food, but a defect in the can cause them to burst when opening. Also BBU Inc., the parent of the Bimbo Bakeries companies, is voluntarily recalling certain of its fresh bagels due to the possibility of metal fragments. Read more on food safety.

Study: Bad News Leads to More Eating, Calorie Cravings
Bringing new meaning to the concept of “comfort food,” researchers have found that bad news—messages of struggle and adversity—can cause people to overeat. In the study, participants shown negative messages ate 40 percent more than those who saw neutral messages. They were also more drawn to high calorie foods. "It is clear from the studies that taste was not what caused the reactions, it was a longing for calories," said study author Juliano Laran, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, in a release. “These findings could have positive implications for individuals in the health care field, government campaigns on nutrition, and companies promoting wellness. And, certainly beware of savvy food marketers bearing bad news." The study appears in the journal Psychological Science. Read more on nutrition.

Jan 7 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: January 7

FDA Proposes Two New Food Safety Rules
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed two new food safety rules to help prevent food-borne illness. Once made final, the rules will become part of the Food Safety and Modernization Act signed into law two years ago. The new rules are available for public comment for the next four months. The first rule would require companies engaged in selling food to be sold in the United States, whether produced at a foreign- or domestic-based facility, to develop a formal plan for preventing their food products from causing food-borne illness and for correcting any problems that develop. The second rule proposes enforceable safety standards for the production and harvesting of produce on farms. Read more on food safety.

NIH Developing Health Plan for LGBT Communities
The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) LGBT Research Coordinating Committee is developing a plan to “extend and advance the knowledge base” for promoting health in the LGBT community, according to a recent statement from NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD. The plan is based on analysis of The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding, a study commissioned by the NIH and issued in March 2011. Read more on LGBT issues.

Mass. Bill Would Improve Oversight of Compounding Pharmacies
Months after the state of a meningitis outbreak linked to 39 deaths and 656 cases of illness in 19 states, the governor of Massachusetts has introduced legislation that would improve the state’s ability to regulate compounding pharmacies. The source of the outbreak is believed to be tainted steroids produced at the Framingham, Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center. "The regulations that we have in place and governing authority hasn't kept up with an industry that's changed," said Governor Deval Patrick, according to Reuters. Read more on infectious disease.

Dec 14 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: December 14

Hookahs a Growing Public Health Concern in California
The increasing number of cafes and lounges featuring hookahs poses a public health risk for the state of California, according to state officials. Hookah use in California increased 40 percent from 2005 to 2008, according to 2011 state tobacco survey published in the American Journal of Public Health. While there is a perception that hookahs are safe than cigarettes, tobacco smoke from hookahs includes the carcinogens found in cigarette smoke, plus more carbon monoxide and extra carcinogens.  "There is a very, very concerning misperception about the use of hookahs among youth, thinking it's somehow safer. In fact, it puts you at the same risk," said Ron Chapman, MD, the state director of public health. Watch a video interview with Ron Chapman.

HHS: Child Abuse Cases Down, But Thousands Still Need Help
While the number of child abuse cases dropped for the fifth year in a row in 2011, there are still thousands of U.S. children in need of help, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families. "We have made excellent progress over the past five years," said George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary of the administration, said in a release. "But what this report tells me is that we still have 681,000 children out there who need our help. We must continue coordination efforts among federal, state and local agencies to focus on child maltreatment prevention." About 11 percent of the abused children were physically or mentally disabled. In 2011, 1,570 died due to abuse or neglect. Read more on violence.

CDC Releases Tips on Staying Healthy During the Holiday Season
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released Give the Gift of Health and Safety: Healthy Living Holiday Tips, a digital kit with advice on how to keep yourself, your friends and your family healthy during the holiday season. In addition to more obvious recommendation such as making sure all food is thoroughly cooked and not drinking and driving, there are also tips on how to stay warm (especially important for older adults), how to manage stress and how to travel safely. Read more on safety.

Nov 21 2012
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Recommended Reading: Don’t Drink and Shop…or Debate

Walmart, Sears and other big retailers kicked off a new Thanksgiving trend this week:  the stores will open their doors Thanksgiving evening for Black Friday sales, attracting dedicated bargain shoppers. But a thoughtful and well researched article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution published earlier this week might make you think twice: if you’ve been drinking alcohol during dinner (or are drowsy from turkey tryptophan) and head straight to the car, you pose a risk to yourself and others on the road. And that risk accelerates if you’re scanning your smart phone from the steering wheel, looking for the best buys in your neighborhood.  

As you get ready for the marathon shopping night leading into the biggest shopping day of the year, APHA’s Public Health Newswire offers some suggestions for a safe, healthy and drama-free Thanksgiving. The tongue-in-cheek article offers fun tips on how to safely discuss controversial health issues with extended family, as well as more serious public health hints, including proper food safety steps and how to consider health without counting calories. 

These hints will help you leave the dinner table alive. And above all have a safe, healthy Thanksgiving!

>>Read the driving safety article.
>>Read the healthy Thanksgiving article.

Sep 26 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: September 26

HHS Program to Expand Mental Health Care for Rural Area, Military Personnel
A new program from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will increase the number of social workers and psychologists providing care to military personnel, veterans and people living in rural areas. The $9.8 million grant will be shared by 24 graduate social work and psychology schools and programs. “Mental health services are critical for those dealing with posttraumatic stress and other severe problems,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a release. “Increasing the number and quality of providers to care for these individuals is a major step forward in addressing these challenges.” Read more on mental health.

Study: 20 Percent of Prescriptions Unfilled for Kids on Medicaid
A new study in the journal Pediatrics suggests that more than 20 percent of prescriptions to children on Medicaid may not be filled. The study looked at 4,833 kids receiving approximately 17,000 total prescriptions over a two-year period at two Chicago clinics, finding that 22 percent of the prescriptions were never filled. The study did find that prescriptions for antibiotics were far more likely to be filled than those for vitamins and minerals. Rachael Zweigoron, MD, lead researcher from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, said the findings suggest pediatricians need to do a better job of explaining the importance of particular prescriptions. Read more on pediatrics.

Peanut Butter Recall as 30 Sickened by Salmonella
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified peanut butter as the likely cause of 30 cases of salmonella across 19 states. So far four people have been hospitalized from the tainted Trader Joe's Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter made with Sea Salt. The chain is recalling that and other types of peanut butter. Salmonella causes diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps in most patients, but can lead to more serious complications and even death. Read more on food safety.