Letter From The Editor: Romaine, Reform and Revive
Source : http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2018/04/letter-from-the-editor-romaine-reform-and-revive/#.WuWvlM-6zct
By Dan Flynn (Apr 29, 2018)
The purpose of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) is the prevention of foodborne disease. We’ve invested billions of taxpayer dollars and thousands of years of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) professional time since 2011 to make that so.
When foodborne disease happens, FDA, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state health experts still must react. At the moment, those professionals are responding to the romaine-lettuce caused E. coli O157: H7 illnesses around the country.
Public expectations arise whenever there is a severe outbreak of foodborne illness. They expect CDC and FDA to figure out the exact source. Taxpayers provide CDC and FDA with about $12 billion a year, and, yes, they think that entitles them on occasion to some timely answers.
This is one of those occasions.
There’s no doubt CDC and FDA would like nothing better than to name the sources for all the illnesses caused by the last two romaine-related E. coli O157: H7 outbreaks.
Yes, two. Romaine caused 25 E. coli O157: H7 illnesses in 15 states between Nov. 4, 2017, and Dec. 17, 2017. The same outbreak was associated with another 42 illnesses in Canada.
Neither country found a common supplier, distributor or retailer of the contaminated romaine lettuce. The outbreak caused two deaths, one each in the U.S. and Canada. Twenty-six people in the two countries required hospitalization.
The first romaine outbreak was over by Jan. 25, 2018, and it is not related to the current romaine outbreak, according to CDC. It’s just another in a long list of outbreaks involving leafy greens since 1995, many unsolved.
CDC and FDA on Friday conducted a media teleconference to announce that romaine lettuce from Harrison Farm, located outside Yuma, AZ, caused eight of 98 confirmed cases of E. coli O157: H7.
The Yuma growing area is the likely source of the other 90 confirmed cases, but CDC and FDA cannot yet name any additional growers. Shipping and receiving records don’t tell the whole traceability story. There are not enough dots to connect.
Without more dots, we are not likely to see a romaine recall. We did not see a recall in the first romaine outbreak. By the time, CDC and FDA work from the ill person through each link in the supply chain back to the source, all the contaminated lettuce will likely be consumed.
At this point, however, the agencies cannot even confirm industry statements that no additional romaine is being harvested and shipped from the Yuma region.
The current outbreak is a severe one. No deaths yet, but more than half of those sickened have required hospitalization and ten people, including three children, have developed kidney failure.
The specific E. coli O157: H7 bacteria, known as “STX2 only” aggressively attacks blood vessels, kidneys, digestive system, and brain.
Restaurants do seem to be taking the outbreak seriously. Many are merely announcing caesar salads are off the menu until the romaine outbreak is over and they get the “all clear” sign.
Growers in California and Arizona are not babes in the woods about all this. After the 2006 E. coli outbreak involving bagged spinach, growers and their major retail customers came up with Leafy Green Marketing Associations (LGMA) for the two states.
LGMA growers submit to both scheduled and announced audits by their state agriculture departments. LGMA membership has its advantages, such as being able to sell to those big retailers and cross the Canadian border without any delays.
Anyone looking for an example of an instance where private industry took action ahead of government to solve a problem would have to look at the LGMAs. They deserve credit, but they also deserve scrutiny.
Our understanding may not be complete or timely, but we are under certain impressions. LGMAs do not seem to be systems for helping CDC and FDA name the source of an outbreak. It strikes us that they should be more helpful.
In the recent rockmelon outbreak in Australia, the industry reacted in just the opposite way, demanding the government name the responsible grower. All the other rockmelon growers did not want their brands or export prospects hurt.
The LGMAs, with their reliance on state auditors, need to reexamine their role in solving outbreaks. If as we suspect, California romaine growers are all taking a hit now, maybe there’s room for improvement in the way the overall system works.
This is romaine lettuce Photo illustration
And, this brings us to a few final thoughts about the subject the industry hates–testing.
And we are not talking about testing and holding like the beef people. We understand perishables and all that. We are talking about testing.
Once not so long ago, we had a little unit called the Microbiological Data Program (MDP). Run by USDA, the MDP contracted with a dozen state agricultural labs to go out and test fresh produce.
In other words, the MDP sent the state ag labs out during the various harvest seasons to sample and test what’s coming out of the fields. The MDP existed from 2002-2012. It reached a point where it was responsible for 80 percent of the fresh produce testing in the U.S.
The MDP only cost taxpayers about $5 million. The New York Times called it “a tiny program that matters.” But the produce industry hated the MDP, and it apparently had a significant hand in killing it.
The MDP murder remains unsolved. Big produce did not like it because the testing occurred as fruits and vegetables were being picked and shipped. A positive MDP test could throw a wrench in the salad bowl. MDP did not have “predictive value,” according to the rap on it.
But MDP scored for consumers. It caught a rare strain of hepatitis A, preventing its entry into the U.S. from the Middle East and North Africa; and it kept a nasty parasite in Mexico from crossing into the U.S.
MDP was good at creating data on surges of fresh fruits and vegetables, either at harvest time or as from imports. FDA also tests fresh produce. It did about 20 percent of the testing back when MDP did 80 percent.
We have not a recent report, but we doubt that numerically FDA has come anywhere close to making up for MDP’s demise. When leafy green outbreaks occur now, our federal experts go into the field thin on data.
Let’s review. The romaine outbreak is very severe. It’s the second to occur the 2017-18 growing season. The first was deadly. No recalls have occurred. Progress is slow. The LGMAs may require reform to be more useful during outbreaks. And the public is missing the testing MDP contributed to food safety for a full decade.
E. coli outbreak growing; source of romaine remains unknown
Source : http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2018/04/e-coli-outbreak-growing-source-of-romaine-remains-unknown/#.WuWvy8-6zct
By Coral Beach (Apr 27, 2018)
One field linked to 8 illnesses; industry records complicate search for source of 90 other illnesses
Almost 100 people have been infected in an outbreak involving romaine lettuce, and more cases are expected. Federal officials said today they have identified one grower’s romaine as the source of eight of the infections, but a tangled web of supply chain records has significantly slowed their investigation into the other illnesses.
The ongoing outbreak is the largest of its kind since the deadly 2006 E. coli outbreak traced to fresh spinach, public health officials said. There are at least two dozen romaine growers who are being reviewed as federal officials work to pinpoint the source of the current outbreak.
As of today, there are 98 confirmed cases across 22 states, up from the 84 cases reported Wednesday. All of the victims are infected with the same strain of E. coli O157: H7, and it is a particularly dangerous one, said CDC’s Robert Tauxe. Ten of the sick people have developed kidney failure, including three children.
More than half of the ill people, 46, have required hospitalization. The illness onset dates range from March 13 to April 20.
