Feds response to Romaine E. coli deaths is to do nothing!


Stock Image, Getty

❝ A deadly E. coli strain that contaminated romaine lettuce in early 2018, causing five deaths and more than 200 serious infections, most likely infiltrated crops through canal water used to irrigate and apply pesticides in the Yuma, Arizona, growing region, which includes farms in southeastern California.

This finding, from an environmental assessment report released Nov. 1 by the Food and Drug Administration, demands a swift response by the agency, including an accelerated timeline to implement an agricultural water standard for fruits and vegetables that protects public health.

❝ Unfortunately, FDA leaders have given no indication that they will do so. Absent a change, 2022 is the earliest that any produce farm, except those growing sprouts, will be required to meet the agency’s first food safety requirements for agricultural water. Small and midsize operations have been given even longer to comply.

This is unacceptable in the wake of last spring’s outbreak and the deaths and illnesses it caused. Food safety officials should apply in a matter of months—not years—lessons learned from the environmental assessment. Simultaneously, federal and state agencies, working together, should use their authority over canal water quality to require that water be treated to reduce foodborne pathogens before being used in produce fields.

And the time to act is NOW!

Outbreak of extremely dangerous strain of E. coli linked to SoyNut butters

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 23 people in nine states had been infected as of March 21 with a particularly dangerous strain of E. coli linked to I.M. Healthy brand SoyNut Butters and Granola products. Twenty of the reported victims are younger than 18, and 10 have been hospitalized. Seven have developed a type of kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome…

According to the company’s announcement, which is posted on the Food and Drug Administration’s website, I.M. Healthy products from SoyNut Butter Co. in Glenview, Illinois, were distributed to child care centers and schools in multiple states. The CDC reports that four of those sickened attended centers where the products were served.

This outbreak is particularly alarming as young children exposed to E. coli are more likely to develop severe illness and HUS than are healthy adults, who can often recover relatively quickly. Children have less-developed immune systems with a limited ability to fight infections. In addition, children’s lower body weight reduces the amount of a pathogen needed to cause illness. There are many short-and long-term health consequences that can develop from infection with E. coli…and even death.

Please be careful out there, folks.

Video: Evolution of E.coli into an antibiotic resistant bacteria

❝ …At the start of the video, bacteria are dropped into the edges of the dish and soon colonise the outer safe zones. Then they hit their first antibiotic wall, which halts their progress. After a few moments, bright spots appear at this frontier and start spreading outwards. These are resistant bacteria that have picked up mutations that allow them to shrug off the drug. They advance until they hit the next antibiotic zone. Another pause, until even more resistant strains evolve and invade further into the dish. By the end of the movie, even the centre-most stripe—the zone with the highest levels of killer chemicals—is colonised.

❝ What you’re seeing in the movie is a vivid depiction of a very real problem. Disease-causing bacteria and other microbes are increasingly evolving to resist our drugs; by 2050, these impervious infections could potentially kill ten million people a year. The problem of drug-resistant infections is terrifying but also abstract; by their nature, microbes are invisible to the naked eye, and the process by which they defy our drugs is even harder to visualise.

But now you can: just watch that video again. You’re seeing evolution in action. You’re watching living things facing down new challenges, dying, competing, thriving, invading, and adapting—all in a two-minute movie…

❝ when Baym showed the videos at an evolutionary biology conference in Washington DC last month, many attendees were awed and slack-jawed. “It’s exciting, creative and, game-changing,” says Shelly Copley from the University of Colorado, one of the organisers. Baym himself, who has seen the movies hundreds of times, is still blown away by them. “You can actually see mutations happening,” he says, before shaking his head and smiling.

Seeing is believing except – I imagine – for the truly science-challenged. There may be True Believers who think some unreal force causes the same sort of result any and every time the experiment is repeated. We are looking, after all, at a demonstration of evolution.

The scarier part for me is that we’re looking at a consistent direction for bacteria. Antibiotic resistance. We have a finite amount of time remaining before pretty much all our antibiotic wonder drugs are useless.

Click the link up near the beginning to access the whole article. Fascinating chronology.

Never, never, ever eat cookie dough!


AP Photo/Larry Crowe

The Food and Drug Administration warned this week that Americans shouldn’t eat cookie dough or other raw batters, even if it’s egg-free, due to the risk of contracting E. coli.

