12 January - 20 June 2016

Food safety

5 June 13

**EFSA says bumble bee study does not affect neonicotinoid conclusions
**Pregnancy safety advice criticised as being unhelpful, unrealistic and alarmist
**Investigating foodborne pathogens on poultry farms and at the processing plant
**Unapproved GM wheat plants found on a farm in Oregon, USA
**BPA could cause harmful effects to offspring’s brain tissue
**Food hygiene is an unacceptable postcode lottery
**Study finds copper destroys norovirus
**Phthalates linked with increase in childhood hypertension
**How Salmonella protects itself during infection
**Prince Charles discusses the issues of current food production methods at German symposium
**EFSA assesses risks to bees from fipronil
**EFSA guidance outlines step-by-step approach for environmental risk assessment of GM animals
**FSA board to discuss radioactivity paper
**Animal diseases updates and food poisoning outbreaks
**The Food Safety Network

**EFSA says bumble bee study does not affect neonicotinoid conclusions
EFSA has identified several weaknesses in a study, published by the UK Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA), which suggested that neonicotinoid pesticides do not have a major effect on bumble bee colonies under field conditions. Given these weaknesses, the Authority considers that the study does not affect the conclusions reached by EFSA regarding risks for bees related to the use of the neonicotinoid pesticides thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid, published in January 2013. The Authority listed a number of points regarding the relevance of the study, Effects of neonicotinoid seed treatments on bumble bee colonies under field conditions (Thompson et al.), to the risk assessments published by EFSA.  It also highlighted a number of other deficiencies in the report and raises concerns about how Thompson et al. elaborated and interpreted the study results to reach their conclusions.

**Pregnancy safety advice criticised as being unhelpful, unrealistic and alarmist
Pregnancy safety advice, published by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, has been criticised as being unhelpful, unrealistic and alarmist.  The paper says there is not enough  information on the chemical risk to foetus from cosmetic and food packaging and suggests pregnant women should avoid a number common household products including tinned food, ready meals, shower gel and new cars.   The paper states that it is unlikely that any of the exposures are truly harmful for most babies, however it indicates that, based on current evidence, it is impossible to give an accurate assessment of risk.  It notes that pregnant women should make informed choices and "not wrap themselves up in a bubble".  The BBC quotes Dr Bellingham an author of the paper as saying that the paper was primarily aimed at health professionals, advising women at ante-natal classes. Many expert organisations have criticised the advice, including the Royal College of Midwives, who responded to the report by saying that pregnant women must take the advice with caution and use their common sense and judgement and not be unnecessarily alarmed about using personal care products, such as moisturisers, cosmetics and shower gels.  Dr John Harrison, director of Public Health England's Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, said: "We agree that it would be sensible for pregnant women to avoid using hazardous chemicals such as pesticides or fungicides as a precaution, or in line with product information. However, there is no evidence to suggest that chemicals in items such as personal care products are a risk to public health."

**Investigating foodborne pathogens on poultry farms and at the processing plant
A study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology has found a strong link between the prevalence and load of certain foodborne pathogens on poultry farms, and later downstream at the processing plant.  Berghaus et al. from the University of Georgia, Athens report that reducing the quantity of foodborne pathogens on broiler chicken farms would reduce pathogen load at processing, which could subsequently reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.  The scientists evaluated the prevalence and loads of Salmonella and Campylobacter in farm and processing plant samples, collected from 55 commercial broiler chicken flocks.  According to the report, previous research has linked pathogen prevalence on the farm and at processing, but none has measured the strength of the associations between pathogen loads. Salmonella and Campylobacter detected at the processing plant were found in farm samples 96 and 71 percent of the time, respectively. The prevalence of both pathogens dropped during processing, Salmonella from 45.9 percent to 2.4 percent, and Campylobacter from 68.7 to 43.6 percent.  Berghaus et al report: “vaccination of breeder hens, competitive exclusion products and the use of acidified water during feed withdrawal" have all reduced Salmonella in commercial broiler flocks. However "reliable approaches to reduce Campylobacter colonisation are currently unavailable," post-processing freezing has reduced Campylobacter loads on carcasses. (Eurekalert)

**Unapproved GM wheat plants found on a farm in Oregon, USA
The US Government is carrying out an investigation after genetically-modified wheat plants, which had not been approved for commercial production or sale, were found on a farm in Oregon. The USDA has reported that the variety found was the same variety that Monsanto Company had been authorised to test in 16 states from 1998 through 2005.  This variety was engineered to resist the herbicide glyphosate however this wheat variety does not pose a food safety concern.  In a news release Michael Firko, Acting Deputy Administrator for APHIS’ Biotechnology Regulatory Services states: “We are taking this situation very seriously and have launched a formal investigation. Our first priority is to as quickly as possible determine the circumstances and extent of the situation and how it happened.  We are collaborating with state, industry, and trading partners on this situation and are committed to providing timely information about our findings.  USDA will put all necessary resources towards this investigation.” According to Food Navigator, Japan has now placed a temporary ban on imports of Western White Wheat from the US. How long this ban is in place is unknown.