The specific bacteria involved is referred to as an “STX2 only” form of E. coli O157: H7. It aggressively attacks blood vessels, particularly in the kidneys, digestive system and brain.
No one should eat, serve or sell any form of romaine lettuce “under any circumstances” until further notice unless they can confirm is not from the Yuma, AZ, growing region, said Matt Wise, deputy branch chief for Outbreak Response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That warning is the same that the CDC posted April 20. Initially, only pre-chopped romaine was implicated.
Wise said the specific E. coli O157: H7 bacteria causing the illnesses is so dangerous that all people, not just the traditional high-risk groups, should avoid Yuma-grown romaine.
Known and unknown
The CDC knows quite a bit about the confirmed victims, including the fact that 96 percent of those interviewed so far, 67 of 98, reported eating romaine during the week before they got sick. They know that all but eight of the 98 ate pre-chopped romaine from bagged or other packaged mixed salads and at restaurants.
The eight who consumed romaine from whole heads are inmates at a prison in Alaska that received the lettuce from Harrison Farm in Yuma, said Stic Harris, director of the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network. However, inspectors from the Food and Drug Administration have not yet visited the farm and have not been provided details such as the specific location of the field where the implicated romaine was grown.
The FDA’s and CDC’s outbreak specialists discussed the ongoing public health threat involving romaine lettuce during a telephone news conference this afternoon.
Other than identifying the Yuma area in general and Harrison Farm in particular, FDA officials answered many of the media’s questions today with: “We don’t know yet.” That lack of knowledge is not for a lack of trying, according to FDA’s Harris.
The current federal law requires entities in the food supply chain to only maintain shipping and receiving records that are referred to as “one step forward, one step back.” That means every link, from growers to retailers and restaurants, don’t have to know where fresh produce ultimately goes or comes from.
Consequently, traceability during outbreak and recall investigations requires the FDA to contact each link in the supply chain to work its way back to the source of fresh produce commodities like romaine lettuce.
Harris said, “more descriptive” labeling would greatly help in traceback situations. Even basic requirements for uniformity of records would help. Some businesses have handwritten records and others have electronic files. Either way, the records are often incomplete.
Many in the fresh produce industry have not implemented the labeling designed by their own industry’s Produce Traceability Initiative. A common reason is that the labels would cost more.
Questions that remain unanswered as of this afternoon’s news conference, many because of the traceability problems, include:
Q. Is the outbreak over?
A. More cases are expected to be identified because of the lag time of two to three weeks between when a person becomes sick and the time it takes for lab tests, confirmation tests, reporting to local and state officials, and finally reporting to the CDC. There may also be new infections developing from unknown and possible ongoing distribution of Yuma-area romaine.
Q. Can you guarantee that the Yuma harvest is finished and no romaine is being shipped from that area?
A. No. Industry tells us the Yuma season is over and harvest has moved to California, but we haven’t been able to confirm that yet.
Q. Are any of the two dozen other growers’ fields adjacent to the Harrison Farm romaine field?
A. We don’t have those records yet.
Q. Is there a common irrigation water source for any of the fields?
A. We don’t have those records yet.
Q. What is the specific location of the Harrison Farm field that is implicated?
A. We don’t have that information yet.
Q. Is Harrison Farm growing or shipping any other fresh produce or more romaine?
A. The FDA does not have any information at this point to suggest that any other produce in involved. Harrison Farm is currently growing grass in its romaine field.
Q. Are there any common processors or shippers among the other farms you are investigating?
A. We haven’t received all of those records yet. We are looking at all points in the supply chain, from growers to the restaurants and retailers, as is the practice for all outbreak investigations.
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Fungal highways on cheese rinds influence food safety, ripeness
Source : https://phys.org/news/2018-04-fungal-highways-cheese-rinds-food.html
By Tufts University (Apr 26, 2018)
Bacteria traveling along "fungal highways" on cheese rinds can spread more quickly and ruin quality or cause foodborne illnesses, but cheesemakers could manipulate the same highways to help cheese mature faster and taste better, according to new research from Tufts University.
The findings from Benjamin Wolfe's Lab at Tufts University, published in a recent edition of Nature Communications, have implications for food safety and cheese making.
Highways and freeways are infrastructure systems designed to carry people and cargo long distances efficiently. Corporations harness logistics systems to streamline travels across motorways.
Similarly, bacteria construct their own "highways" to carry themselves distances across some types of fermented foods, such as cave-ripened natural rind cheeses. Most often, this causes food to spoil. However, just as information systems harness data about traffic and routes, fungal highways can be manipulated to influence ripeness and flavor.
Molds, or fungi, grow on the surfaces of cheese rinds during the cheese aging process. Wolfe first discovered fungal highways on cheese rinds while completing his post-doctoral work at Harvard University in Rachel Dutton's lab (Dutton is now at the University of California-San Diego). He noticed strange streams of bacteria emerging near fungal colonies on Saint-Nectaire cheese, a cave-ripened French cheese with a natural rind.
When viewed under a microscope, the streams resemble highways.
Bacteria that can use these fungal highways to quickly drive across the cheeses can travel greater distances than bacteria that cannot use the highways. This creates a 'highway hierarchy,' allowing the fungi to control the bacterial community composition on cheese rinds.
Led by Yuanchen Zhang, a Tufts biology undergraduate, the team made discoveries that have direct implications for cheese safety and quality. Some pathogenic bacteria such as Listeria could use fungal highways on cheese to quickly spread and ruin cheese quality or cause foodborne illnesses.
However, the highways do have benefits. Just as the quickly-moving bacteria can cause cheese to over-ripen, they can help cheese mature faster. Cheesemakers could manipulate different types of fungal highways to alter the microbial ripening processes.
"Most prior work on fungal highways combined strains of bacteria and fungi in the lab that may have never encountered each other in nature," said Wolfe, assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Tufts and the study's senior author. "How often fungal highways occurred in naturally forming microbiomes and their ecological significance was largely unknown. Our cheese rind system had the power to put these interactions in a broader ecological context."
"We started with the observation of bacteria dispersing on fungi from a defined community, the Saint-Nectaire cheese," he added. "Because we can easily culture most bacteria and fungi from cheese rinds and could recreate cheese rind communities in the lab, we could test the significance of these pairwise interactions for the development of whole communities."
The Wolfe Lab at Tufts uses fermented foods, such as yogurt, beer, coffee and chocolate, and other synthetic microbial communities to study the evolution and ecology of microbiomes. The lab is also committed to educational and outreach initiatives to improve microbial literacy.
This work was supported by a Tufts Collaborates grant to the Wolfe Lab and the research program of Jeffrey Guasto, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Tufts School of Engineering. Like Wolfe, Guasto's work is highly interdisciplinary. His research is motivated by problems in human health, the environment, and soft materials, and has diverse applications.
