How Did Hepatitis Get into Organic Berries?
The latest example of how even health-conscious eaters are not immune from foodborne illness outbreaks came last week with a recall of organic frozen berries contaminated with Hepatitis A. The products were sold under the brand name of Townsend Farms at two large chains: Costco stores in the west and Harris Teeter stores.
The latest count from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention is 87 people infected in eight states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Washington. Of these, 36 have been hospitalized.
According to the CDC, Hepatitis A “usually occurs when an infected food handler prepares food without appropriate hand hygiene." However, the source of this particular strain is still unclear, except that it probably did not originate in the U.S.
This outbreak raises several important questions about our food system.
Are Companies Duping Consumers with “Farm-washing"?
According to the fine print on the back label, shown on food safety attorney Bill Marler's blog, the fruit came from around the world: Chile, Argentina and Turkey. The pomegranate seeds processed in Turkey appear to be the culprit.
But you couldn't tell the international origins from the front of the packaging labeled “Organic Antioxidant Blend," with the bucolic image of Townsend Farms and its warm and fuzzy tag line: “Since 1906, Field to Farm to Family."
It seems at least one victim of the outbreak was fooled by the imagery. According to CBS News, Geoff Soza of California ate “a healthy breakfast of thawed frozen berries and Greek yogurt every morning" but while “celebrating his 30th wedding anniversary in Yellowstone National Park," the 64-year-old wound up in the hospital instead. At one point, things looked so serious that the words “liver transplant" were uttered by a doctor.
Soza seemed shocked to learn his favorite berries were not from the Oregon farm depicted on the packaging. According to the story:
Healthy and health-conscious, the Sozas always inspect their foods and select organic produce. They were surprised to learn that some of the fruit from Townsend Farms of Fairview, OR, was from outside the U.S. But the packaging convinced the Sozas the fruit was all-American because it bears the slogans "Grower. Processor. Distributor." and "Field to Farm to Family, since 1906."
Soza's wife put it plainly: "It was our distinct impression that these are raised under U.S. standards, especially organic food standards."
I asked Mark Kastel, co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute, if he thought the Townsend label was confusing as to the product's origins.
“Yes, it's deliberately deceptive, to make you think you're buying local fruit from the farm up the road," Kastel said. "There are many examples of this. Often companies with the word 'farm' in their name don't even do any growing themselves, they just contract with farms, sometimes from all over the world. Or they just buy from brokers in the farms or an anonymous source."
How does this connect to food safety risks? While small, local farms are not immune, the difference is in the magnitude of the impact: with a small farm, any adverse impacts are only felt locally, but with globalization, the potential hazards are spread far and wide, and to a much larger population.
Also, about the antioxidant claim on the package, registered dietitian Andy Bellatti says, “All whole, plant-based foods contain antioxidants. So, any combination of fruit can be 'an antioxidant blend' and what matters most is diversity of antioxidants, not just from berries."
Can We Trust Organic Labels on Imported Foods?
Among the most frequent questions I get regarding organic is “what about imported food; can we trust the standards in other countries?" The Townsend berries sport the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal, indicating that even though the mix contains imported fruit, it still conforms to the high U.S. based organic standards.
As Food Safety News explains, imported foods are evaluated by organic certifying agencies approved by the USDA:
Townsend Farms products are certified as organic by both Oregon Tilth, a private third party certifier, and the Washington State Department of Agriculture. But how is it that berries grown in Turkey, Chile and Mexico can get packaged in Oregon and certified as organic by the standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture?
The short answer to that question lies in the fact that firms worldwide have the ability to certify farms according to the standards set forth by the USDA. As long as a proper authority can verify a farm operates according to organic standards once a year, that farm can become USDA-certified organic whether it's outside Indianapolis or Istanbul.
OK, but can we trust these foreign certifiers? Some watchdog groups such as Center for Food Safety and Cornucopia Institute have greater confidence in U.S. farms and U.S. organic certification than from imports. These groups and many others have grave reservations about particular countries with an increasing presence in the U.S., particularly China and India.
