Issue #86 | AMR in Food Systems (is it really that bad?) | Herbicide Skullduggery | Hazard vs Risk | Do Pickles Bounce? |
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AMR in Food Systems (is it really that bad?)
Herbicide Skullduggery (Monsanto again?!)
Updates on nanoparticle safety, ethylene glycol adulteration response, bisphenol A safety (BPA)
Hazard vs Risk
Do Pickles Bounce?
News and Resources Roundup (food safety news without the boring bits)
Food fraud news, incidents and updates, including updated requirements for FSSC 22000.
Welcome to Issue 86 of The Rotten Apple, where we discuss bouncing pickles, chemicals in food and what the AMR crisis means for food systems (AMR = antimicrobial resistance).
Also this week, lots has been happening in the chemicals-in-food space in the past few months, so I share updates on topics that we’ve previously featured in this newsletter - new information, new related incidents. For example, there’s new data about the safety of nanoparticles and the ‘safe’ levels for BPA have been revised way down…. way WAY down (by a factor of ten thousand!). Guess it wasn’t ‘okay’ in food packaging after all?
This week’s food safety news round-up has interesting data for foodborne illness stats from around the world. For example, the US CDC says one in six people gets ill from food each year, but the UK government estimates only one in twenty-eight people get sick every year. That’s a big difference! Also, some idiot put needles in food 🤔. Plus if you are a micro nerd you might be interested in one of this week’s listed webinars about classifying Listeria species.
Also this week, hazard versus risk and what happens when you drop a pickle from the top of a stadium.
Have a great week!
P.S. Our next live event is an informal meetup at a Europe/Africa-friendly time. It’s welcome to all subscribers, but paying subscribers get extra karma 😊. Learn more about paid subscriptions here. Or….
Cover image: CDC on Unsplash
The Antibiotic Resistance Crisis – And What It Means For Food Systems
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is an urgent global threat which resulted in the deaths of 5 million people globally in 2019, according to the US CDC. By comparison, COVID-19 has killed 6.9 million people in the three years since the pandemic began (source). Antimicrobial resistance, therefore, is more deadly than the global Covid pandemic. And it’s not going away. It’s predicted to cause 10 million deaths per year by 2050 if we don’t solve the problem.
Antimicrobial resistance was recently designated one of the top 10 public health threats facing humanity by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Antimicrobial-resistant microorganisms are difficult to control using traditional technologies, like antibiotic drugs and disinfectant chemicals. When they cause infections in humans, the infections are harder to treat and more likely to be deadly. Antimicrobial-resistant organisms also wreak havoc on food production systems, by causing difficult-to-control crop diseases or animal diseases.
For example, rice leaf blast, a fungal disease caused by Pyricularia oryzae has seen the emergence of new variants resistant to fungicides, which threatens rice crops in affected areas (source).
In shrimp aquaculture, antimicrobial resistance is posing challenges to production as aquaculture farmers try to prevent diseases from bacterial pathogens which have caused mass mortalities of farmed shrimp across multiple regions (source).
Foodborne pathogens that carry antimicrobial-resistant genes pose a greater risk to human safety than pathogens without the genes. For example, vulnerable patients who are infected with Listeria after eating contaminated food are more likely to die if the antibiotics prescribed to treat them do not work. A recent survey of Listeria monocytogenes variants isolated from various ready-to-eat foods found that more than half were resistant to major antibiotics like amoxicillin, penicillin and erythromycin.
Antimicrobial-resistant E. coli was recently found in a significant proportion of raw meats from retail outlets in Spain, with multidrug-resistant E. coli variants isolated from 40 of 100 samples of chicken, turkey, beef and pork (source).
An Australian survey similarly found that at least 55% of bacteria isolated from raw beef and 39% of bacteria isolated from raw salmon purchased from supermarkets were resistant to at least one medically-important antibiotic.