Romaine source(s) remain elusive as E. coli outbreak grows
Source : http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2018/04/romaine-sources-remain-elusive-as-e-coli-outbreak-expands/#.WuWwms-6zct
By Coral Beach (Apr 26, 2018)
The number of victims in an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce jumped almost 60 percent in the past week as public health officials struggled to determine the source or sources of the implicated produce.
Three more states have laboratory-confirmed victims, federal officials reported Wednesday. The 19 states now involved in the outbreak have a total of 84 people with E. coli O157:H7 infections, according to an update from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from the 53 victims the agency reported in its April 18 update.
Both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration reiterated their warnings urging consumers, retailers, restaurants and other foodservice operations to not eat or sell romaine in any form if it is from the Yuma AZ, area. If the origin of romaine lettuce is unknown or cannot be confirmed, it should be thrown away.
The warnings include chopped romaine and any products containing chopped romaine, such as bagged salads and packaged salad bowl style products. Whole heads and romaine hearts are also covered by the warnings.
Additional outbreak victims will likely be identified. The most recent illness onset date is April 12. But, the CDC update on Wednesday said people who became sick after April 5 may not yet be included in the case count. It takes an average of two to three weeks from the time people become sick and their illnesses are confirmed by states and reported to the CDC.
The outbreak strain of the bacteria is proving particularly dangerous, with 42 of the infected people having been admitted to hospitals. Nine of the victims have developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. That’s up from four with kidney failure as of April 18. No deaths have been confirmed in relation to the outbreak.
Connecting the dots
Epidemiologists report 64 of the 67 victims interviewed thus far said they ate romaine lettuce during the week before they became ill. That’s a 96 percent connection rate between the sick people and romaine. Many of the people said they ate romaine in restaurants. Romaine lettuce was the only common ingredient identified among the salads.
The victim reports are not, however, the final step in the outbreak investigation.
Tracking down specific growers, packers and distributors of fresh produce commodities is difficult. There is limited use of labeling codes on many of the fresh fruits and vegetables that are available to consumers through retailers or restaurants, partly because of a lack of packaging.
Without traceability codes on packaging to provide transparency, the Food and Drug Administration’s staff is left in a dense fog as the agency tries to navigate the supply chain. The investigators are also slowed down by some businesses’ incomplete and missing shipping and receiving records.
Tiger Brands tells shareholders it found Listeria outbreak strain
Source : http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2018/04/tiger-brands-tells-shareholders-it-found-listeria-outbreak-strain/#.WuWwvc-6zct
By News Desk (Apr 26, 2018)
Tiger Brands told shareholders Wednesday that its testing confirms the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) findings that the outbreak strain Listeria monocytogenes ST6 was present in its processed meat plant. That is the strain responsible for the largest listeriosis outbreak ever recorded with 1,119 confirmed cases and 199 deaths to date.
“To Tiger Brands’ credit, it has been transparent with its test results,” food safety attorney Bill Marler wrote in his personal blog. “Its transparency support of the NICD findings is hopeful for its customers that suffered as a result of the Listeria-tainted product. Tiger Brands should be commended for its willingness to provide the results in a public forum.”
Marler, who is also the publisher of Food Safety News, is consulting with the South African legal team suing Tiger Brand on behalf the victims.
Here is the Tiger Brands’ announcement in full:
Results of Independent Tests carried out in respect of the presence of Listeria monocytogenes ST6 type (“LST6”) Shareholders are referred to the SENS announcement issued by the Company on 5 March 2018, relating to an order issued by the National Consumer Commission for the Company to conduct a recall of certain identified Enterprise products. In that announcement, it was stated that in a batch of one of its products tested by the Company on 14 February 2018, the presence of the ST6 strain could not be confirmed and that the relevant samples had been sent to an external laboratory for the identification of the strain. The test results were received on 15 March 2018, but these had proved inconclusive and, as a result, the samples were sent for further re-testing.
The purpose of this announcement is to update shareholders on the results of the independent laboratory re-testing which was carried out in respect of the presence of LST6 in the above samples which were manufactured at the Enterprise Polokwane processing facility. On 24 April 2018, Tiger Brands received confirmation of the presence of LST6 in these samples. As reported previously, we have been actively engaging with the Department of Health and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases on our findings and will continue to collaborate with them on the actions taken to date to actively address our findings.
The Enterprise facilities in Polokwane, Pretoria, and Germiston still remain closed while remedial work continues. An arrangement has been concluded between Pork Packers (which is based in Clayville) and our pig suppliers to contract slaughter on their behalf with effect from 2 May 2018.
Outbreak investigation hampered by lack of business records
Source : http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2018/04/outbreak-investigation-hampered-by-lack-of-business-records/#.WuWw48-6zct
By Coral Beach (Apr 25, 2018)
Snarl of distribution networks, inadequate traceability stymies search for source of romaine
Public health officials continue to be frustrated by a lack of traceability information from romaine lettuce growers and their customers as the investigation into an ongoing E. coli outbreak continues.
For three weeks state and federal investigators have been trying to identify the source of the implicated romaine, which has sickened dozens across 16 states. The best the government agencies can do is to stand by an April 13 warning against consuming romaine from the Yuma, AZ, growing region.
Produce industry groups have said the Yuma season is over, with virtually all romaine coming out of California at this point. But the public warning continues as government officials struggle with intertwined distribution networks, incomplete or unavailable shipping and receiving records, and virtually no product labeling or coding to lead them back to a specific source.
“The one thing we can confirm is that all the romaine lettuce that made people ill was shipped by distributors from Yuma. That’s why we are advising people to ask their grocer or restaurateur where their romaine lettuce came from and avoid it if it’s from Yuma or if they don’t know the source,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday evening.
“At this point, we don’t have concrete evidence to any one grower or farm. Once we do, we will name them.”
Part of the problem in identifying the source of the romaine is the lack of traceability coding on the leafy green. Federal law requires entities in the food chain to maintain records one step forward and one step back from their own operations. That leaves epidemiologists and other outbreak investigators stuck in a quagmire of stair steps leading from one entity to the next in the supply chain.
Traceability labeling and coding, such as that developed by the Produce Traceability Initiative, would mean finished product sent to retailers and foodservice operations could be traced back through the supply chain virtually immediately. Many fresh produce companies have not adopted the voluntary traceability labeling.
“We are continuing to work on the traceback for this investigation, which is important not to oversimplify. When we are executing a full traceback investigation, as we are currently, we are working to identify multiple distribution channels that can explain the entire nationwide outbreak,” the FDA’s spokesperson said.
We are tracing back from multiple groupings of people reported ill that are located in diverse geographic areas. The reason for this is to avoid redundant distribution channels, and find unique distribution channels that converge on a single source or grower. One distribution channel does not necessarily explain the entire outbreak…”
To view a larger version of the map, please click on the image.
