Aug. 27, 2010 by Liz Borkowski

What the Egg Recall Says About Our Food Safety System

Cross-posted from The Pump Handle.

The Iowa-based company Wright County Egg is recalling 380 million eggs, which were sold to distributors and wholesalers in 22 states and Mexico, due to concerns about salmonella contamination. The eggs have been sold under several different brand names, so if you've got eggs in your fridge you can check FDA's page for info. Salmonella-infected eggs traceable to this producer may have caused as many as 1,200 cases of intestinal illness in at least 10 states over the past several weeks. A second producer, Hillandale Farms, has also issued a recall 170 million eggs that have been shipped to 14 states.

Before getting into what's wrong with our food-safety system, I want to note the recall might not have happened at all if it weren't for surveillance and investigation activities at the state and national levels.

Officials identified the problem because CDC's PulseNet network (whose participant labs perform molecular subtyping of foodborne disease-causing bacteria) identified a much larger than usual number of Salmonella Enteritidis isolates in the samples it received. Ordinarily, CDC gets an average of 50 reports of SE illnesses weekly, but it started receiving approximately 200 reports per week during late June …

Aug. 18, 2010 by Yee Huang

In June, the Food and Drug Administration issued Draft Guidance on the Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobials in Food-Producing Animals. The FDA recognizes in the guidance that the “overall weight of evidence available… supports the conclusion that using medically important antimicrobial drugs for production or growth enhancing purposes… in food-producing animals is not in the interest of protecting and promoting the public health.” The public health concern arises where bacteria in these animals develop resistance to the drugs and then are transmitted to food workers and consumers, who then introduce the drug-resistant bacteria into their communities. 

In a new book, Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA, journalist Maryn McKenna details the emergence of one of the most common and increasingly prevalent drug-resistant bacteria, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). While MRSA was once primarily found in hospitals, McKenna traces the emergence of community-based strains of the bug that …

Aug. 6, 2010 by Lena Pons

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), a trade association that represents chemical industry interests and is heavily connected to the plastics industry, filed a Request for Correction Monday on the EPA's Chemical Action Plan for Bisphenol A (BPA). The request, filed under a provision of the Data Quality Act (also referred to as the Information Quality Act), is truly astonishing and bears noting. In addition to standard requests that EPA statements be toned down or removed due to conflicting studies, ACC makes several requests that EPA remove statements that are included not as “ knowledge such as facts or data,” but policy statements that reflect EPA’s intent to manage exposure to BPA.

ACC requests in several places that references to a Canadian risk assessment of BPA be deleted because the Canadian assessment was informed by the precautionary principle:

Any reliance in the Canadian assessment to support EPA’s …

July 27, 2010 by Lena Pons

The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 (H.R. 5381/S. 3302), the primary legislation on the table in response to the Toyota unintended acceleration fiasco, went through the committee process in the House and Senate earlier this summer. The bills, as introduced, included some tough provisions to respond to gaps exposed by the Toyota episode.

Among important reforms included in the bills currently:

  • More public access to NHTSA’s early warning information database;
  • standards for accelerator control and brake override;
  • a standard requiring redundant systems to ensure vehicle electronics are robust;
  • mandatory event data recorders;
  • significantly increased civil penalties;
  • penalties to hold corporate officials civilly liable for submission of false, misleading or incomplete information to NHTSA;
  • restoration of federal judicial redress if people believe NHTSA has illegally denied their defect petition; and
  • a needed increase in funding for NHTSA.

But as the bills move through the …

July 15, 2010 by Ben Somberg

The last time the WSJ attempted a big scoop on the Toyota story (attempting to discredit the Prius driver case in California), the article did not hold up well. This week's story ("Early Tests Pin Toyota Accidents on Drivers") has caught attention, and a response from NHTSA: the agency has "several more months of work to do" before it announces conclusions of its investigation.

From the response by Safety Research & Strategies Inc.:

Recall that Toyota reported to Congress in January that the company identified 37,900 customer contact reports “potentially related to sudden unintended acceleration” analyzing “dozens” of data recorders from the thousands of complaints doesn’t extrapolate to a driver error problem. Nor does it explain the large jump in complaint rates when Toyota moved to Electronic Throttle Control (ETC).

How unintended acceleration reports went up when electronic throttle control was added to vehicles …

July 7, 2010 by Ben Somberg

Sorry to link to the Daily Show again, but I swear it's relevant. On last night's show, Lewis Black covered recent food safety and consumer product safety news.

"But knowingly selling us broken cars, poisoned medicines -- if I didn't know any better, I'd think these companies were just in for the money!"

May 28, 2010 by Ben Somberg

The Albany Times Union had a nifty, if depressing, scoop over the weekend in "Paterson bottling up mercury ban at plant":

Efforts by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to ban mercury-tainted coal fly ash used by a Ravena cement plant have been bottled up for more than 19 months in a special regulations review office of Gov. David Paterson.

The DEC request to yank permission from Lafarge North America for ash use at its Route 9W plant has been sitting in the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform since October 2008, according to records obtained under the state Freedom of Information Act by the Times Union.

This isn't the first time we've heard about questionable regulatory review maneuvers in the Paterson administration; last August, the governor issued an executive order seeking to "eliminate unnecessary regulatory requirements" by "removing needless and excessive rules." Here in …

April 21, 2010 by Matthew Freeman

The tagline that the producers of Food, Inc. are using to promote their Academy Award-winning documentary is “You’ll never look at dinner the same way.” They’re quite right. The film airs on many PBS stations this evening (and on others throughout the course of the next week). See for yourself.

I came to it expecting that I’d end up feeling guilty about being part of the industry-consumer web that subjects farm animals to “nasty, brutish and short” lives, before slaughtering them for hamburger. I did feel guilty, and still do, days later. But more than that, you come away from Food, Inc. convinced that in the interest of maximizing profits for the food industry, we’ve introduced hazards into the food we eat, created an obesity problem, and allowed mega-corporations to run roughshod over family farmers.

I won’t spoil the story, but the …

April 8, 2010 by Ben Somberg


A New Orleans federal judge on Thursday awarded seven Virginia families $2.6 million in damages for homes ruined by sulfur-emitting drywall made in China, a decision that could affect how lawsuits by thousands of other homeowners are settled.

It remains to be seen how the plaintiffs can collect from Chinese companies that do not have to respond to U.S courts, although some have talked about getting orders to seize U.S.-bound ships and cargoes from the drywall companies.

The ruling is here.

April 2, 2010 by Ben Somberg

The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Department of Housing and Urban Development released "interim remediation guidance" today for those affected by contaminated drywall (release, full guidance). CPSC had also recently released new lab test results showing high sulfur emissions from certain drywall samples. The agencies conclude:

Based on scientific study of the problem to date, HUD and CPSC recommend consumers remove all possible problem drywall from their homes, and replace electrical components and wiring, gas service piping, fire suppression sprinkler systems, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.

CPSC chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum tells AP:

"We want families to tear it all out and rebuild the interior of their homes, and they need to start this to get their lives started all over again."


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