News
for the month of May, 2014

Poultry as a reservoir for foodborne disease

2nd of May 2014

Frieda Jorgensen and Caroline Willis, writing for the UK Society for Applied Microbiology, say that poultry and poultry products are recognized as the most significant source of human Campylobacter and Salmonella infections in the developed world, including the UK. Outbreak investigations and case-control studies investigating risk-factors and transmission routes have identified poultry meat and eggs as major sources of infection. However, non-foodborne routes such as animal contact, and occupational or recreational exposure, are also important.

Poultry meat, and chicken liver or duck liver products were implicated as the source in 62 of 103 Campylobacter outbreaks reported to the Health Protection Agency (HPA) between 2000 and 2012. Eggs and poultry meat were implicated in 52 and 43 Salmonella outbreaks (of 382 in total reported to the HPA), respectively, over the same time period. In the EU, eggs and egg products were one of the main food vehicles associated with foodborne outbreaks, while broiler meat was the fifth most frequent cause of foodborne Salmonella outbreaks in 2008 (EFSA, 2010a). Moreover, data from the European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (2008) indicated that reports of microbiological contamination in poultry meat were more common than for any other food type. In an EU survey from 2008, raw chicken meat was frequently contaminated with campylobacters (approximately 80% of samples) but less so with salmonellas (approximately 16%) (EFSA, 2010b).

The extent to which different infection risk factors are associated with different sources can be inferred by combining case-control studies with source attribution studies (i.e., studies that determine the predisposition of specific genotypes to infect particular animals). Such studies have provided further evidence that poultry is the major source of campylobacteriosis.

 

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Horsemeat scandal: How often does food fraud happen?

2nd of May 2014

The horsemeat scandal has already been blamed on organised crime. But how common is food fraud and do long, complicated supply chains allow it to happen?

The mystery of how horsemeat got into Findus beef lasagne has led to an international hunt already taking in four countries.

The meat appears to have arrived in the UK via a factory in Luxembourg belonging to French food supplier Comigel. It reached there from Spanghero, a food plant in France, which in turn received horsemeat from Romania.

Comigel's president claims the company was unaware that Spanghero's meat was coming from abroad.

Many, including Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, suspect criminal gangs are to blame.

"What a mess the processed meat trade seems to have got into," says Tim Lang, professor of food policy at London's City University. "The much-vaunted control of big companies over their supply chains is looking tattered."

There has always been food fraud. Once upon a time it might have been watered down beer or bread adulterated with sawdust.

Today, rising food prices, long supply chains and high mark ups on some foods have made fraud easier and more profitable.

Foods prone to fraud

Saffron
  • Olive oil, milk, honey, saffron (pictured), coffee and apple and orange juices most commonly reported to have been fraudulently adulterated*
  • May be diluted with cheaper or potentially harmful substitute
  • Or cheap alternative deliberately mislabelled as luxury ingredient

(*study didn't examine processed foods such as breakfast cereals and ready meals)

Hundreds of tonnes of fraudulent food were seized in raids across Europe in December 2011.

Food fraud had become very attractive to criminal gangs, says Europol project manager Chris Vansteenkiste.

"There is a much bigger market. Not everyone wants to take drugs, but everyone has to eat and drink."

The current scandal is over processed beef but fraud happens in all manner of foodstuffs.

Operation Opson in 2011 targeted ports, airports and retail outlets in 10 European countries, including the UK.

Among the products seized were 13,000 bottles of substandard olive oil, 30 tonnes of fake tomato sauce, about 77,000 kg of counterfeit cheese, 12,000 bottles of substandard wine, five tonnes of substandard fish and seafood; and nearly 30,000 counterfeit confectionery bars.

But it seems to be meat fraud that consumers find most unpalatable. It's a global phenomenon. A meat packing factory in China was recently found to be selling cheap duck meat as mutton and beef.

The Findus horsemeat episode has shown up how vulnerable meat in Europe is. In another recent case, Flexi Foods Ltd in Hull has been named in a statement by Irish firm McAdam Foods as the supplier of Polish meat found to contain horse DNA.

The supply chain for meat can be complex but varies widely. The animal may go straight from farm to abattoir or be traded at a livestock market.

Once at the abattoir it may go on somewhere or be sent to a cutting plant beside the abattoir. It might then go on to a food manufacturer that turns it into lasagne.