Outbreak numbers, timeline
In its most recent case count update, posted April 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 53 people in 16 states had been confirmed with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7. No deaths have been recorded, but an unusually high percentage of victims have required hospitalization. Of the confirmed victims, 31 have been admitted to hospitals and five have developed kidney failure.
New Jersey officials were the first to go public with any information about the outbreak. They warned the state’s residents on April 4 about illnesses thought to be linked to an unnamed restaurant chain. The restaurant chain implicated in New Jersey is Panera Bread, according to court documents in a civil case filed by one of the victims.
Panera corporate officials identified the romaine supplier as Freshway Foods Inc. of Sidney, OH. Freshway is owned by US Foods, the second largest broadline foodservice provider in the country. On Tuesday a spokeswoman for Freshway Foods declined to comment on who had provided the company with the implicated romaine.
Once New Jersey reported its investigation, outbreak detectives from other states public health agencies and epidemiologists from the FDA and CDC quickly joined in efforts to find the cause of the E. coli infections.
On April 10 the CDC posted an outbreak announcement, but reported it had not yet identified a link to a specific food. At that point, 17 people from seven states were confirmed sick.
By April 13 both the CDC and FDA had enough epidemiological evidence to warn the public against eating chopped romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, AZ, region. Neither agency named any brands or specific growers, repackers or distributors. They also did not name retailers, restaurants or institutional foodservice operators that had received romaine from the Yuma area.
The federal agencies had enough evidence by April 20 to expand their initial warnings about chopped romaine to include all romaine from the Yuma area, including whole heads and hearts.
Listeria outbreak likely burning out; politicians still adding fuel
Source : http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2018/04/listeria-outbreak-likely-burning-out-politicians-still-adding-fuel/#.WuWxhc-6zct
By Dan Flynn (Apr 23, 2018)
Update: The world’s worst listeriosis outbreak now includes 1,019 laboratory-confirmed cases including 199 deaths. (Listeriosis outbreak situation report_22April 2018_fordistribution)
The 1,011 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases, including 193 deaths, in South Africa are still creating political fissures in the country.
Last week, there was another dust-up with a Member of Parliment (MP) from the opposition Democratic Alliance party who called out the government. MP Patricia Kopane said the government had instructed Port Health Services to stop testing imported chicken products for listeria.
Kopane made public a letter from the Chief Environmental Health and Port Health Services that calls off testing of imported chicken for listeria.
It says that since South Africa’s Minister of Health Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi has found ready-to-eat meat processed in the country is the source of the current listeriosis outbreak, further testing of imports is no longer required.
Kopane claims that “it still remains unclear how these factories were contaminated in the first place.” She called on the government, which is controlled by the late Nelson Mandela’s party, the African National Congress (ANC), to take three actions.
She said South Africa needs an “over-arching” independent body to regulate and monitor food safety and security with “norms and standards” to ensure the containment of the outbreak. She also wants “standards, regulations, and mechanisms for testing trade, agriculture and other food industries.”
Kopane said she finds it “outrageous that the Health Department would stop testing imported meats, considering that it has just recently been revealed that Australia has been exporting listeria-contaminated products.”
Earlier, Kopane claimed the government was “prematurely scapegoating” the Enterprise and Rainbow facilities in South Africa because it does not have an emergency plan in place to “contain this outbreak.”
Finally, the South African politician is questioning why the government has not found the “primary source” of the listeriosis outbreak, which presumably means where the Listeria monocytogenes came from before the food manufacturer allowed the pathogen to infiltrate its facility.
Since the March 4 announcement by the government that ready-to-eat processed meat products manufactured at Enterprise Foods’ Polokwane production facility were contaminated, there has been a dramatic decline in new case reports.
Some new cases were expected because of the long shelf life of the implicated ready-to-eat meats and because the incubation period for listeriosis runs as long as 70 days.
The High Court of South Africa will ultimately determine responsibility for the outbreak. Prominent South Africa trial attorney Richard Spoor on April 1 filed $2 billion lawsuits against Tiger Brands. The 501-page complaint proposes the court allow several classes of litigants to proceed.
As of April 9, a total of 1011 laboratory-confirmed listeriosis cases have been reported to NICD since January 2017.
Most cases have been reported from Gauteng Province (59 percent, 592/1011) followed by Western Cape (12 percent, 125/1011) and KwaZulu-Natal (7 percent, 72/1011) provinces. Cases have been diagnosed in both public (64 percent, 652/1011) and private (36 percent, 359/1011) healthcare sectors.
Listeria monocytogenes was most commonly isolated/detected in blood culture (73 percent, 733/1011), followed by CSF (21 percent, 213/1011). Where age was reported (n=985), ages range from birth to 93 years (median 18 years) and 41 percent (418/1011) are neonates aged ≤28 days. Of neonatal cases, 96 percent (402/418)had an early-onset disease (birth to ≤6 days). Females account for 56 percent (549/979) of cases where gender is reported. Final outcome data is available for 68 percent (691/1011) of cases, of which 28 percent (193/691) died.
How Many Are Actually Sick in E. coli O157:H7 HUS Outbreak Linked to Romaine Lettuce?
Source : https://foodpoisoningbulletin.com/2018/how-many-sick-e-coli-o157h7-hus-outbreak-linked-romaine-lettuce/
By News Desk (Apr 23, 2018)
As of April 20, 2018, there are officially 53 people sick in the E. coli O157:H7 HUS outbreak that is linked to romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region, according to the CDC. But how many people are really sick in this multistate outbreak? According to news reports and state health departments, the outbreak total could be 66.
On Friday, April 20, 2018, the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services issued a press release stating that eight confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7 infections have been identified at the Anvil Mountain Correctional Center. Those patients are not included in the CDC count. The CDC case count for Alaska is one person ill, although the latest notice states that the seven patients will be added to the next update case count.
The CDC count for Montana is six, while the Montana Health Alert Network press release stated that three cases are confirmed, and an additional five cases are pending confirmation, bringing the total in that state to eight. Those patients live in Missoula, Ravali, Flathead, Lincoln, and Gallatin.
While the CDC case count for Arizona stands at 3, the Arizona Department of Health Services states that five cases have been linked to the outbreak. Four of those patients live in Maricopa and one in Pinal County.
And in Pennsylvania, The Morning Call reports that two patients have been treated for E. coli infections at St. Luke’s Hospital. The Pennsylvania Department of Health is investigating those cases to see if they are related to the nationwide outbreak.
So there could be at least 66 people sick in this ongoing outbreak. At least 31 of those patients have been hospitalized, or 58% of the official total, which is a very high percentage of hospitalizations in an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. In a typical E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, about 30% of patients are hospitalized. The hardest hit states are Idaho, New Jersey, Alaska, Montana, and Pennsylvania.