The prevalence of antimicrobial-resistant pathogens in food appears to be increasing. For example, the US Food Safety and Inspection Service reported earlier this year that variants of Salmonella isolated from chicken carcasses and chicken product samples between 2016 and 2019 were significantly more likely to be resistant to critically important antimicrobial drugs than in 2014 – 2015 (source: report)
Foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to antimicrobial-resistant organisms are thought to be increasing too. Last year in China, twenty-three people contracted typhoid fever after drinking water contaminated with extensively drug-resistant (XDR) Salmonella typhi (source 1, source 2).
In the USA, the proportion of Shigella infections (Shigella is a foodborne pathogen) caused by extensively drug-resistant (XDR) Shigella increased from 0% in 2015 to 5% of infections in 2022 (source 1, source 2)
The rise of antimicrobial-resistant pathogens in hospitals and other clinical settings is attributed to the overuse of antimicrobial medicines, including antibiotics and antifungals, in the treatment of human illnesses.
In the food chain, antimicrobials used in intensively farmed food animals like pigs and chickens, to prevent infections, and to promote growth, can create large reservoirs of AMR bacteria which can then spread to humans directly, or through the food chain.
What you can do about AMR
Food professionals can assist with efforts to curb the problems from antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by:
Sourcing raw materials from primary producers who limit their use of antibiotics in livestock;
Being aware of fraudulent practices with veterinary certificates, and fraudulent claims about antibiotic use in animal food production;
Following good personal hygiene practices when interacting with farm animals and food crops;
Ensuring that food facilities maintain the highest sanitation standards, to prevent reservoirs of potentially resistant pathogens like Listeria from forming in hard-to-reach places;
Continuing to follow risk-based food safety procedures in food manufacturing and catering operations to eliminate pathogens in food, so resistant pathogens cannot infect consumers;
Continuing to educate consumers about risky food handling practices, such as washing poultry carcasses at home, cross-contamination from raw foods and temperature abuse.
Chemicals, Chemicals, Chemicals
In the past six months, we’ve featured a heap of stories on chemical contaminants in food, including Monsanto’s glyphosate (‘Roundup’), nanoparticles and microplastics, potentially hazardous chemical additives in food packaging and (probably) fraudulent adulteration of cough syrup ingredients with poisonous ethylene glycol.
Here’s an update with new information related to those stories.
Monsanto and the US EPA accused of colluding over another deadly herbicide (Again. Really?!)
The US EPA and Monsanto, owner of Roundup, the glyphosate-based herbicide that has been the subject of alarming toxicology reviews and misinformation campaigns, have been accused of similar malpractices in relation to another pesticide.
A federal court order in the USA banned dicamba-based herbicides in 2020, however, the EPA has allowed Monsanto, and other major pesticide companies to continue to make and sell the products.
A lawsuit brought by farm, food safety and consumer groups, alleges that the EPA’s inaction is the result of its pesticide department’s managers being influenced by or colluding with the pesticide industry.
Dicamba herbicides increase cancer risks for farmers who use them and destroy neighbouring crops that are not genetically resistant to the herbicide.
Nanoparticles in food
Approved powdered food additives that are safe when they take the form of macro-sized (biggish) particles could be harmful when the powder particles are nano-sized, according to new research. The possible health effects of micro and nano-sized plastic particles in food are also being studied (see Issue 62). Until this study was published, there was little direct evidence that nanoparticles would behave differently in the human gastrointestinal tract than larger particles of the same substances.
Nanoparticles of silicon dioxide and titanium dioxide – which are approved food additives in many countries – were found to cause intestinal changes when eaten, leading researchers to suggest that they have negative health effects when consumed.
The researchers also tested zinc oxide and iron oxide and found potentially positive effects from ingesting nanoparticles of those chemicals.
Food packaging additives update
Earlier this year, we discussed the growing awareness of possible harms from PFAS forever chemicals in food packaging materials. This time it’s bisphenol A (BPA), the packaging chemical consumers love to hate.
For years the food science industry has been declaring BPA is okay to use in food packaging. It’s mostly used in polycarbonate beverage bottles and linings for metal food and beverage cans. But the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has recently completed a new safety review of BPA in foods and decided it is a lot less safe than was previously thought. In fact, they changed their safety guidance by a factor of 10,000.
