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E. coli outbreak may trigger new food regs


June 16, 2011
By Institute of Food Technologists

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June 16, 2011, New
Orleans, LA – New regulations, improved surveillance and disease prevention
strategies, particularly pertaining to produce, will likely emerge in the European
Union and throughout the world following the recent deadly E. coli outbreak in
Germany, said Professor Patrick Wall, the former chair of the European Food
Safety Authority said at a press briefing Tuesday, at the 2011 Institute of
Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo.

June 16, 2011, New
Orleans, LA – New regulations, improved surveillance and disease prevention
strategies, particularly pertaining to produce, will likely emerge in the European
Union and throughout the world following the recent deadly E. coli outbreak in
Germany, said Professor Patrick Wall, the former chair of the European Food
Safety Authority
said at a recent press briefing during the 2011 Institute of
Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo
.

More than 3,000 people
have become ill and 37 people have died, to date, following a rare E.coli
(EHEC-0104)
outbreak that originated from German-grown bean sprouts.

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“Once you have an outbreak
like this it exposes weakness,” said Wall.
“There’s not time to fix them when an event is happening, and no one wants to
give you resources when nothing is happening.”

Wall is currently an
associate professor at University College Dublin’s School of Public Health and
was the first chief executive of the Irish Food Safety Authority.

Wall said there are
usually six potential causes of food-borne illness outbreaks: contaminated
ingredients, inadequate storage and refrigeration, insufficient cooking, cross
contamination from raw products to cooked products, inadequate hygiene
facilities for staff, and poorly trained and supervised staff.

When a disease outbreak
does occur, virus confirmation typically takes four or five days. During the
recent German outbreak, confirming the source of the source of the outbreak
took more than two weeks, fanning speculation and fear that resulted in the
boycott and wide-spread destruction of produce in Europe.

Officials currently don’t
know the root cause of this outbreak according to Wall. However, he emphasized
that changes will need to be made in Germany and throughout the world following
this outbreak.

Pathogens, or
disease-causing agents, can come into contact with produce, or they can
actually be grown into fruits and vegetables through tainted water or soil.

“People think if you wash
vegetables your produce is safe,” said Wall. “But if they are grown in
contaminated water, you can’t wash off (the disease).”

The issue is further
complicated by today’s food globalization. While produce, meat and dairy may
come from a local farm, the livestock may have received vitamins or medication
from one part of the world, and the fertilizer used to grow crops from another.

“The journey from farm to
fork is not a straight line,” said Wall. “When you eat a meal you are eating
off a global plate. We need consistent science throughout the world that is
compatible with commerce.”

Institute of Food
Technologists
president Robert Gravani, Ph.D., who joined Wall at the news
conference, said “the best strategies are prevention strategies” for ensuring
safety of the food supply, especially produce.

“It’s very important that
farmers have a food safety plan in place,” said Gravani, who is also a
professor of food science and the director of the National Good Agricultural
Practices (GAPs) Program
at Cornell University. This includes regulations that
ensure clean irrigation water, manure and compost heated to pathogen-destroying
temperatures, and keep livestock that is kept separate from crops and harvested
food.

Most large retailers in
the U.S. require their produce suppliers to have farm-food safety plans in
place, said Gravani. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration plans
to issue new produce safety guidelines later this year.

“We need to come up with a
good agricultural practice to ensure safety,” said Wall. “Testing is not the
solution; it’s too expensive. We want produce to be cheap and readily
available. If not, only the wealthy will be healthy.”