Many may think it’s the risk of salmonella and raw eggs that the FDA wants Americans to avoid. But this warning is about tainted flour after E. coli outbreaks in recent months were linked to cookie dough made with flour manufactured by General Mills.

And the reason is sort of disgusting: animal poop. When birds and other animals do their business in wheat fields, they can spread bacteria from their infected feces onto the grain. That wheat is later processed into flour. While the process is intended to kill pathogens, it’s not as intense as, for example, pasteurizing milk.

❝ “There’s no treatment to effectively make sure there’s no bacteria in the flour,” said Martin Wiedmann, food safety professor at Cornell University.

So if you eat cookie dough, you might be eating, in a sense, the diseased remnants of bird poop.

Although General Mills has recalled 10 million pounds of flour under three brands — Gold Medal, Signature Kitchen’s, and Gold Medal Wondra — Wiedmann said it’s unlikely the FDA will ever cancel the warning about cookie dough. Flour is not designed to be an “eat-ready” product, like crackers or strawberries.

Risk of becoming infected is nearly nullified when you boil, bake, roast, microwave or otherwise heat and cook with flour. None of that happens when you eat dough, and you’re exposed to much of what happened to the wheat before it came into your kitchen…

It’s a new warning, but Wiedmann underscored that flour isn’t becoming more unsafe. It’s just that researchers are more aware of the risks. New forms of genetic testing allow food safety investigators to “fingerprint” and identify the DNA of the bacteria that’s found in patients. A national database of that bacteria then allows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to group strains and identify possible outbreaks.

I bake my own bread for the week. I bake a batch of muffins for the week. I use the best flour in America, King Arthur. Doesn’t matter.

I’m trying to live a long, long time; so, I pay attention to stuff like this.

You should, too.

New e.coli test shows results in under 24 hours


Click to enlarge

The standard methods of detecting the presence of E. coli O157 in meat products use cultures and microbiological assays and can take 48 hours or more to get a result. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on a given product’s shelf life…

Researcher Yadira Tejeda, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, has reportedly developed a method of more quickly detecting E. coli O157 contamination in meat products.

The process is similar to a pregnancy test, where one line indicates a negative result and two lines indicates a positive one. She is now working with a small business to validate the method and test its feasibility.

“I work with E. coli O157 because it has caused many epidemics, and has contaminated both raw and ready-to-cook meats; for example, burgers, sausages, beef and pork. In these circumstances, the products had to be removed from the market,” Tejeda says.

In related news – “humane brand” Niman Ranch brands has been purchased by Perdue Farms.

A pool parasite — not carrying a beer

Cryptosporidium
Yes – highly magnified

A hardy parasite has led federal health officials to warn pool goers to be careful in the water this summer.

Outbreaks related to pools, hot tubs and other recreational uses of water can be dangerous and according to a new report the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 90 outbreaks between 2011 to 2012 resulted in 1,788 illnesses, 95 hospitalizations and one death.

A major cause of the outbreaks in treated water, including hot tubs and pools, is a hardy parasite called Cryptosporidium, which is encased in a tough shell and causes acute gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea.

Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, said the parasite is particularity troubling due to how long it can live in treated water.

It can survive for 10 days,” Hlavasa told ABC News, noting that other bacteria including E. coli are killed in minutes to hours in a treated pool.

“With these outbreaks, we see they disproportionately affect young children,” Hlavasa said. “They’re the ones who can go to a pool and young children tend to carry lots of germs.”…

To stay safe, pool goers should look to see if their pool’s most recent inspection was posted through their local health department or even look into buying their own chlorine tests that can be used to test if the water is properly treated.

Eeoough! You’re often better off if you can avoid the young of your own species. 🙂

Genetically-engineered E. coli poops out propane

bacteriagasolina1

Propane is an appealing fuel, easily stored and already used worldwide, but it’s extracted from the finite supply of fossil fuels – or is it? Researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Turku have engineered E. coli bacteria that create engine-ready propane out of fatty acids, and in the future, maybe even sunlight…

With the premise of producing a fuel that’s more sustainable in a biological host and easier to bring to market, the research team engineered a pathway in E. coli that interrupts the conversion of fatty acids into cell membranes and instead couples naturally unlinked enzymatic processes to manufacture propane…

“Although this research is at a very early stage, our proof of concept study provides a method for renewable production of a fuel that previously was only accessible from fossil reserves,” said Dr Patrik Jones, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London. “Although we have only produced tiny amounts so far, the fuel we have produced is ready to be used in an engine straight away. This opens up possibilities for future sustainable production of renewable fuels that at first could complement, and thereafter replace fossil fuels like diesel, petrol, natural gas and jet fuel.”