Waitrose pig farmerSupermarkets such as Morrisons and Waitrose publicise their short supply chains

If the meat is imported it might have been slaughtered in one European country, sent to another plant, and then processed at a third plant before arriving at a manufacturing plant in the UK.

Supermarkets have different approaches to supply chains. Waitrose sources all its beef from one supplier, Dovecote Park in Yorkshire, which supplies only to Waitrose. All the beef used in the supermarket's ready meals is British.

Chef's view

Rowley Leigh, head chef at Le Cafe Anglais, has little faith in labelling for free range and organic produce. As a restaurateur he is able to source his food raw and direct from the producer.

"I buy it myself. I don't know how good a life the chicken has had. But I can tell if it's been properly reared and husbanded." A badly reared chicken is henpecked and lacks muscle and fat, he says.

When it comes to vegetables the key is to buy local, seasonal produce such as the "huge amounts" of purple sprouting broccoli currently on sale.

"We know absolutely where it's coming from," a spokesman says.

Most of the ready meals are own brand. The ones that aren't are small UK producers, he says. It is a far shorter supply chain than one reaching Romania.

Rival British chain Morrisons is currently running an advertising campaign, fronted by television presenters Ant and Dec, that emphasises the provenance of their meat.

Dalton Philips, chief executive of Morrisons, has argued that the supply chain has become "far too complex". He said there need only be four parts - farmer, abattoir, meat manufacturing plant and retailer.

Supermarket group Aldi, one of those supplying the contaminated Findus products, refused to comment when asked for details on the supply chain for its own-brand meat.

"The more complexity in the supply chain, the more likely the products involved are likely to have issues of authenticity," says Chris Elliott, chairman of food safety and microbiology at Queen's University Belfast.

Some processed food products have ingredients sourced from 20 different countries. Each ingredient may have been through multiple countries.

raw mince

It may come as a surprise to some people that European produce arriving at UK ports is not checked. Random checks are carried out on all foodstuffs further down the line by trading standards and environmental health officers, a spokeswoman for the Food Standards Agency says.

The agency insists food fraud is not a major problem in the UK but some believe the scale has been underestimated.

It's difficult to predict what effect the horsemeat scandal will have on consumers in the UK and elsewhere. Some, disgusted by the adulteration, will no doubt be put off cheap ready meals full of processed meat.

China's 2008 melamine scandal

  • Milk powder contaminated with melamine, a chemical used for plastics
  • Secretly added to make milk appear higher in protein
  • Six babies die, 300,000 infants made ill, causing national outcry
  • Milk producers, traders and executives convicted
  • Two people executed

But much of the food fraud in Europe has revolved around the more expensive end of the market, says Vansteenkiste.

The rise in fraud makes high value products like organic and free range particularly vulnerable. About half of the goods seized in Operation Opson were counterfeit brands and the other half "sub-standard" products, such as "wild salmon" which was in fact farmed, "organic" soup cubes, fake coffee and caviar.

In one case an Italian gang were jailed for selling organic soya beans which were found to have been treated with pesticides.

"As a police officer or customs officer, if some ingredients are imported in bulk you cannot check them for authenticity," Vansteenkiste notes.

Stuart Shotton, of Food Chain Europe, which advises food manufacturers on compliance with safety laws, says: "It is one of those areas where if you do look too deep you might find something that you don't want to find out about.

Previously in the Magazine

Screenshot

Swedish prosecutors claim to have cracked one of Europe's more seemingly strange, if lucrative, smuggling rings.

Two British men are believed to have made millions of euros smuggling Chinese garlic from Norway into Sweden, thus avoiding the EU's 9.6% duty on imported foreign garlic.

Fraud and irregularities with Chinese fresh garlic have occurred since the 1990s, says Pavel Borkovec of the European Anti-Fraud Office.

"One container of fresh garlic represents a potential risk of about 30,000 euros (£24,700) in terms of customs duties."

"As long as there are premium prices to pay for certain products, there will always be people out there looking to make a fast buck."

Ed Bedington, editor of Meat Trades Journal, says the Findus horse meat case has brought into question the security of supply chains.

"Retailers make great play about the audits they do and the robustness of the supply chain. But as a long-term observer of the sector, it calls all that into question."

Proper audits should pick up on these things. But minced horse and minced beef look very similar, says Bedington. "Unless you're testing it for DNA, infra red then you don't know."

Consumer confidence is at stake, says Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors Association. The food industry will need to increase the amount of testing it does on products.