Even the number of hemolytic uremic cases is high. About 5 to 10% of patients usually develop HUS. Almost 10% have developed this life-threatening complication in this particular outbreak. This could be because the lettuce is highly contaminated. Or the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria could be unusually virulent.
At this time, government public health officials are telling consumers to avoid eating all types of romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region. Earlier recommendations were to avoid just pre chopped romaine lettuce, but that was revised to all romaine types after the Alaska Anvil Mountain outbreak was reported.
It can be difficult to determine the exact source of lettuce you buy in a supermarket or eat at a restaurant. Unless you are absolutely sure that the romaine lettuce in your salad or sandwich was not grown in the Yuma area, it’s best to throw it out. No common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand has been identified in this outbreak.
The symptoms of an E. coli infection are striking and severe. Most patients suffer from painful abdominal cramps and diarrhea that is usually bloody or watery. People start getting sick 3 to 7 days after eating food that is contaminated with the pathogenic bacteria.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome symptoms are also striking. Patients stop producing urine; they are usually pale and lethargic, and. may have unexplained skin rashes or bruises.
Anyone who is suffering from any of these symptoms should see a doctor immediately. Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infections and HUS can be life-threatening.
The Arab Food Safety Initiative for Trade Facilitation
Source : https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/enewsletter/the-arab-food-safety-initiative-for-trade-facilitation/
By Omar Sabry (Apr 17, 2018)
The Arab Food Safety Initiative for Trade Facilitation
The Arab region has one of the lowest levels of intraregional trade in food and agricultural commodities, despite preferential market access provided under the Pan Arab Free Trade Agreement. Nearly 54 percent of non-tariff measures in the Arab region are mainly related to technical barriers to trade (TBT) and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, contributing to impediments in intraregional trade, especially for food and agricultural products.
Although several countries in the Arab region have taken steps to upgrade their food safety systems, the capacity and efficiency of many countries must still be enhanced to ensure an adequate oversight for locally produced and imported food, as well as to demonstrate compliance with food standards in export markets.
In efforts to address this challenge, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization is implementing the Arab Food Safety Initiative for Trade Facilitation, known as the “SAFE Initiative.” In a nutshell, the SAFE Initiative is a regional initiative led by the League of Arab States and its specialized agencies: the Arab Industrial Development and Mining Organization and the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development. It is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. The key objective of the SAFE Initiative is to facilitate regional trade in food/agri-based products and improved integration through strengthening the regional coordination and harmonization mechanisms on conformity assessment and Food Safety systems following international best practices (TBT and SPS).
To that end, a key vehicle was identified: setting up a regional approach for common food safety standards development, based on robust risk assessments and taking into account the requirements of the Arab region. Foundational initiatives were begun and cover a broad spectrum of food safety interventions including the enhancement of competencies in risk assessment, the development of an Arab Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, and the development of common inspection certificates and associated protocols for food imports/exports in the Arab region. Through the creation of the Arab Taskforce on Food Safety, SAFE is also targeting the establishment of a sustainable mechanism for coordination of food safety measures in the Arab region.
For more information on the SAFE Initiative, please visit the official SAFE website as well as the SAFE Facebook and Twitter pages.
Omar Sabry is a junior consultant at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Food Systems and Nutrition Division, Agri-Business Development Department.
Responding to Harvey and Irma: Rapid Response Teams Take Action
Source : https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/magazine-archive1/aprilmay-2018/responding-to-harvey-and-irma-rapid-response-teams-take-action/
By Joseph Corby, Steven Mandernach, Brenda Morris, Summer Williams, and Tishara Coleman, MPA, REHS/RS
Responding to Harvey and Irma: Rapid Response Teams Take Action
Government food protection officials do a great deal of various types of work to ensure food marketed within their jurisdiction is safe. Most people are generally aware of the food establishment inspections, consumer complaint investigations, and food sampling and testing conducted on a daily basis by government food safety agencies, but they may be less aware of the critical work performed by these agencies during their most important functions. Three of these most important functions are investigations relating to foodborne illness, coordinating food recalls, and responding to disasters. During disaster response, government officials work to identify and mitigate food safety issues that were created by the disaster and assist industries into the recovery phase. Their response can occur directly, by visiting the site, or indirectly, through a press release or advisory placed with the media.
Public health officials at all levels of government recognize that food emergencies can occur at any time and have a huge impact on the citizens they work so hard to protect. These food emergencies are the result of both man-made and natural disasters. Man-made disasters include vehicle mishaps, explosions, chemical spills, and nuclear accidents, whereas natural disasters include hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, blizzards, and wildfires. They all can create havoc in the normal lives of citizens and have serious impacts on food safety and the economy.
Hurricanes are one of the most damaging natural disasters; they are perilous for not only the people living in their paths but for the national economy as well. A hurricane can lower U.S. production, increase unemployment, and depress financial markets.
For the sake of the discussion below, we offer the following definitions of hurricane categories:
Category 1: Very dangerous winds between 74 and 95 mph will cause some damage, and power outages for a few days are likely
Category 2: Extremely dangerous winds between 96 and 110 mph will cause extensive damage and a near-total power loss that could last up to a few weeks
Category 3: Devastating damage will occur from winds between 111 and 129 mph; electricity and water will be unavailable for up to several weeks, and trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking roads
Category 4: Catastrophic damage will occur from winds between 130 and 156 mph; even well-built framed homes will lose most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls; fallen trees and power poles will probably isolate residential areas, and power outages could last possibly months
Category 5: Catastrophic damage will occur from winds 157 mph or higher; a high percentage of homes will be destroyed; and most areas will be uninhabitable for weeks or months
The United States is very vulnerable to hurricane damage. The 2017 hurricane season was especially harsh, as two major hurricanes—Harvey and Irma—blasted the U.S. East Coast with winds exceeding 130 mph.
Hurricane Harvey: At a Glance
Two simultaneous public health emergencies: a Cyclospora outbreak and Hurricane Harvey
All three TRRT agencies were needed
The hurricane’s second landfall was where most of the cyclosporiasis clusters were located
Disaster response took priority over foodborne-illness investigation and traceback
Vibrio vulnificus cases arose from contact with contaminated floodwaters
These events took place during fiscal-year transitions and agency reorganization
Inter- and intra-agency relationships, coordination, and collaboration are paramount in large-scale emergency response
RTs should be flexible and able to prioritize during activations
It is critical to anticipate the necessity of multiple activations and to prepare with training and availability of additional resources
Hurricane Harvey began as a tropical wave off the west coast of Africa on August 13, 2017, and tracked across the Atlantic Ocean, where it became a tropical storm on August 17. After entering the Caribbean Sea, it became disorganized and then entered the Gulf of Mexico on August 22. It would intensify due to the warm Gulf waters and soon grew into a Category 1 hurricane on August 24 with 80-mph winds. It continued to gain strength as it churned toward Texas. The National Hurricane Center upgraded the storm to a Category 4 hurricane August 25, with sustained winds of up to 130 mph.