RSSL's DNA and Protein Laboratory uses multiple primer sets to enable the detection of all GM soya, maize and rapeseed varieties with turnaround times as short as two days. Real-Time quantitative PCR testing using the most robust and accurate methods available has a detection limit of 0.1% of extracted DNA. For more information please contact Customer Services on Freephone 0800 243482 or email enquiries@rssl.com

**BPA could cause harmful effects to offspring’s brain tissue
A new rat study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is reporting that Bisphenol A consumed during pregnancy could cause harmful effects to offspring’s brain tissue.  The scientists from Columbia University found that BPA affected the way genes work.  The study states: “maternal exposure during pregnancy to environmentally relevant doses of BPA (2, 20, and 200 µg/kg/d) in mice induces sex-specific, dose-dependent (linear and curvilinear), and brain region-specific changes in expression of genes encoding estrogen receptors (ERs; ERα and ERβ) and estrogen-related receptor-γ in juvenile offspring.”  The study concludes by noting that low-dose prenatal BPA exposure causes lasting "epigenetic disruption" to the brain, possibly underlying effects of BPA on brain function and behaviour.

**Food hygiene is an unacceptable postcode lottery
A Which? investigation which analysed food hygiene ratings in England, Wales and Northern Ireland from 2011 onwards, has found that out of more than 2,000 postcodes, food outlets in parts of a London borough have the worst hygiene standards.  Food outlets are rated for hygiene on a six point scale – zero being the worst and five the best. A score of three is ‘generally satisfactory’.   The DA7 postcode in Bexley averaged a score of just 2.6 – almost half the premises inspected in this area had a score of two or less. By contrast, Birmingham B35 topped the table with a near-perfect 4.9.   The average scores for big high street brands were typically three or above – that is generally satisfactory or better. Some major chains had no poor scores recorded at all.  An accompanied survey of 2,000 members between March 28 and 31 found that 75% of consumers would not eat at a food outlet that received a hygiene rating below generally satisfactory.  Which? Executive Director Richard Lloyd said: "Our investigation shows that food hygiene is an unacceptable postcode lottery. Diners shouldn't be taking a risk with their health simply by choosing the wrong area in which to eat out. We want everywhere that serves food to the public to display their hygiene score prominently so people can make an informed choice."

**Study finds copper destroys norovirus
Researchers from the University of Southampton have indicated that copper can rapidly destroy norovirus, which can be contracted from contaminated surfaces, contaminated food or water and person to person contact amongst others.  Keevil et al. indicate that surfaces made from copper could therefore effectively prevent the infection being contracted from surfaces. The study, presented at the American Society for Microbiology's 2013 General Meeting, reports that norovirus was rapidly destroyed on copper and its alloys, with those containing more than 60 per cent copper proving particularly effective.  They note that the contamination model used was designed to simulate fingertip-touch contamination of surfaces.  Keevil states: “Copper alloy surfaces can be employed in high-risk areas such as cruise ships and care homes where norovirus outbreaks are hard to control because infected people can't help but contaminate the environment with vomiting and diarrhoea.  The virus can remain infectious on solid surfaces and is also resistant to many cleaning solutions. That means it can spread to people who touch these surfaces, causing further infections and maintaining the cycle of infection. Copper surfaces, like door handles and taps, can disrupt the cycle and lower the risk of outbreaks."  (Antimicrobialcopper)

**Phthalates linked with increase in childhood hypertension
Findings published in the Journal of Pediatrics have indicated that phthalates, found in plastics and processed foods, may play a part in the increase in incidents of childhood hypertension. The study by Trasande et al from NYU Langone Medical Center, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington and Penn State University School of Medicine examined data from nearly 3000 children who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2003 and 2008.  Using standard analysis techniques phthalates were measured in urine samples.  After taking into account a number of confounding factors, such as race, socioeconomic status, body mass index, caloric intake amongst other, Trasende et al. report that every three-fold increase in the level of breakdown products of DEHP in urine was correlated with a roughly one-millimetre mercury increase in a child's blood pressure.  Trasande et al state “phthalates can inhibit the function of cardiac cells and cause oxidative stress that compromises the health of arteries. That increment may seem very modest at an individual level, but on a population level such shifts in blood pressure can increase the number of children with elevated blood pressure substantially. Our study underscores the need for policy initiatives that limit exposure to disruptive environmental chemicals, in combination with dietary and behavioural interventions geared toward protecting cardiovascular health."