Manufacturing useable quantities of propane is the goal for future experiments, along with recreating the process in photosynthetic organisms, so that propane could truly be manufactured with the power of sunlight.

Genetic manipulation continues to forge ahead in the realm of molecular biologists. While I share the humor of fellow sci-fi fans, I doubt the fear of synthetic overlords is justifiable – given the requisite conservatism of the craft.

Though, poisonally, I ain’t holding my breath until this process is productive enough to be commercially viable.

Stomach bacteria eat dark chocolate, ferment into compounds which lessen inflammation of cardiovascular tissue


UPI/Bill Greenblatt

U.S. researchers say certain bacteria in the stomach gobble dark chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart.

Study leader John Finley of Louisiana State University and colleagues tested three cocoa powders using a model digestive tract, comprised of a series of modified test tubes, to simulate normal digestion. They then subjected the non-digestible materials to anaerobic fermentation using human fecal bacteria, Finley explained.

Cocoa powder, an ingredient in chocolate, contains several polyphenolic, or antioxidant, compounds such as catechin and epicatechin, and a small amount of dietary fiber, Finley said…Both components are poorly digested and absorbed, but when they reach the colon, the desirable microbes take over.

“In our study we found that the fiber is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolized to smaller molecules, which are more easily absorbed. These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity,” Finley said in a statement.

“When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke.”

Finley noted combining the fiber in cocoa with prebiotics is likely to improve a person’s overall health and help convert polyphenolics in the stomach into anti-inflammatory compounds…”When you ingest prebiotics, the beneficial gut microbial population increases and outcompetes any undesirable microbes in the gut, like those that cause stomach problems,” Finley added.

Prebiotics are carbohydrates found in foods such as raw garlic and cooked whole wheat flour that humans can’t digest but good bacteria like to eat. These also come as dietary supplements.

I have an ulterior motive in presenting articles like this. Yes, I enjoy the science, the search for better health – so, often, I’m pleased to reflect upon conclusions I’ve already adopted into my own lifestyle.

Better late than never – at this rate I really do hope to break 100.

Those organic chicken eggs were injected with antibiotics?


Sergey Yechikov/Shutterstock

When you’ve covered a topic long enough, you get the idea you’ve heard it all. Then along comes a factoid like the one I discovered while preparing my recent piece on the recent blockbuster Consumer Reports study on supermarket chicken and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I learned that at the industrial hatcheries that churn out chicks for the poultry industry, eggs are commonly injected with tiny amounts of an antibiotic called gentamicin, which is used in people to treat a variety of serious bacterial infections…

But get this: The practice is allowed in organic production, too. Organic code forbids use of antibiotics in animals, yet in a loophole I’d never heard of, such standards kick in on “the second day of life” for chicks destined for organic poultry farms. (The practice isn’t used for the eggs we actually eat—just the ones that hatch chicks to be raised on farms.)

John Glisson, a veterinarian for the US Poultry & Egg Association, told me the practice originated decades ago, when the industry began vaccinating chicken embryos to prevent a common condition called Marek’s disease, a deadly herpes virus that attacks chickens. To sterilize the small hole required to get the vaccine into the egg, the industry would shoot in a bit of gentamicin. Glisson added that it remains a common practice, but that it has declined in recent years as (he insisted) the industry has begun to move away from reliance on antibiotics. Neither Glisson nor the FDA could give me precise data on how often it’s used these days. The Food and Drug Administration allows such injections only when prescribed by a veterinarian, a spokesperson said.

So what’s the problem with giving chickens a little antibiotic boost as they start life? For starters, the practice could promote the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. A 2007 peer-reviewed study of Maryland and Virginia workers in conventional chicken houses were 32 times more likely to carrying gentamicin-resistant E. coli than their neighbors who don’t work in the industry.

I wonder what the response would be from Congress-critters, FDA-staff, if they were required to have their bodies carry around a level of gentamicin-resistant E.coli equal to whatever is the latest number for folks working in the chicken industry, eh?