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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thirty People Died From Cantaloupe, Why?

Last year thirty people died from listeria laden cantaloupes from Jensen Farms. Jensen Farms declared bankruptcy They have set as side $4.500.000.00 dollars for the victims. A lot of farmers were hurt  because people were reluctant to by cantaloupe. 144 people got sick. One of the dead people was a fetus. Listeria is very bad for pregnant women.

One may wonder how this happens. Isn’t our food routinely inspected? The sad truth is that the FDA has only 1,100 inspectors . They inspect produce facilities every 4 to 7 years. If they see something wrong they do not come back to verify that it has been corrected. With the CDC estimating that 48 million people getting sick from food-borne pathogens every year, this is totally inadequate. Some farms are not in any hurry to make changes.

Publix Supermarkets realizing that this level of inspection was inadequate  insisted that the farms and packing houses they use be inspected more often. Most other supermarkets followed suit. they require that there suppliers use contracted inspectors. Several months before the listeria out break the FDA inspected Jensen Farms. they noted several problems with their sanitation In August of 2010 six days before the listeria outbreak, Jensen Farms was inspected again by a contractor.This inspection gave Jensen farms a 96 out of 100 which sounds good. But they also listed things that Jensen farms were doing wrong. The supermarket seem to pay more attention to the score of 96 and no attention to the problems listed on the bottom of the report.

After a long and expensive investigation of Jenson Farms following the outbreak, the FDA recommended that cantaloupe farms and packing houses follow the recommendations that were previously published by the FDA. They also suggested that cantaloupes should be precooled.

Precooling is a process to take the field heat out of the cantaloupe. When a pallet of cantaloupe is put in a regular cooler, it can take around 7 hours to cool the cantaloupe in the center of the pallet. During this time bacteria can grow. A precooler forces cold air or cold water through the cases of cantaloupe so that the cantaloupe cools in less than an hour.

Because it was a recommendation rather than a regulation, there was no rush of cantaloupe growers to buy precoolers. If they precool their cantaloupe and their competition does not, they have to charge more for there cantaloupe and their business will be negatively impacted.

What can be done to improve regulation and reduce this threat to public health? Following such an outbreak, Congress passed a bill to fund the Food Safety Act of 2010 with 38 million dollars. This seems like a lot of money. However, when you consider that the CDC estimates there are 48 million cases of disease from food borne pathogens every year, this is slightly over 83 cents per person. These are not all life-threatening illnesses, but when you consider days of work missed and doctor visits, it’s likely to cause billions of dollars in economic impact.

Most farms are responsible and put out good healthy products, but there are a few that try to take shortcuts. If all the FDA recommendations were followed, we would find a dramatic decrease in disease. We need more enforcement and regulation, rather than recommendations.

Consider: If an airplane falls from the sky, the FAA investigates. If they have a faulty part on the plane, they ground similar planes until they can be inspected. Then they make regulations to address the problems they find. In this way, they save lives. The FDA needs to do the same.

The country is afraid of regulation right now. But after the fiasco with the banks, it’s time we rethink when regulation is needed. The amount of money lost by cantaloupe producers because people were afraid to eat cantaloupe may even be comparable to the cost of regulation.

The there were three major things wrong at Jensen Farms
1 The machine that washed the cantaloupe could not be thoroughly be cleaned. It was made for potatoes. Sense potatoes are cooked they have lower standards.
2 There was standing water on the floor of the packing house.
3 A garbage truck was parked beside the packing house. This truck carried cantaloupe that was not good enough to sell and dumped them in a cow pasture. It was possible that listeria was in the dirt where the cows where the cows took a dump

Things we can do:
  1. Join the Make Our Food Safe Coalition -
  2. Tell your senator and congressman that you want the FDA funded through the Department of Health and Human Services rather than the USDA. (At present FDA receives 20% of the available funds, while the USDA receives 80 %)
  3. Tell your congressman and senators to fully fund the FDA.

  1. Wash all produce and use a vegetable brush.
  2. Do not set unwrapped produce on a counter or in the refrigerator without washing.
  3. Do not use the same cutting board for meat and produce.
  4. If you use reusable cloth grocery bags, wash between uses.
  5. Check out for more food safety tips.

