Category Archives: Food safety

May 6 2014
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My App Says I Can’t Eat This

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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.

Can I Eat This? is available in the Google Play and iOS App stores.

>>Bonus Link: Find more travel health information from the CDC here.

Nov 27 2013
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Think Safety as Thanksgiving—and Holiday Shopping—Approaches

file Photo Credit: tshein, via Flickr

Among the best pieces of advice people can look to today, the day before Thanksgiving, is a primer on safe food preparation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including a video on just how to stuff that turkey.

Additionally, when it comes to safety this holiday season, there are also ways to help keep yourself and your purchases safe as Thanksgiving morphs into Black Friday. Tech guru Shelly Palmer reported recently that, according to the New York City police department, 14 percent of crime in that city is linked to Apple computer products, while police in other cities note technology thefts of all kinds as the holiday shopping season gets into full swing. Apple is alerting buyers of the latest model iPhones that the devices now come with a security feature that requires a User ID and password to disable the "Find my Phone" feature, which helps police track down stolen phones. Tech experts say widespread use of the Apple feature can help deter theft--and possible harm--during a robbery.

Another thing to be aware of this shopping season, when people will be out and about on busy streets, is what's come to be known as the "Knockout Game," where the goal is knock a random person unconscious with a single punch. CNN and other news outlets have posted stories about reports of random violence in several U.S. and foreign cities, and at least one city is considering punishing juveniles found guilty of the attack as an adult rather than a child--which can mean years of jail time. However, The New York Times recently added its voice to the growing national discussion with a story questioning whether the "game" is in fact an urban myth, saying that it's possible these assaults are random acts of violence, and that even New York City police officials are still trying to determine the truth.

Nonetheless, while questions over the "game" remain, the assaults are very real. According to CNN, a police spokesman in Pittsburgh says people who appear distracted--such as those checking phones or listening to music through headphones--may be more vulnerable to attacks.

>>Bonus Link: The National Crime Prevention Council offers tips on safe holiday shopping, including shopping with a friend for added security.

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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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.

Jun 29 2012
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July 4: Fire up the Grill, Hold the Salmonella

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is reporting that cases of foodborne illnesses surge in the summer season, likely because bacteria multiply faster when it’s warm. Key stats from the USDA:

  • Americans spend $400 million on beef alone for July 4th barbecues.
  • USDA research shows that 1 out of every 4 hamburgers turns brown before it has reached a safe internal temperature.
  • New FDA research done in collaboration with USDA shows that only 23 percent of Americans who own a food thermometer actually use it when grilling hamburgers
  • 48 million Americans (at least 1 in 6) will get sick from foodborne illness this year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths

 

FoodSafetyInfographicJuly42

USDA also offers more resources on summer grilling and on the critical steps for food safety, as well as this handy infographic as a reminder to take steps like using separate plates for raw and cooked food when grilling:

Food safety isn't the only concern this holiday. This year, the National Safety Council estimates 17,300 serious injuries and 173 traffic deaths will occur between 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, July 3, and 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, July 4. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is also posing some compelling July food for thought: "Would you let your kids handle a blowtorch?" According to the CPSC, sparklers burn at the same temperature as blowtorches: 2,000 degrees. In the month surrounding July 4th, 2010, the CPSC reports that 6,300 injuries were reported involving fireworks, including burns to the hands, face and head. Additional safety tips include:

  • Steer clear of fireworks packaged in brown paper, as they may be professional-grade and not safe for home use.
  • Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.
  • Never carry fireworks in a pocket.

The National Safety Council has additional July 4 tips on safe driving over the holiday, preventing drowning and safety hazards from hot weather.

May 3 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: May 3

Teenage Marijuana Use Rises Significantly

A new survey by the MetLife Foundation and the Partnership at DrugFree.org finds that marijuana use is becoming a more acceptable behavior among teens and heavy marijuana use is now at very high levels.

Nearly half of teens (47 percent) have ever used marijuana – a 21 percent increase since 2008, and two out of every five teens (39 percent) have tried marijuana in the past year, up from 31 percent in 2008. Past-month use has increased 42 percent from 19 percent in 2008 to 27 percent in 2011. Heavy monthly use (20 or more times) rose from 5 percent in 2008 to 9 percent in 2011. The survey also found that teen boys are more frequent users of marijuana than teen girls.

Read more on illicit drug use.

Study: Even Minimal Weight Loss May Reduce Cancer Risk in Women

Postmenopausal women who were overweight or obese and lost at least 5 percent of their body weight had a significant reduction in markers of inflammation, according to a study published in Cancer Research.

The study authors say both obesity and inflammation have been shown to be related to several types of cancer, and that the study shows that if you reduce weight, you can reduce inflammation as well.