**How Salmonella protects itself during infection
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that Salmonella Typhimurium uses a switch process, under infection-like conditions, to protect it from harm.  The process called S-thiolation protects proteins from irreversible chemical changes when a cell is stressed, however the switch regulates when or how proteins work, whilst offering protection.  Ansong et al grew the bacteria either in nutritional foods or those with poor nutrient values, mimicking the kind of stressful environments the microbes find themselves in when infecting someone.  Using top-down proteomics, the team identified 563 unique proteins inside the samples of bacteria.  The team were particularly interested in S-thiolation modifications, noting that these modifications cover and protect a protein's sulphur atoms, which tend to snag each other like velcro and cause misshapen proteins. The scientists note that these modifications come in two flavours: a bulky glutathione and a compact cysteine. While glutathione modifications are pretty well studied, only four studies reveal cysteine modifications, and only two of those are in bacteria.  A total of 25 proteins sported glutathiones and another 18 wore cysteines. But nine of these stood out: The glutathiones and the cysteines attached to the same exact spot on the nine proteins. Not at the same time - the team found that Salmonella used glutathiones at these sites when they were fat and happy, growing with nutrient rich food. When grown under stressful conditions with nutritionally poor food, the Salmonella swapped their glutathiones for cysteines. (Eurekalert)

**Prince Charles discusses the issues of current food production methods at German symposium
According to the Guardian Prince Charles has discussed at a recent German symposium on regional food production at Langenburg Castle in Baden-Wurttemberg the issues of current food production methods  which have led to the horsemeat incident.  He also talked about declining health, particularly in the US.  He is calling for more local models of food production and distribution, noting that there currently isn’t sufficient resilience in the system. He states: “It may appear that things are well. Big global corporations may appear to be prospering out of operating on a global monocultural scale, but, as I hope you have seen, if you drill down into what is actually happening, things are not so healthy.  Our present approach is rapidly mining resilience out of our food system and threatening to leave it ever more vulnerable to the various external shocks that are becoming more varied, extreme and frequent."   He notes that “The aggressive search for cheaper food has been described as a 'drive to the bottom', which I am afraid is taking the farmers with it. They are being driven into the ground by the prices they are forced to expect for their produce and this has led to some very worrying shortcuts.  The recent horsemeat scandals are surely just one example, revealing a disturbing situation where even the biggest retailers seem not to know where their supplies are coming from. It has also led to a very destructive effect on farming. We are losing farmers fast. Young people do not want to go into such an unrewarding profession.  In the UK, I have been warning of this for some time and recently set up apprenticeship schemes to try to alleviate the problem, but the fact remains that at the moment the average age of British farmers is 58, and rising." Pressure to produce cheap food also created social and economic problems, he said.  He reports that obesity related conditions are on the rise and the public bill for dealing with these is already massive.

**EFSA assesses risks to bees from fipronil
The insecticide fipronil poses a high acute risk to honeybees when used as a seed treatment for maize, EFSA has concluded in a report requested by the European Commission. EFSA was asked to perform a risk assessment of fipronil, paying particular regard to the acute and chronic effects on colony survival and development and the effects of sublethal doses on bee mortality and behaviour. EFSA’s pesticide risk assessment experts examined the potential risk to bees from the active substance through a number of exposure routes. They concluded the following:

  • Risk from dust drift: A high acute risk was identified for maize. For other field crops, including sunflower, full risk assessments could not be completed so the level of risk from exposure to dust originating from seed drilling could not be established.
  • Nectar and pollen: The available studies – field and semi-field – had weaknesses and thus were insufficient to establish the level of risk to honey bees from the use of fipronil as a treatment for sunflower and maize seed. However, there was deemed to be a low risk to honey bees from the authorised use of fipronil on vegetables, as these cannot be foraged for pollen and nectar.
  • Several gaps were identified in the available data related to other potential routes of exposure.

**EFSA guidance outlines step-by-step approach for environmental risk assessment of GM animals
New guidance from EFSA provides applicants and risk assessors with a clear framework to evaluate the potential adverse effects of living genetically modified (GM) animals on the environment, including those on human and animal health. The document, which describes how to carry out environmental risk assessments of GM fish, insects, mammals and birds, was developed following a request from the European Commission. (quoted directly)

**FSA board to discuss radioactivity paper
The Food Standards Agency Board has held a public consultation on proposed changes to the way we monitor for radioactivity in food.   Currently, samples are taken from and near all nuclear sites in England and Wales, and then they are tested for radioactivity however they are now looking to bring monitoring in line with international scientific guidelines and best practice.   The FSA state that the recommendation is to continue the surveillance programme in the same manner, but on a reduced scale. This would maintain consumer safety while moving to a more risk-based approach to monitoring.  The Board will discuss the proposals at its board meeting on 4 June.

**Animal diseases updates and food poisoning outbreaks
Regular global updates on food poisoning outbreaks and animal diseases, such as avian influenza, foot and mouth, Ebola, SARS, and Anthrax can be found on the International Society for Infectious Diseases ‘ProMED-mail’ web site. 

**BITES safe food from farm to fork
The BITES web site at Kansas State University (KSU) provides up-to-date details of food safety incidents around the world.  It replaced the International Food Safety Network (iFSN) web site at KSU, which is no longer being kept up-to date. The Fsnet Archives are still available but only updated until September 2009.

RSSL's scientists are able to assist food businesses to manage food safety issues more effectively. The laboratories have considerable experience in the detection and identification of foreign bodies, heavy metals, allergens, toxins and chemical residues. For more information on any of these services and RSSL's Emergency Response Service, please contact Customer Services on Freefone 0800 243482 or e-mail enquiries@rssl.com

 

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