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Canada plagued by foodborne illness outbreaks

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) began warning Canadian citizens on August 17, 2008 of the existence of Listeria monocytogenes found in certain processed meat products originating at Maple Leaf Foods (Est 97B) in Burlington, Ontario. Since this initial warning, numerous additional ones have been issued for several meat products from the same establishment, including the newest dated September 4, 2008.

But meats were not the only product affected by Listeria. In another CFIA warning dated August 29, 2008, certain fresh cheeses from La Chaudière Inc. (Lac-Mégantic, Quebec) were found to be tainted with Listeria. In addition, more recent warnings have been released concerning cheeses from Ivanhoe Cheese Inc. (Madoc, Ontario). The recall in Quebec was based on a Salmonella outbreak investigation underway in that province. So far, there are no known infections caused by Ivanhoe cheese products. CFIA spokesman Garfield Balsom reports there is no connection between the Listeria strain contained in meats from Maple Leaf and either of the cheese companies.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (equivalent to the US CDC), in cooperation with Health Canada and CFIA, confirms 38 cases of Listeria across Canada with the same genetic fingerprint, coinciding with the Maple Leaf Foods outbreak. In addition, 14 deaths have been reported where Listeriosis is the underlying or contributing factor.

CFIA issued a warning to all federally registered providers of RTE meats that they be especially vigilant in keeping meat slicing equipment clean. Although CFIA has not yet confirmed that slicing equipment is to blame, it does warn that there are many difficult areas to clean in this equipment without thoroughly dismantling it. Processors have been charged to perform Listeria environmental sampling of contact surfaces, re-sanitize such equipment prior to reuse and inform the CFIA inspector of the results of this exercise.

Maple Leaf has voluntarily recalled all foods made at its suburban Toronto plant made since January 2008. Tests for Listeria were positive for only two of the plant’s production lines (8 and 9), showing no spread to other areas of the plant. Tests have shown that the most likely source was a collection point for bacteria located deep inside the mechanical operations of the slicing machines. Rigorous sanitization was conducted daily on this equipment, meeting or exceeding manufacturer’s specifications. However, upon full disassembly, areas were found where bacteria may accumulate deep inside the machine where the sanitation process cannot reach.

No visa for clones to enter Europe... or the US

The European parliament urged the European Union’s (EU’s) executive branch to ban the cloning of animals for the food trade, citing reduced genetic diversity among other concerns. In addition to the Parliamentary Intergroup on Animal Welfare, several groups, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies, outlined problems such as the animals’ well-being and the higher mortality rate of cloned animals.

The groups stressed that cloning could considerably reduce the gene pool diversity and increase the risk of whole herds being hit by an illness. Currently cloned animal products are not sold in Europe or elsewhere.

A US moratorium on such products, which was introduced in 2001, has been questioned by FDA, which stated in January that cloned farm animals were just as viable as their traditionally raised counterparts.

An EFSA report in July said that while cloning can threaten the health of livestock, there was “no clear evidence” that consuming meat and milk from cloned animals is a risk to humans. The European Commission is mulling over whether food derived from cloned animals should be allowed.

Cloning will remain banned for the interim period. The overwhelming majority vote (630 MEPs in favor and 32 against) opposed cloning of animals for food.

In spite of FDA comments, the use of clones for food in the US is not generally accepted, and it appears there is support at the retail level not to sell cloned meat products. According to the Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth, it is customer preference and lack of market acceptance that is driving the issue not to use cloned animals for food. The groups point out that 20 of America’s leading food producers and retailers say they will not use cloned animals in their food. The companies include Kraft Foods; General Mills; Gerber/Nestlé; Campbell Soup Company; Gossner Foods; Smithfield Foods; Ben & Jerry’s; Amy’s Kitchen; California Pizza Kitchen restaurants; Hain Celestial; Cloverland, Oberweis, Prairie, Byrne, Plainview and Clover-Stornetta Dairies; and grocers PCC Natural Markets, Albertsons, Supervalu and Harris Teeter.

While Kraft Foods North America has stated that it will defer to the conclusions of FDA on the safety of ingredients from cloned animals, product safety is not the only issue. Kraft also considers consumer benefits and acceptance, and research currently shows US consumers are not receptive.

Ben & Jerry’s Social Mission Director, Rob Michalak, told the Center for Food Safety that “Cloning presents a host of complex social, economic and animal welfare consequences.” He feels the decision to approve clones for food use was rushed through under the radar without a comprehensive review. As a result, Michalak is calling for the establishment of a national registry and tracking framework so that people know where the clones are.

Tyson expands operations in China

As part of its continuing international expansion, Tyson Foods has finalized its third joint venture agreement involving vertically integrated poultry operations in eastern China. The agreement is with the Shandong Xinchang Group, one of China’s leading poultry producers with estimated sales of $345 million.

Once the deal receives government approvals, Tyson will have 60% ownership in vertically integrated poultry operations consisting of Xinchang’s existing assets and the acquisition of a new poultry processing complex on the east coast of the Shandong province. The name of the joint venture will be Shandong Tyson Xinchang Foods Company, Ltd.

Xinchang’s business includes chicken and duck breeder and broiler farms, feed mills and hatcheries. With the addition of a new chicken processing complex, the business also consists of four chicken processing facilities with a maximum capacity of three million birds per week and a duck processing facility capable of handling 350,000 birds per week.

Does Stevia need more research?

Major beverage companies are planning to introduce new drinks made with rebiana, an extract of stevia leaves that is 200 times sweeter than sugar. But according to a new report by toxicologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, several, though not all, laboratory tests show that the sweetener causes mutations and DNA damage, which raises the prospect that it causes cancer.

In a letter to FDA, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says the agency should require additional tests, including a key animal study before accepting rebiana as GRAS.

According to CSPI, two sweetener companies-Cargill and Merisant-have told FDA that rebiana should be considered GRAS, a category given less scrutiny by FDA than ordinary food additives. A third company, Wisdom Natural Brands, has declared that its stevia-based sweetener is GRAS and will market it without giving evidence to, or even notifying, FDA.

“A safe, natural high-potency sweetener would be a welcome addition to the food supply,” said CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson. “But the FDA needs to be as sure as possible that rebiana is safe before allowing it into foods that would be consumed by tens of millions of people. It would be tragic if the sweetener turned out to cause cancer or other problems.”

The new report, which can be found at, was prepared for CSPI by Sarah Kobylewski, a graduate student in the Department of Molecular Toxicology, and Curtis D. Eckhert, Ph.D., a professor of Environmental Health Sciences and Molecular Toxicology at UCLA. They were assisted by personnel from the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology and Pathology, Keck School of Medicine; and the School of Pharmacy at the University of Southern California.

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People, Plant and Industry News

Campbell Soup Company appointed David Stangis as its vice president corporate responsibility, a newly created position at the company. In addition, B. Craig Owens was named chief financial officer and chief administrative officer.


Cargill announced that Guillaume Bastiaens, vice chairman of Cargill and member, Cargill Board of Directors, has retired after 41 years of service with the company.


Chris Bekermeier joined PacMoore as the new vice president of sales and marketing. PacMoore is a privately-held food powder contract packaging and processing company.


David M. Sorter was appointed president of Sweco, a business unit of M-I, LLC. He will lead the industrial business of Sweco and United Wire, as well as the ES manufacturing operations.


Barry Callebaut opened a Chocolate Academy in Chekhov, Russia. The academy is a training center for professional users of chocolate. Courses include workshops, seminars and demonstrations designed to encourage the exchange of technical expertise in the handling of fine chocolate.


The European Commission (EC) has created a new set of rules governing residual pesticide levels found in food. The single set of rules defines coordinated and consistent maximum residue levels (MRLs) for pesticides, and replaces the earlier 27 lists of national MRLs.


John Hardy joined Affiliated Engineers, Inc., (Madison, Wisconsin) as the firm’s process engineering market leader.


Beckhoff Automation opened a regional office in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The office will serve as a regional training center as well for direct sales and application support.


After 25 years of growth in the US, Pepperl+Fuchs opened a second US-based office in the Clay Crossing Business Center, Houston, Texas. The office will feature a state-of-the-art training center.