Read more on cancer prevention.

CDC Update on Salmonella Linked to Tuna

A salmonella outbreak linked to a frozen yellow fin tuna product has now sickened 258 people in 24 states and the District of Columbia, according to an update released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday. At least 32 people have been hospitalized but no deaths have been reported.

The CDC says it is now including two types of salmonella in the outbreak strains--Salmonella Bareilly (247 cases) and Salmonella Nchanga (11 cases).

On April 16, nearly 59,000 pounds of tuna product linked to the outbreak -- labeled Nakaochi Scrape AA or AAA -- were recalled by Moon Marine USA Corp. of Cupertino, Calif. The product, which is scraped off fish bones, was sold to grocery stores and restaurants to make dishes such as sushi, sashimi and ceviche.

Read more on food-borne illness.

Apr 24 2012
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FDA and Global Engagement: Recommended Reading

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a new report that details steps the agency is taking to ensure that imported food, drugs, medical devices and other regulated products meet the same standards for safety and quality as those manufactured in the United States.

According to the agency, global production of FDA-regulated goods and materials has grown significantly in the last decade:

  • FDA-regulated products originate from more than 150 countries; 130,000 importers and 300,000 foreign facilities.
  • Each year from 2005 through 2011, food imports have grown by an average of 10 percent, pharmaceutical products by nearly 13 percent and device imports by more than 10 percent.
  • About half of all fresh fruits and 20 percent of fresh vegetables, as well as 80 percent of the seafood consumed in America, come from abroad.
  • More than 80 percent of the active pharmaceutical ingredients used to make medicines are imported.

FDAmap

The agency says that through its international offices in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, the FDA is increasing its knowledge base about local regulatory systems, and improving what foreign governments and industries know about FDA regulations and standards for products that will be sold in the United States. The agency says it is also collaborating to strengthen regulatory science and evidenced-based approaches to product safety and quality.

Read the Global Engagement Report.

Apr 13 2012
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UDSA to Americans: Debug Now

Garden Fresh Tomatoes

What’s in your lettuce? The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is urging Americans to embrace the increasing fondness for fresh produce by helping to avoid and remove pests that threaten crops. "We need the public's help because these hungry pests can have a huge impact on the items we use in everyday life, from the fabric in our clothing, the food on our table, the lumber used to build our home and the flowers in our garden,” says Rebecca A. Blue, Deputy Undersecretary for USDA's Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

Invasive pests are non-native species that eat U.S. crops, trees and other plants, and cost millions of dollars in losses.

While state and federal experts are working on the problem, Blue says individuals can help stem the problem by doing their part too, starting with learning tips from a new USDA website, HungryPests.com. Tips include:

  • Plant carefully. Buy your plants from a reputable source and avoid using invasive plant species at all costs.
  • Do not bring or mail fresh fruits, vegetables, or plants into your state or another state unless agricultural inspectors have cleared them beforehand.
  • Cooperate with any agricultural quarantine restrictions and allow authorized agricultural workers access to your property for pest or disease surveys.
  • Keep it clean. Wash outdoor gear and tires between fishing, hunting or camping trips. Clean lawn furniture and other outdoor items when moving from one home to another.
  • Learn the signs. If you see signs of an invasive pest or disease, write down or take a picture of what you see, and then report it online.
  • Speak up. Declare all agricultural items to customs officials when returning from international travel.

Public service announcements in both English and Spanish will air on television and radio throughout April and at peak times for domestic travel this summer.

According to USDA, individuals can make a difference. The Asian long-horned beetle, detected in Illinois in 1998, was declared eradicated from Illinois in 2008 with the help of local, state and federal partners and Illinois residents. The beetle was also eradicated from Hudson County, N.J.; and Islip, N.Y. And extensive efforts by USDA and its partners in California reduced European grapevine moth populations in 2011 by 99.9 percent, two years after it was detected.

Mar 16 2012
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Foodborne Illness From Imported Food Rises

Foodborne illness continues to be in the news. This week researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented research at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases that found that foodborne disease outbreaks linked to foreign imports appear to have risen dramatically in 2009 and 2010.

Other findings from the research, which has not yet been published:

  • Nearly half of the outbreaks involved foods imported from areas that previously had not been associated with foodborne illness.
  • Between 2005 and 2010, 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses were linked to imported food from 15 countries. Of those outbreaks, nearly half (17) occurred in 2009 and 2010.
  • Fish was the most common source of an outbreak; spices were the second most common.
  • Nearly 45 percent of imported foods linked to outbreaks came from Asia.

“As our food supply becomes more global, people are eating foods from all over the world, potentially exposing them to germs from all corners of the world, too,” says Hannah Gould, PhD, an epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, and the lead author of the new study.

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