Up to now DNA testing has not been "terribly widespread", says Rossides. It is expensive and involves looking for specific things. One example of DNA testing is checking that a burger comes from Aberdeen Angus beef.

It's very hard to prove that organic or free range really is what it claims to be. There is a large element of trust in the process.

Even with simple, seemingly trustworthy supply chains, there can still be problems.

In Northern Ireland there is a system that allows you to trace back to the farm and even when the produce was harvested, Elliott says. Even there it was recently found that a firm was producing halal meat that contained pork.

No system is infallible, but customers may veer towards products with simpler supply chains in the immediate future.

 

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Children hospitalised with E. coli after petting lambs

23rd of May 2014

Four children under 10 are still in hospital after becoming infected with the potentially deadly E. coli 0157 bacteria during a lambing live event at a farm shop over the Easter Holidays. 

The children, who attended the lamb feeding event at Huntley’s Country Store, near Salmesbury in South Ribble, Lancashire, are suffering from gastrointestinal illness. 

Public Health England (PHE) would not comment on their condition but rare strains of E. coli can cause haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), which is a serious complication, especially in young children, that affects the blood, kidneys and in severe cases the central nervous system. 

PHE has identified 14 cases in total, including the children, but are expecting more people to come forward with infections. 

South Ribble Valley council told EHN that local EHOs were investigating the outbreak and screening suspected cases. 

‘We have been on the site and had contact with the site owner,’ said a spokesperson. ‘We are not at the stage of prosecuting yet but part of our statutory duty is to investigate possible or potential health and safety breaches.’ 

The council added that the farm shop had ‘called off’ further animal attractions. ‘There were other events they were looking to host which have been stopped,’ said the spokesperson. 

Professor Hugh Pennington, who has chaired two public inquires in E. coli outbreaks, told EHN it was impossible to stop a toddlers putting their fingers in their mouths at petting farms. 

‘How can you stop a toddler touching an animal and then immediately putting its fingers in its mouth? My view is that however good the controls, such outbreaks/sporadic cases will continue,’ he said. 

He said it was the at least 25th outbreak since 1994. ‘E.coli O157 has a very low infectious dose that can cause an infection and can be fatal or lead to life-changing complications, particularly in children under five,’ he said 

He said investigators would be looking to identify if a ‘super shedder’ animal was the cause of the outbreak. 

‘A particular problem is the super-shedder; these healthy animals, including lambs, can be excreting more than a million E.coli O157/gram of faeces. I expect them to be looked for in this outbreak.’ 

Dr Ken Lamden, consultant in health protection from the Cumbria and Lancashire’s PHE Centre, said outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness associated with contact with farm animals, peak in the spring and summer as this coincides with schools holidays when visits to petting farms tend to be more popular, although outbreaks can occur at other times. 

‘We wouldn’t wish to discourage farm visits, but people need to remember that a range of infections can be passed on through contact with animals unless care is taken to avoid them,’ he said. 

The managing director of Huntley’s, Harry Wilson, said his thoughts were with the affected children. 

‘Huntley’s management is distraught that this outbreak took place during our extremely popular Lambing Live event. Witnessing the birth of baby lambs is a special and rare moment for children and adults from non-farming backgrounds,’ he said. 

‘It is therefore unfortunate that this outbreak has happened at such a magical event which ought to leave children with lifelong memories. We are working with the environmental officers to pinpoint the source of the outbreak.’ 

National Farming Union (NFU) claimed Huntley’s did carry health warnings and provided washing stations for visitors with members of staff to supervise. 

NFU advisor, Adama Briggs, said outbreaks of this nature were ‘extremely rare’ and people visiting farms can be confident that providing they follow strict hygiene rules, such as washing hands thoroughly after touching animals, ‘the dangers remain low’. 

The CIEH has helped to produce the industry guide on preventing or controlling ill health from animal contact at visitor attractions.

 

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Poor decision by operator has devastating consequences

23rd of May 2014

A forklift truck operator has been prosecuted for safety failings after a teenager was seriously injured by a falling heater unit weighing almost half-a-tonne during a dangerous lifting operation in Kent.

The 18-year-old worker, who does not want to be named, required reconstructive surgery after sustaining multiple fractures of his right shoulder, left shin bone and left ankle in the incident at a manufacturing company in Maidstone on 25 June 2013.

 

He was crushed by a large unit weighing some 493kg after being asked to hold it in place on the forks of a truck driven by Stephen Bellingham.