Some of the information in this report came from Produce News Magazine

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

We Are Losing the War on Bacteria

We Are Losing the War on Bacteria

Seventy five years ago with the advent of penicillin we drastically reduced the number of deaths from pneumonia. Since then we have developed many more antibiotics. The problem is that bacteria mutate. With the mutations some of the bacteria become drug resistant.

Now we have what are called Super Bugs such as MRSA which are resistant to most of the antibiotics available today. There are several factors that have increased the speed with which superbugs are created. The less antibiotics used the longer it takes to produce super bugs, however some doctors have given their patients antibiotics for the common cold which is ineffective. Some patients don’t take their full regimen of antibiotics so the illness comes back and they have to take more.

Live stock are given antibiotics in their food. A three year old girl caught a new variety of MRSA from pigs. Pigs in Europe, England, Canada and the United States all have this variety of MRSA.

When someone goes to the hospital with Pneumonia they need to give them an antibiotic right away so the infection does not spread to the rest of the body. Doctors give the right antibiotic about 50% of the time.  Sense it takes up to seventy two hours to test for the type of bacteria causing the Pneumonia they have to guess which antibiotic this bacteria is resistant to. If the Doctor doesn't find the right antibiotic quickly the patient will die.Some doctors feel we will shortly be back to where we were 75 years ago with many more people dying from pneumonia.

Around Twenty years ago I saw a television show about how they treated bacterial infections in Russia. Instead of using antibiotics they used a virus called bacteriophage. It was harmless to humans but would kill the bacteria that was causing the sickness.The treatment came in ten doses that the patient would take for ten days. They charged $2.00 for the treatment. A
persons immune system will get rid of the bacteriophage within 7 days

The problem we have in this country is that Bacteriophage can't be patented. Here it costs up to eight hundred million to bring a drug to market. Once the testing on a bacteriophage was done anyone could manufacture the doses and sell them because there is no patent. This would reduce the price of the treatment too drastically, making it so a drug company wouldn't be able recoup the costs of testing and bringing the drug to market.

We need to change the laws so that drugs that are not profitable to the drug companies are brought to market.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Most Plentiful Organism on Earth

The Most Plentiful Organism on Earth

If you count all the living organisms on earth: the plants, the animals, the bacteria, even the cockroaches, and add them together. you will still have more Bacteriophages. There are
10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bacteriophages on earth. Hopefully they didn’t count them by hand. Bacteriophage,called phage for short, are very small, 100 times smaller than a bacteria. We could not see them until the electron microscope was invented..These organisms  are viruses.

The name Bacteriophage means Bacteria eater. But they don’t actually eat bacteria but they do kill bacteria. Each species of phage only kills one species of bacteria. For example there are over 100 species of E coli and there are over 100 species of Phage that kill them. The species of Phage pictured below attacks is called  T4 and attacks E coli
The top part of the Phage is called the cuspid. It contains the DNA wound up tightly like a spring. Below the cuspid the thin spot is called the collar. The bumpy part is called the tail and the 6 appendages are called long tail fibers. the part on the bottom is the base plate.
Wherever there are bacteria, Phage are close by. They are  even in our bodies, on the mountain tops and in the deepest oceans.Every two days  they kill half the bacteria on earth. Because bacteria can  reproduce in as little as 30 minutes  Phage are never able to wipe out all bacteria.

When a phage finds a bacteria species that they are able to kill, the Phage attach their long tail fibers to the bacteria with a sticky glue. After they are attached, they move their base plate near the surface of the bacteria.The points that stick out from the bottom of the base plate attach to the bacteria with a stronger glue. Then the base plate gives off a chemical that softens the skin of the bacteria. Then the DNA shoots out of the caspit, down the tail and into the bacteria with a force 6 times as great as a champagne cork.

Once inside the bacteria the DNA takes over the bacteria. The DNA uses the bacteria’s energy to duplicate itself. Once it has duplicated itself 50 or more times ,the bacteria splits open killing the bacteria and sending more Phage to attack other bacteria.this can take as little as 15 minutes

The drawing is from wikipedia