German E. Coli Outbreak May Trigger New Food Regulations RELEASED AT THE 2011 IFT ANNUAL MEETING & FOOD EXPO

June 14, 2011

NEW ORLEANS – New regulations, improved surveillance and disease prevention strategies, particularly pertaining to produce, will likely emerge in the European Union and throughout the world following the recent deadly E.coli outbreak in Germany, said Professor Patrick Wall, the former chair of the European Food Safety Authority said at a press briefing Tuesday, at the 2011 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo.

More than 3,000 people have become ill and 37 people have died, to date, following a rare E.coli (EHEC-0104) outbreak which originated from German-grown bean sprouts.

“Once you have an outbreak like this it exposes weakness,” said Wall during a news conference on Tuesday. “There’s not time to fix them when an event is happening, and no one wants to give you resources when nothing is happening.”

Wall is currently an associate professor at University College Dublin’s School of Public Health and was the first chief executive of the Irish Food Safety Authority.

Wall said there are usually six potential causes of food-borne illness outbreaks: contaminated ingredients, inadequate storage and refrigeration, insufficient cooking, cross contamination from raw products to cooked products, inadequate hygiene facilities for staff, and poorly trained and supervised staff.

When a disease outbreak does occur, virus confirmation typically takes four or five days. During the recent German outbreak, confirming the source of the source of the outbreak took more than two weeks, fanning speculation and fear that resulted in the boycott and wide-spread destruction of produce in Europe.

Officials currently don’t know the root cause of this outbreak according to Wall. However, he emphasized that changes will need to be made in Germany and throughout the world following this outbreak.

Pathogens, or disease-causing agents, can come into contact with produce, or they can actually be grown into fruits and vegetables through tainted water or soil.

“People think if you wash vegetables your produce is safe,” said Wall. “But if they are grown in contaminated water, you can’t wash off (the disease).”

The issue is further complicated by today’s food globalization. While produce, meat and dairy may come from a local farm, the livestock may have received vitamins or medication from one part of the world, and the fertilizer used to grow crops from another.

“The journey from farm to fork is not a straight line,” said Wall. “When you eat a meal you are eating off a global plate. We need consistent science throughout the world that is compatible with commerce.”

Institute of Food Technologists President Robert Gravani, Ph.D., who joined Wall at the news conference, said “the best strategies are prevention strategies” for ensuring safety of the food supply, especially produce.

“It’s very important that farmers have a food safety plan in place,” said Gravani, who is also a professor of food science and the director of the National Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) Program at Cornell University. This includes regulations that ensure clean irrigation water, manure and compost heated to pathogen-destroying temperatures, and keep livestock that is kept separate from crops and harvested food.

Most large retailers in the U.S. require their produce suppliers to have farm-food safety plans in place, said Gravani. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration plans to issue new produce safety guidelines later this year.

“We need to come up with a good agricultural practice to ensure safety,” said Wall. “Testing is not the solution; it’s too expensive. We want produce to be cheap and readily available. If not, only the wealthy will be healthy.”

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About IFT

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) is a nonprofit scientific society. Our individual members are professionals engaged in food science, food technology, and related professions in industry, academia, and government. IFT's mission is to advance the science of food, and our long-range vision is to ensure a safe and abundant food supply, contributing to healthier people everywhere.

For more than 70 years, the IFT has been unlocking the potential of the food science community by creating a dynamic global forum where members from more than 100 countries can share, learn, and grow. We champion the use of sound science across the food value chain through the exchange of knowledge, by providing education, and by furthering the advancement of the profession. IFT has offices in Chicago, Illinois and Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit ift.org.

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