The recent romaine lettuce recall due to one of the rarer strains of theE. colibacteria may lead to increased testing in the meat industry. According to theNew York Times, the April lettuces recall is leading to a reassessment of the six rarer strains ofE. coliand whether or not they should be banned like the O157:H7 variant. The meat industry has been resisting the idea, arguing that it takes other steps to keepE. coliout of the beef supply and that no outbreak involving any of the rarer strains has been linked to beef.

“This is something that we really have to look at,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who plans to introduce a bill that would pre-empt the Agriculture Department by declaring a broad range of disease-causing E. coli to be illegal in ground beef and requiring the meat industry to begin testing for the microbes. “How many people do we have to see die or become seriously ill because of food poisoning?”

The six rarer E. coli strains aren’t tested by most companies, and it is not as easy to test for them as it is for E. coli O157:H7. The one involved in the lettuce recall was O145.

the Agriculture Department has said it is reluctant to ban the broader range of E. coli in beef until it has developed tests that can rapidly detect the pathogens. It expects to complete those by the end of 2011 and then study how often the six strains show up in the beef supply.

But an official told the Times the timetable was not rigid. “I don’t want to give the impression that we’re going to wait months and months for these tests, and months and months to see what’s in the beef supply,” said Dr. David Goldman, an assistant administrator for the Office of Public Health Science of the department. “In terms of policy options, it’s not like we have to do one and then the other.”

James H. Hodges, executive vice president of the American Meat Institute, an industry group, said that the industry had put in place many procedures to keep E. coli O157:H7 out of ground beef, like washing carcasses in hot water and lactic acid.

Those steps also work against the other E. coli, Mr. Hodges said, pointing to the lack of outbreaks of illness connected to them. “It certainly tells me that both the government and the industry is targeting the correct organism,” he said.

Source: New York Times

Organization calls for government regulation of pallets

In the wake of the recent recall ofE. coli-tainted romaine lettuce, the nation's oldest consumer organization, the National Consumers League (NCL), is urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to set minimum sanitary and safety standards for the "unregulated but crucial" pallets that are used to transport food throughout the United States.

The move by NCL comes following recent exploratory tests conducted by the organization on pallets to determine whether they are potential carriers of pathogens, as concerns grow about the link between pallets and contamination of food and pharmaceuticals. The consumer group tested pallets for foodborne pathogens, including E. coli and Listeria. The findings were alarming: 10 percent of the wood pallets tested had E. coli present (though not the most virulent strain, E. coli O157:H7). In a letter to the FDA, NCL described the results of its exploratory testing of wood and plastic pallets used to transport food in the greater Houston, Texas and Miami/Tampa, Florida, areas. Testing was conducted in late April and included 70 wood pallets and 70 plastic pallets in total. NCL shipped the samples overnight to an independent microbiology lab that provides testing services for a wide array of commercial, industrial, regulatory, and law enforcement clients.

"We believe it is essential to ensure that pathogens are not introduced at any step along the food transport system, from farm to fork. Our testing of pallets has shown that these relatively unregulated but crucial parts of the food transportation system can and do harbor dangerous pathogens that could potentially contaminate the food supply," said Sally Greenberg, the League's Executive Director.
In addition to the presence of E. coli, 2.9 percent of the wood pallets tested positive for Listeria, and half of these, when further tested, contained Listeria monocytogenes, one of the most virulent foodborne pathogens. This strain of Listeria is linked to a 20 to 30 percent rate of clinical infections resulting in death and causes approximately 2,500 illnesses and 500 deaths in the United States every year. Listeriosis is more likely to cause death than any other foodborne bacterial pathogen. Of the 70 plastic pallets tested, 1 - or 1.4 percent - came back positive for E. coli. None of the other plastic pallets tested positive for pathogens.

Finally, high aerobic plate counts, which reflect unsanitary conditions of the pallets, were found on approximately one third of the wood pallets and one fifth of the plastic pallets.

Source: National Consumers League

Maple Leaf Foods to sell Ontario pork processing business

Maple Leaf Foods announced that it is launching a formal sale process for its Ontario pork processing business located in Burlington, Ontario, following renewed interest from potential purchasers and improved economic conditions and credit markets. The Company has engaged financial advisors to support the sale process.

"The sale of the Burlington business will complete the last phase of Maple Leaf's protein transformation journey and supports our commitment to refocus our growth in the value-added meat, meals and bakery business," said Michael Vels, chief financial officer. "We are reinvigorating the sale process following renewed interest, including the potential of completing a sale to a producer group."

The 365,000 square foot Burlington facility is one of the largest and most efficient pork processing facilities in Canada. Together with its management and sales teams it is a profitable business with a highly skilled workforce, the company said.

Source: Maple Leaf Foods

Popeye's new chicken is totally wicked

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, a division of AFC Enterprises Inc. is launching two new menu items —new Wicked Chicken and Popeyes Cane Sweeeet (sic) Iced Tea. The Wicked Chicken will be launched in 28 countries, representing Popeyes’ first global product launch.

Popeyes’ new Wicked Chicken is thin strips of tender, juicy, all white meat chicken marinated with authentic Louisiana seasonings, hand-battered and breaded in the restaurants, served up crispy, twisty and curly. It comes with ranch dipping sauce and a mini-bottle of Tabasco Pepper Sauce.

“Wicked Chicken is a new way of presenting boneless chicken that is not a nugget or tender. It’s fun, flavorful, and dip friendly,” said Amy Alarcon, Director of Culinary Innovation. “The form, the name, and the high quality, really speak to the personality of the brand.”

Source: Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen