PUBLIC HEALTH

Super Bowl safety: Have plans for the big game? We all know this day is more than just football. It’s also the second largest day for food consumption in the U.S., next to Thanksgiving Day. Chips, wings, guacamole, chili—sounds like a good time right? It should be—so follow the USDA’s food safety advice so this snack-filled day doesn’t end in food poisoning. READ MORE

The danger of third party contamination: FDA inspectors have confirmed that Listeria found in one brand of Blue Bell ice cream originated with a third-party supplier, illustrating how contamination of one ingredient in a product can lead to more contamination “downstream.” The finding prompted a recall of the company’s products in October 2016, the second in a short period of time. Blue Bell credited its testing program with identifying the presence of Listeria in chocolate-chip cookie dough manufactured by Garner, Iowa-based Aspen Hills Inc., which ceased production at the end of December. The Houston Chronicle reports that the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter last month to Aspen Hills, detailing the company’s failures in preventing contamination. Hills’ owners said they have decided to exit their business. At the time of the second recall, Blue Bell was regaining some of its market share following a debilitating recall the year before resulting from 10 Listeria cases in four states, including three deaths in Kansas. READ MORE

The history of humans and germs: Humans get along pretty well with most microbes. Which is lucky, because there are a lot more of them in the world than there are of us. We couldn’t even live without many of them. But a few hundred have evolved, and are still evolving, to exploit our bodies in ways that can make us really sick. These are the microbes we call germs. Think plague, flu, HIV, SARS, Ebola, Zika, measles. WATCH VIDEO

The perils of unripe lychee fruit: Nearly 400 cases of an unexplained, acute illness in 2014 have been investigated in India. Between May 26 and July 24 of that year, 390 patients were admitted to the two referral hospitals in Muzaffarpur, located in the state of Bihar, with 122 of them (31 percent) dying from acute toxic encephalopathy. A study by researchers from India and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S., publishing in the medical journal Lancet, have identified an association with the ingestion of lychee fruit.

This case is clearly not related to intentional food adulteration, but instead appears to be the result of a number of precipitating elements acting in tandem. Although not directly related to food defense, the identification and detection of toxic materials that could potentially enter the food supply is always of concern.

The study notes, “In India, seasonal outbreaks of an acute unexplained neurological illness have been reported since 1995 from Muzaffarpur, Bihar, the largest litchi (lychee) fruit cultivation region in the country. These recurring outbreaks begin in mid-May and peak in June, coinciding with the month-long litchi harvesting season. Children from poor socioeconomic backgrounds in rural Muzaffarpur comprise most of those affected. Illness is characterised by acute seizures and changed mental status, frequently with onset in the early morning,2 and is associated with high mortality.”

Sampling of unripe lychee fruit from the region showed the fruit contained twice as much of two apparently naturally occurring chemicals, hypoglycin A and MCPG, as compared to ripe fruits. These chemicals also were  detected in the urine of patients suffering from the encephalopathy, suggesting the unripe fruit caused the illness. The impacted region is very poor, suggesting the affected patients—many of them children—ate unripe fruit because of poor nutrition and hunger.

The report also recommends minimizing lychee consumption among young children in the affected area, ensuring children receive an evening meal during the outbreak period, and rapidly assessing and correcting hypoglycemia in any child suspected of having the illness. Evaluation of other potential factors, including missed evening meal, poor nutritional status, and as yet unidentified genetic differences, may provide further insights into additional risk factors for this outbreak illness.” READ MORE