It first made landfall over San Jose Island and then near Rockport in south-central Texas late August 25 threatening millions of residents with 130-mph winds, heavy rains, and a massive storm surge that swamped coastal areas. As the hurricane moved inland, its forward motion slowed to near 5 mph and meandered just north of Victoria, Texas. Strong rain bands developed during the evening of August 26, causing tremendous rainfall rates and rapid development of flash flooding.
By August 27, winds died down to as low as 40 mph, but the storm dumped a year’s worth of rain in less than a week on Houston and much of southeastern Texas. By August 29, two flood-control reservoirs had breached, increasing water levels throughout the Houston area.
Hurricane Harvey made its third and final landfall August 30 near Port Arthur, Texas, bringing widespread catastrophic flooding. While authorities and first responders handled as many as 10,000 rescue missions around Houston, at least 30,000 people fled to temporary shelters.
As the hurricane was being downgraded, it continued to dump massive amounts of rain on parts of eastern Texas. Some parts of Houston received more than 50 inches of rainfall—so much that the National Weather Service had to update the colors it uses on its weather charts to properly account for it.
On September 1, Texas governor Greg Abbott appeared on Good Morning America and said, “This is going to be a massive, massive cleanup process. People need to understand this is not going to be a short-term project. This is going to be a multi-year project for Texas to be able to dig out of this catastrophe.”
Hurricane Irma was the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history. Its winds were 185 mph for 37 hours, longer than any storm ever recorded. Those winds extended 50 miles from the center of the hurricane. Its coastal storm surges were 20 feet above normal tide levels.
Hurricane Irma developed off Africa’s west coast just west of the Cape Verde Islands on August 30, 2017. The storm moved westward along the Atlantic basin as a major hurricane. It was listed as a Category 5 hurricane with peak sustained winds of 185 mph. As it continued to move west and northwest, it impacted the Bahamas and Cuba with strong winds, storm surge, and tropical rains. On the evening of September 9, Hurricane Irma turned northward toward the U.S. mainland. It made landfall over the Southern Florida mainland around 1 p.m. local time Sunday, September 10, as a Category 3 storm, packing winds of more than 110 mph. It later intensified to a Category 4 hurricane with 130-mph winds. Life-threatening and highly damaging storm surge greatly impacted both coastlines of Florida with severe flooding. More than 6.7 million Floridians lost power. By September 11, Hurricane Irma weakened to a tropical storm as it moved north toward Georgia and Alabama. It continued to weaken, and by September 13 it had dissipated over western Tennessee.
The storm was responsible for 34 deaths in Florida, and damage estimates were in excess of $100 billion.
Role of Food Protection Officials Following a Natural Disaster
The disruptions following a natural disaster can create potential health concerns. Government food protection officials are responsible to ensure these potential health concerns have been mitigated. Food establishments are generally required to cease operations in an emergency, and those affected by a natural disaster should not reopen until authorization has been granted by the local or state regulatory authority.
The personal safety of responding officials is always a primary concern. These individuals should never enter a hurricane- or flood-damaged building where there is potential for hazardous materials or gas leaks until the building has been cleared by appropriate authorities.
The basic role of food protection officials is to provide oversight and guidance for establishments impacted by the disaster. Oftentimes, this is an enormous burden placed upon an agency that is difficult to address. Their general responsibilities involve the following areas:
Oversight of regulated establishments
Officials will assess the level of damage imposed on food facilities under their jurisdiction. They may conduct a final reopening inspection of a food establishment after the disaster has abated. In some cases, they may issue a temporary operating permit with certain restrictions to facilitate recovery. They also investigate related complaints and may also provide information or needed training to establishment staff.
Food product evaluation
Officials assist the operator or provide training to the operator to evaluate food involved in a disaster to determine whether it can be salvaged, used for nonfood purposes, or must be destroyed.
Officials note the need for first responders and identify the stage of recovery of utilities, other infrastructure, and food establishments preparing to reopen. They provide real-time information to Incident Command Centers that are generally assembled in response to a disaster.
Food- or waterborne investigations
Officials conduct foodborne or waterborne investigations when statistical evaluations indicate food or water is implicated. They interview employees to identify contributing factors to illness and collect food or water samples when necessary.
Officials document daily work, inspections, problems and solutions, investigations and complaints, and other requested information to assist in the preparation of an “After Action Report.” These reports are also necessary for receiving federal funding when an emergency is declared.
Mass feeding sites
Officials support and inspect mass feeding sites and other temporary food establishments that are set up to serve residents and responders during the response and recovery following a disaster.
However, there is little normalcy following a disaster and, as a result, there are two ground rules for government officials involved in response efforts. The first is to understand that they may be called upon to provide a service that is not within their general area of expertise. This is very common with response efforts involving a large or catastrophic event. The second ground rule is that agencies operating independently of other agencies working in a response effort can be very damaging to the overall effectiveness of the response. Collaboration and coordination are absolutely essential among all responding government agencies. This is a primary reason for the application of Incident Command Centers that are set up for response and recovery activities associated with disasters. The food protection response can overlap with other functions going on, including waste disposal, food source, mass feeding, and public health.
During response and recovery activities, food protection officials will utilize the following approach when conducting food safety assessments:
Assess the overall effect on the establishment
Officials review the extent of damage that has occurred to the building and the ability to maintain sanitary facilities such as water supply and sewage.
Evaluate product abuse
Officials review the impact that the incident has had on the food within the establishment. Temperature abuse, smoke damage, filth contamination, container damage, and floodwater damage can all affect food safety.
Identify corrective actions to take
There may be mitigating steps that can be taken to prevent products from further abuse. For example, during power outages, establishments can use blankets to cover perishable foods or use dry ice to provide temporary cold storage. Other examples of mitigating procedures include the use of bottled water as a source of potable water.
Provide educational assistance
Frequently, food protection agencies will have guidelines and educational materials available that they can provide to operators to help them follow appropriate procedures in responding to specific events.
Take enforcement action where necessary
Where establishment operators fail to take appropriate steps to ensure unsafe foods are not being sold, the regulatory agency will take appropriate enforcement action.
Regulatory Program Standards and Rapid Response Teams
Twenty-two states currently have Rapid Response Teams (RRTs), 19 funded through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and 3 without federal support. The teams are organized to respond to all human and animal food emergencies from foodborne illness to intentional contamination to natural disasters. The RRT program allows for enhanced training related to these activities and also training and implementation of the Incident Command System (ICS). This enhanced capability typically includes dedicated response leaders and has proven to be a successful model as the FDA has expanded the funded program from 6 to 19 RRTs since its inception and additional states will probably be added in 2018.