After re-evaluating the safety of BPA, the EFSA said
Safety limits should be reduced from an intake of 4 micrograms to 0.2 nanograms per kilogram of body weight per day; and
many consumers are ingesting more BPA than the new safety levels.
🍏 We first reported this in our April food safety news roundup 🍏
Ethylene glycol adulteration update
The World Health Organization has developed new draft GMP guidelines for excipients used in pharmaceutical products in response to the deadly cough syrup contamination outbreaks related to glycerin and other excipients that were contaminated with diethylene glycol and/or ethylene glycol. The guidelines are open for comments until 21st May.
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Hazard vs Risk
Following on from last week’s discussion of risk assessment versus risk management, this week’s article is about hazards versus risks – it’s common to get the two concepts mixed up and this can cause confusion, miscommunication and frustration.
A hazard is not the same as a risk. In food safety, a hazard is defined as something that can cause illness or injury if present in food. Hazards can be biological (Salmonella), physical (broken glass) or chemical (poisonous cleaning chemicals). Safety experts also sometimes include the hazard categories radiological and allergen hazards, although those can also fit within the chemical hazard category.
An example of a radiological hazard in food is contamination with radioactive isotopes, including cesium-137 and strontium-90, from fallout from the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. Allergen hazards are proteins from foods that are major human food allergens – for example peanuts - and are only considered to be hazards in foods where they are not expected to be present.
A risk is a measure of potential damage or harm. Risks encompass both the probability of exposure to a harm-causing agent (a ‘hazard’) and the consequences of such exposure. In other words, a risk is a measure of the likelihood and severity of harm that could result from a hazard.
Hazards are inherent properties of a physical environment or food material while risks are the result of interactions between the hazard and people, products and processes.
Hazard - A biological, chemical or physical agent in, or condition of, food with the potential to cause an adverse health effect (Codex Alimentarius 1999)
Risk - A function of the probability of an adverse health effect and the severity of that effect, consequential to a hazard(s) in food (Codex Alimentarius 1999).
Risks can be determined quantitatively, using data such as the number of illnesses or injuries caused by a particular hazard and the prevalence of the hazard in foods, number of servings, mortality rates, hospitalisation rates and costs of illnesses.
Alternatively, risks can be determined qualitatively, with a qualitative model. In such a model, the relationship between likelihood, severity and risk is defined by a set of logic statements.
For example, if a hazard is ‘highly likely’ to occur and the consequences would be ‘moderate’, then the risk is considered to be high.
An example of a qualitative model, called a risk matrix is shown below.
Once the risk has been established by the risk assessor, the risk manager can decide what to do about it. In food safety and food fraud prevention, it is usual for mitigation processes (‘controls’) to be implemented only for hazards that pose significant risks.
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News and Resources
Click the link below for a carefully handcrafted selection of food safety news and resources from around the globe. It’s been expertly curated (by me! 😎) and is free from filler, fluff and promotional junk.
Do Good Pickles Really Bounce? – Just for Fun
There is a persistent internet myth that food laws in Connecticut (USA) ban pickles that don’t bounce when dropped. The myth can be traced back to an enforcement action by the Connecticut Food and Drug Commission against a pickle packer in 1948.
The pickle packer was fined for selling pickles “Unfit for human consumption” and the Commissioner explained to local journalists that to tell if a pickle was good quality, you could “drop it one foot and it should bounce.” (source). So, not a law, but kind of funny.
So, do they bounce if you drop them? Watch this video to find out.
What you missed in last week’s email
Risk management - science or politics?
Wasabi: green, pungent and usually fake
What on Earth is… (two new food system terms explained in 30 seconds)
Goats eating tomatoes - just for fun
Food fraud incidents, updates and emerging issues
Below for paying subscribers: Food fraud news, incident reports, and emerging issues, plus 🎧 an audio version 🎧 for busy professionals
📌 Food Fraud News 📌
The pandemic and its impact on food fraud - a review
When the global pandemic of COVID-19 was announced and multiple countries went into lockdown, many food fraud observers and researchers, including me, warned that the supply chain disruptions caused by Covid would increase the likelihood of food fraud.
A new peer-reviewed paper in the Journal of Food Control says we were wrong
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