How Many Sick People Will it Take to Get Feds to Act?
Most importantly, this serious outbreak underscores once again, how the stalled food safety regulations, as mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act (enacted in 2011), are adversely impacting public health.
The law, which numerous groups pushed hard for, mandates significant upticks in foreign inspections by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), although how those increases will be funded remains a serious question. Additional import safeguards include giving the FDA authority to require certification for food coming from certain countries as a condition of admission to the U.S.
But the required regulations for how these preventive measures would be implemented have been overdue for more than a year now. In April, a federal court agreed with the Center for Food Safety's lawsuit that the FDA has failed to adhere to statutory deadlines for final regulations.
The judge ordered the FDA to work with Center for Food Safety to submit a new timeline for the rules, which the court would then require FDA to follow. George Kimbrell, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety, says this process is currently underway, which is the good news:
Congress required the FDA to dramatically improve import safety. The firm, timely deadlines for new import regulations underscored how overdue and urgently-needed the improvements are. The court should soon set new deadlines for the regulations, and the FDA will finally do the job Congress required of it and protect the American public from continued outbreaks.
The bad news is that while the FDA continues to drag its feet, Americans continue to get sick. Whether it's Hepatitis A in imported berries, listeria in imported cheese or salmonella in imported papayas, our regulators have a lot more work to do to safeguard the food supply. Let's hope it won't take more illnesses to get them to take action.
Visit EcoWatch's FOOD page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The U.S. reported more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, in a sign that the outbreak is not letting up as the Fourth of July weekend kicks off.
- The U.S. Isn't in a Second Wave of Coronavirus – The First Wave ... ›
- Navajo Nation Has Highest Covid-19 Infection Rate in the U.S. ... ›
- U.S. Coronavirus Cases Top 2 Million as All 50 States Start ... ›
By Jason Bruck
Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
- Drone Footage Captures Rare Finless Porpoises in Hong Kong ... ›
- Brazil's Amazon River Dolphin Faces Extinction After Fishing ... ›
- 10 Surprising Dolphin 'Superpowers' - EcoWatch ›
Sunscreen pollution is accelerating the demise of coral reefs globally by causing permanent DNA damage to coral. gonzalo martinez / iStock / Getty Images Plus
On July 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a controversial bill prohibiting local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens.
- Your Guide to Reef Friendly Sunscreens - EcoWatch ›
- Hundreds of Sunscreens Don't Work or Have Unsafe Ingredients ... ›
- FDA Study: Sunscreen Chemicals Seep Into the Bloodstream ... ›
By Kelli McGrane
Oat milk is popping up at coffee shops and grocery stores alike, quickly becoming one of the trendiest plant-based milks.
- Is Oat Milk Gluten-Free? - EcoWatch ›
- What Nutritionists Think About Starbucks' Three New Plant-Based ... ›
- 6 Alternatives to Milk: Which Is the Healthiest? - EcoWatch ›
"Emissions from pyrotechnic displays are composed of numerous organic compounds as well as metals," a new study reports. Nodar Chernishev / EyeEm / Getty Images
Fireworks have taken a lot of heat recently. In South Dakota, fire experts have said President Trump's plan to hold a fireworks show is dangerous and public health experts have criticized the lack of plans to enforce mask wearing or social distancing. Now, a new study shows that shooting off fireworks at home may expose you and your family to dangerous levels of lead, copper and other toxins.
- No Social Distancing or Mask Requirement at Trump's Mt ... ›
- Trump's Fireworks Show at Mt. Rushmore Is a Dangerous Idea, Fire ... ›
By Ashutosh Pandey
Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
- Dangerous Chemicals From E-Waste Found in Black Plastics From ... ›
- Electronic Waste Study Finds $65 Billion in Raw Materials ... ›
- Electronic Waste: New EU Rules Target Throwaway Culture ... ›
- COVID-19 Masks Are Polluting Beaches and Oceans - EcoWatch ›
- Plastic Packaging Use Increases During the Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Worsens Thailand's Plastic Waste Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Plastic Waste Polluting the Environment - EcoWatch ›