RRTs have developed and shared best practices across teams. Furthermore, through mentorships, recent RRT additions have been able to more quickly establish their response team. One common theme across teams is the need to have staff dedicated to emergency response. Most teams have a dedicated staff member leading the response team. This person ensures that emergency response procedures are up to date and serves as a key resource during emergency situations, often leading the response. RRTs also focus on bringing together the human and animal food response agencies into a unified approach to maximize efficiency during these emergencies.
While foodborne illness investigations are the most common type of response, natural disasters also represent a common deployment of RRTs. Hurricanes, floods, landslides, fires, and water contamination events are among the many types of natural disasters RRTs have responded to since inception. Following is an example of how two RRTs—Texas and Florida—approached 2017’s Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Hurricane Irma: At a Glance
Five FLIRRT agencies were activated for Hurricane Irma
Almost the entire peninsula of Florida was affected by power loss, flooding, winds, or boil-water notices
Hurricane Irma’s path affected most of Florida’s population
Over 6.7 million Floridians were without power throughout the state
Over 630,000 pounds of adulterated product had to be destroyed post-Irma (amount voluntarily provided by establishments)
Phone, text, and email service lost due to cellphone tower outages
FLIRRT agencies worked under their own operational period and were asked by the area commander to report their daily assessment numbers by 4:00 p.m. each day during activation due to the State Emergency Operations Center’s daily briefing report; meeting the deadline was difficult for all agencies involved in the activation; agency leads are in discussion on how to address this for future activations
FDA Florida District Office and FDACS Division of Food Safety are going to implement an organized approach to list sharing of overlapping businesses
Many FLIRRT agencies struggled with staff availability during Hurricane Irma; due to the event’s scale, almost all employees were affected in one way or another; FLIRRT will put forth effort on personnel resource issues and plans to have a disaster behavioral-health training before the next hurricane season
The Texas RRT (TRRT) provides preparedness, prevention, and timely response to food- and/or feed-related disasters affecting the citizens of Texas. It is a multi-agency team, comprising FDA, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), and the Office of the Texas State Chemist (OTSC). In August 2017, the TRRT was faced with the enormous task of responding to manufactured product safety concerns caused by Hurricane Harvey. Harvey struck the Texas Gulf Coast on August 25, 2017, causing substantial amounts of devastation. Thousands of processors and manufacturers of food, animal feed, drugs, and medical devices were in the path of the storm. Structural damage, power outages, and floodwaters potentially contaminated products produced by these businesses. The TRRT sought to prevent compromised products, produced in regulated firms, from reaching the public.
TRRT activated on August 30 for the Hurricane Harvey response. The mission tasks were to assess food, medical devices, drug, and animal feed businesses affected by Harvey, conduct on-site inspections as necessary based on assessments, and communicate appropriate information to various agencies. FDA, DSHS, and OTSC formed a joint incident command to lead response efforts. Each agency designated an incident commander. The team of incident commanders directed response efforts concurrently, allowing for effective communication and preventing duplication of efforts.
Before damage assessments could take place, firms that were potentially affected by the storm had to be determined. Texas counties affected by Hurricane Harvey were identified, then lists of manufacturing companies in those counties were compiled. Lists had to be vetted and compared between agencies to meet the goal of conducting response efforts without duplication of effort. These lists were then divided and assigned to field teams tasked with performing surveys.
While the geographic information was being gathered, methods of assessment were being developed. Firms would be surveyed to determine levels of damage sustained. Disaster survey questionnaires were created. The surveys contained questions that asked whether firms had been affected by Hurricane Harvey, were currently in operation, had power, had been flooded, sustained physical damage, and had products affected by any storm conditions.
Field teams were assembled to collect survey data. Surveys were conducted by phone. If sustained storm damage was indicated, an on-site assessment was performed to make certain that contaminated products were destroyed and that sustained structural damage would not lead to further product contamination. Fortunately, it was discovered that most compromised products had already been destroyed voluntarily by firms.
This was the first TRRT activation that went beyond the scope of food and animal feed. The TRRT primarily responds to foodborne illness outbreaks, but the enormous impact of Hurricane Harvey required the inclusion of groups that had never before participated in a TRRT response. DSHS mobilized resources from Milk and Dairy, and Drugs and Medical Device programs. FDA mobilized Human and Animal Foods, the Office of Pharmaceutical Quality Operations, the Office of Biological Product Operations, the Office of Medical Devices and Radiological Health, and the Office of Biological Research and Monitoring Operations. The OTSC Laboratory was utilized under a TRRT ICS structure for the first time during this response. The lab provided analytical results to the Texas rice industry to be used for market certainty and crop insurance purposes. The analytical testing included microbiological (e.g., Salmonella, Escherichia coli, and Clostridium perfringens), heavy metals (e.g., mercury, lead, and cadmium), mycotoxins (e.g., aflatoxin, fumonisin, and zearalenone), and a poison screen.
The members of the TRRT returned to their normal duties on October 20, 2017. In total, 2,850 businesses were surveyed by DSHS, 279 by OTSC, and over 1,700 by FDA. Forty-six on-site visits were completed by DSHS, 68 were completed by OTSC, and 7 were completed by FDA.
There were many challenges during the Hurricane Harvey response. The TRRT was already activated due to a national cyclosporiasis outbreak when the storm struck the Texas coast. This was the first time that the TRRT was activated for two separate events simultaneously. Although Hurricane Harvey essentially halted all boots-on-the-ground activity in the Houston area, Cyclospora-related activities continued. Several command and general staff were working on both activations at the same time, eventually being mobilized for 3 months.
The workload for the command and general staff could have been reduced if the TRRT had more people trained and available for mobilization. This would have prevented those resources from having to work on more than one activation at a time. As a result, TRRT has requested Incident Command, Plans Chief, and Operations Chief ICS courses. Those courses are to take place in the spring and summer of 2018.
TRRT resources, namely boots-on-the-ground inspectors, had been assigned to assist with other Hurricane Harvey response efforts outside of the RRT. This led to unavailability of sanitarians in Houston and several surrounding areas to assist with collecting survey data and performing on-site visits. These resources would not become available until several weeks into the activation.
Hurricane Harvey required more participants than any previous TRRT activation. This was exacerbated by the unavailability of Houston-area sanitarians. The TRRT anticipated needing 50 people to perform response duties; however, well over twice that amount were mobilized. This was the first TRRT activation for many team members, and some were unfamiliar with TRRT and ICS procedures. The TRRT is currently revising Standard Operating Procedures to provide practical training to additional staff in the event of another dual mobilization. Overall, Hurricane Harvey showed that the team must be prepared and have adequate resources to address concurrent activations.