 

Mr Bellingham, 49, from Larkfield, appeared in court yesterday (8 May) after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found he had taken it upon himself to move the heater in an inherently unsafe manner.

 

Maidstone magistrates heard the unit had been removed from a factory building and placed next to a skip that he wanted to access, as his role included sorting and loading waste into skips using a forklift.

 

He managed to manoeuvre the unit onto the forks of the truck, but noted it was unstable and asked a passing colleague to help steady the load. The co-worker held it in place as best he could, but as it was lifted it slid off and fell, landing on top of him because he unable to move away.

 

HSE established that Mr Bellingham was acting entirely independently in opting to move the unit in this way. He was an experienced forklift operator, but he failed to assess the risks and possible consequences.

 

The court was told that had the lift been properly planned and managed, an alternative, safer method could have been found.

 

Stephen Bellingham, of Brooklands Road, Larkfield, was fined a nominal £270 after pleading guilty to a single breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

 

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KFC restaurant in UK prosecuted for selling undercooked food

23rd of May 2014

It wasn’t piping hot.

A fast food restaurant in Northwich has been prosecuted for selling undercooked food which was eaten by a three-year-old child.

Queensway Hospitality Limited, which operates the KFC premises at Chesterway under franchise, admitted placing an unsafe mini chicken fillet burger on the market.

Cheshire West and Chester Council prosecuted the company following a complaint to food safety officers concerning an incident on February 2, 2013.

Last Thursday (May 1), Chester Magistrates Court heard that a customer bought a mini chicken fillet burger meal from the restaurant’s drive-thru as a treat for his three-year-old son to eat at home a short distance away.

After starting to eat the mini chicken fillet burger the child spat the food out,

commenting that “it tasted funny”.

The child’s parents reported the matter to Cheshire West and Chester Council Food Safety, who sent the item for analysis by the Public Analyst who found conclusively that part of the burger had not been adequately cooked.

Food Safety Inspectors subsequently conducted an inspection of the KFC premises and gathered items of food safety documentation such as temperature and defrost control records.

They found evidence to suggest that in some instances chicken was being under-defrosted and that additional items were added to the defrosting cabinet during a defrosting cycle.

The company accepted that this was a serious incident, to which they reacted promptly, conducting their own internal investigation and undertaking a thorough review of procedures, recognising that fortunately on this occasion there was no harm caused as the child who ate the chicken spat it out.

The company was fined £500 and ordered to pay £2500 towards the council’s costs and a victim surcharge of £50.

 

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Suffolk firm fined after worker crushed by forklift

23rd of May 2014

A Suffolk firm which makes rubber granules has been fined for safety breaches after an agency worker was severely injured when the forklift truck he was driving overturned.

The 27-year-old, who does not wish to be named, was manoeuvring the vehicle with a clamp attachment in a raised position when it overturned and crushed him at Murfitts Industries Ltd’s site in Lakenheath.
 
The man suffered severe injuries and subsequently had to have his spleen removed so needs to be on permanent antibiotics. He has since returned to work at another company but still suffers pain.
 
The incident, on 27 September 2012, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which prosecuted the company on the 24th April at Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court.
 
The court heard the injured worker – who was employed via an agency – had not received any formal training to drive the vehicle and was not wearing a seatbelt. The company had previously received enforcement action from HSE concerning its management of workplace transport, and as a result had provided training to their own staff but this had not extended to agency workers.
 
Murfitts Industries Ltd, of Station Road, Lakenheath, Suffolk, was fined £17,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,985 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 9(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
 
Speaking after the hearing HSE Inspector Steven Gill, said: "This injury could easily have been avoided had Murfitts Industries provided sufficient training and adequate supervision to make sure safety measures were in place, such as drivers wearing seatbelts.
 
"Forklift trucks can overturn if manoeuvres are not carried out correctly and such risks are well known in the industry.  That is why any driver using these vehicles must be provided with appropriate training. Murfitts knew the standard for training because they had provided it for their own staff, but failed to ensure that their agency workers were similarly trained when using the same equipment.”

UK mother warns of E. coli threat from petting zoos

31st of May 2014

Claudia Erskine was seven-years-old when she fell critically ill just days after visiting Godstone Farm in 2009.

The Argus reports that Claudia, now 11, was one of 76 children under the age of 10 who contracted E. coli O157 at the farm.

The families who were worst affected by the outbreak settled their damage claims with the farm in court earlier this month.