Despite the many challenges and lessons learned (see “Hurricane Harvey: At a Glance,” p. 42), Hurricane Harvey activation efforts were a success. This can be attributed to strong communication and preexisting relationships between FDA, DSHS, and OTSC. The agencies had prior experience responding in May 2015 when heavy rains and flooding threatened the safety of the food/feed supply in Texas. The TRRT was able to use the lessons learned in that activation to anticipate Hurricane Harvey objectives and assignments. Effective communication can be attributed to FDA, DSHS, and OTSC constantly working together on TRRT activities. The TRRT continues to pursue relationships with other state and federal agencies to facilitate future activations whenever the safety of the food/feed system is threatened.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) is the lead coordinating food agency for the Florida Integrated Rapid Response Team (FLIRRT). FLIRRT consists of four food regulatory agencies: FDACS has jurisdiction over retail and manufactured food establishments; the Florida Department of Health has jurisdiction over schools, institutions, and bars; the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations has jurisdiction over public foodservice establishments; and FDA regulates 80 percent of the nation’s food supply.
As Hurricane Irma began its move toward Florida with what appeared to be a direct hit to the entire state, FLIRRT members began making a coordinated plan and efforts for recovery after the storm had passed. The storm made its first U.S. mainland landfall in the Florida Keys as a category four hurricane on the afternoon of September 10, 2017. A second landfall hit Marco Island, Florida, 6 hours later, and then the storm exited the state the following day through North Florida. Hurricane Irma was over 400 miles in diameter, impacting 63 of Florida’s 67 counties.
FDACS’s Food Emergency Response Coordinator staffed a seat at Emergency Support Function 11 for Food and Water (ESF-11) at the Florida Emergency Operations Center (EOC), where she began to gather and disseminate real-time information regarding infrastructure damage, power outages, and flooding reports to FLIRRT agencies to help determine priority areas for food assessment. Since the state food safety regulatory program in Florida is distributed across multiple agencies, hurricane assessments were conducted independently by each of them. Information was shared with ESF-11 to assist all agencies as they conducted their work planning.
Leading up to Hurricane Irma’s landfall, FDACS validated all the regulated food establishments under its jurisdiction and ensured they were uploaded into the geographic information mapping system (GIS). Hurricane assessment kits were pre-staged throughout the state in June, including equipment and supplies needed in the event of activation. Predetermined strike teams were also notified to retrieve their assessment kits and prepare a personal travel bag with clothing, toiletries, and medications should they be deployed to another area of the state for work.
Using the ICS, FDACS assembled an Incident Management Team near the EOC in Tallahassee after the storm passed on September 13, 2017. Eleven strike teams consisting of 10 strike team members each were activated to conduct on-site and phone assessments. A FLIRRT-designed assessment form was utilized for the assessments, and the findings were used to determine issues and further actions needed. A just-in-time web training event was used to ensure consistent and accurate reporting on the assessment form. This form was developed to be completed by a strike team member in no more than 20 minutes, capturing the condition of an establishment, including building condition, electricity, water, waste disposal, and condition of food products. This assessment form has been used by multiple states during hurricane assessments, and other states can get it by emailing FLIRRT@FreshFromFlorida.com.
The Operations Section held morning briefings via conference call with strike team members, which allowed the dissemination of information regarding safety, tactics, and logistics. Work planning utilized the GIS mapping system, which allowed the strike team leaders to have visual guidance of areas where establishments remained to be assessed and also allowed for assimilating lists by county, city, street name, or ZIP code. Once assessed, the locations were marked to show when they were back in operation by the Incident Management Team’s planning section. This map was shared with the State Emergency Response Team at the EOC and made available at FloridaDisaster.Org. This information assisted in determining where Florida Mass Care feeding sites were no longer needed based on the location of operating retail grocery stores and markets.
FDACS personnel experienced numerous internal challenges throughout this event that impacted the response efforts (see “Hurricane Irma: At a Glance”). Over one-third of Florida’s population was ordered to evacuate due to Hurricane Irma’s track, which directly affected the availability of staff for activation. Employees also had personal property damage, which needed to be immediately addressed. A major struggle after landfall was communication due to cellphone tower and power outages directly affecting phone calls, texting, and email. Over 6.7 million customers were without power throughout the state of Florida at the height of outages on September 11. Due to the extensive outages, even the Incident Command Post where the Incident Management Team was staged encountered difficulties with communication and power. Employees in lesser-impacted areas traveled to harder-hit areas throughout the state to assist with the assessments. Hotel accommodations were also difficult to find due to evacuees’ using these locations as lodging and because there were such large geographic areas without power. Due to the largest evacuation in state history, fuel availability became a significant challenge. Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) worked with agencies activated under the Governor’s Hurricane Declaration to provide fuel to responders at fuel sites stationed around the state. Due to the mission of FLIRRT, activated food agencies were provided fuel availability at these FDOT sites as well. Activated personnel worked, on average, more than 10 hours per day.
The Florida Keys were the most difficult area to access due to road closures and bridge damage since there is one main road leading into the Keys. First responders, FDACS Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were part of the search-and-rescue team and assisted FLIRRT agencies with general information and updates from the Keys, including using drones when access was prohibited. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also had a local strike team in the Keys and assisted FLIRRT agencies with information when the agency was unable to access heavily impacted areas.
Florida has an ESF-18 for Industry Partners that is designed for communication with Florida’s businesses. Food businesses were able to report status updates using an online portal when they could resume operation, which assisted in determining areas for assessment. Efforts are being made to enhance this self-reporting system, which will be a benefit to the Florida food agencies during disaster recovery and will allow consumers to know which businesses are open and operating.
After Hurricane Irma, the FLIRRT food agencies assessed within a 2-week period over 26,000 facilities by either on-site visits or phone assessments, and reported over 630,000 pounds of adulterated product destroyed post-Irma.
The Texas and Florida RRTs provide an example of how the RRT system has improved response to human and animal food emergencies. These teams along with the 20 others across the nation have become an integral component in the nation’s integrated food safety system. The rapid response teams prove the effectiveness of multi-agency and -jurisdictional responses incorporating federal, state, and local officials.
Joseph Corby is the executive director of the Association of Food & Drug Officials.
Steven Mandernach is the bureau chief for food and consumer safety at the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.
Brenda Morris is the assistant director, Division of Food Safety, at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Summer Williams is the emergency response coordinator, Division of Food Safety, at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Tishara Coleman, MPA, REHS/RS, is a TRRT project specialist.
NASA. 2017. “Hot Water Ahead for Hurricane Irma.”
FDA. “Food Safety in the Event of Disasters.” University of Tennessee Center for Agriculture and Food Security and Preparedness.
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