Claudia’s mother Lucy, 39, told of how “no amount of money in the world” would offset the fact her daughter has to live with the health effects of what happened.

She said it was the “darkest period” of her family but added they were determined to raise awareness of the infection.

The mother-of-three said: “Having lived through the dreadful effects that it had on our family, and nearly losing our little girl as a result, we would ask other parents to think twice before taking children to petting farms.

“I sat vigil by her bedside, terrified and not knowing whether she would have the strength to pull through.

“It seemed impossible to us that our little girl, who had been happy and healthy just a few days before, was now lying in a hospital bed fighting for her life – and all because of a day out at Godstone Farm.”

Claudia was left hospitalised for three weeks, pulling through in what her mother called a “miracle”.

Claudia’s siblings, Niall, six, and Evan, 15-months, also contracted the disease but recovered.

Jill Greenfield, of the law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse, said: “It is tragic that these young children were allowed to skip into this farm completely oblivious to the danger that awaited.”

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Company prosecuted after young engineer dies at juice factory

31st of May 2014

An international smoothie and fruit juice company has been sentenced for safety failings after an engineer was killed by falling pipework during work to decommission a former factory in South Wales.

Gavin Bedford, 24, was helping to dismantle and demolish a section of industrial pipework at the Gerber Juice Company Ltd premises in Llantrisant on 16 June 2010 when the structure, weighing around 300kg, collapsed and struck him.

The electro-mechanical engineer from Porthcawl, a well-known surfing and British trial-biking champion, sustained critical head injuries and died three days later in hospital.

Gerber Juice, now trading as Refresco Gerber UK Ltd, was prosecuted after a joint investigation between the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and South Wales Police discovered the company had failed to adequately plan and resource the decommissioning work.

Newport Crown Court heard today (16 May) that Gerber had closed their Llantrisant factory in 2010 and moved production to Bridgwater in Somerset. Mr Bedford was one of a small number of employees who had been temporarily kept-on to assist teams of specialist contractors in stripping the factory of its plant, machinery and services.

During the decommissioning, the factory had become a construction site with Gerber electing to plan, manage and monitor the project themselves instead of appointing a competent Principal Contractor.

As a consequence, Gerber had overlooked various hazardous tasks such as the removal of overhead industrial pipes and their supporting structures. This work consequently fell to the in-house engineers because they had not contracted the specialists to do it.

The court was told that Mr Bedford’s work had not been adequately planned, risk assessed, communicated or monitored by management, and that the various safety systems that Gerber used to manage its specialist contractors had not been used to manage its own engineering staff on the same site.

The police and HSE investigation established that because no written plan was provided to the Gerber team explaining how the structure was to be taken apart, various bolts and structural elements were removed in an unsafe sequence. This is what led to the eventual collapse.

Mr Bedford could have been lying injured for up to 40 minutes before he was found trapped unconscious under the pipes.

The Court also heard that a production manager for the juice factory was in charge of the hazardous decommissioning project, despite never having done this work before or having received any formal training. Furthermore, a safety officer only visited once or twice a fortnight and was based in Somerset.

Refresco Gerber UK Ltd, registered at Hans Road in London but based at Express Park, Bridgwater, Somerset, was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay £75,000 costs after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work &c. Act 1974.

Speaking after sentencing, HSE inspector Liam Osborne, said:

“Gavin Bedford, a young hard-working and highly-regarded engineer, was killed because of Gerber’s basic corporate failure to plan, manage and monitor a construction project. “Any demolition or dismantling work must be set down in writing and strictly monitored – as the law requires. It is also basic common sense.

“If Gerber had given enough time at the beginning to think through what needed to be done, and how it should be done, then Gavin would still be here today.”

Nigel Bedford, Gavin’s father, commented:

“This type of work was obviously dangerous and Gerber should have looked after Gavin properly. There was no planning for the job and the area wasn’t cordoned off. The management involved in the work didn’t have a clue what was going on.”

Anna Bedford, Gavin’s mother, added:

“I am left heartbroken. Gavin was a perfect son. He was a perfect friend. It was as if Gavin was put on this Earth to do such wonderful things; to help anybody that needed him. He touched everyone he knew and he had thousands of friends. I am so proud to have been Gavin’s mother. The world is a poorer place without him.”

Information on health and safety legislation for employers is available on the HSE website at: www.hse.gov.uk/legislation/hswa.htm