Canadian Agency Looks to Europe for Safety Standard of Arsenic for Food

Christine Bear wrote . . . . . . . . .

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) says it will launch a months-long consultation process this year on setting a maximum level of arsenic allowed in food, including baby cereal.

Currently, there is no hard limit on arsenic in food in Canada and the U.S., despite existing regulations in Europe.

Although the toxicity of arsenic depends on its chemical form and level of exposure, the naturally occurring element can cause various health issues including skin lesions, nausea and diarrhea, with long-term exposure associated with an increased risk of cancer.

“Health Canada will continue to take steps to help ensure that dietary exposure to arsenic is as low as possible for Canadians, including infants and young children,” said Maryse Durette, senior media relations adviser for Health Canada, in an email.

A proposal for these new measures should be available for consultation with the food industry, professional organizations and consumers by mid-2019, Durette said.

“In the near future, Health Canada will recommend new maximum levels for inorganic arsenic in rice, consistent with those established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, an international group that sets safety standards for foods.”

While the CFIA monitors arsenic levels in baby food, the process of setting a cap is taking years, it says, due to consultations with stakeholders on both sides of the Canadian and American border, including the food industry — and because the science that tells us how much arsenic is dangerous is still emerging.

The limit enforced by the European Commission — 200 parts per billion (ppb) for adults and 100 ppb for infants — was set in 2016 based on research showing that higher arsenic concentrations were associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Arsenic is ubiquitous in our environment, in the soil, air and water, with concentrations near mining sites skyrocketing to levels that can be carcinogenic.

Because of the risk to human health, total arsenic and its various types, including inorganic arsenic, the form considered most toxic, are measured in bottled water, juices and nectars, fish protein, baby formulas, foods and supplements by regulatory bodies around the world, including the CFIA.

The potential for high arsenic concentrations in rice-based foods, including infant cereals and biscuits, is a higher concern because arsenic can accumulate in rice as it grows in the standing water of paddies.

The Europeans moved to cap infant ricebased food at 100 ppb, half the level of 200 ppb recommended for adults, because rice can form a major component of the diet for babies. Those recommendations were made based on two 2010 studies of a Taiwanese community, in which researchers found that if the concentration of arsenic was above 100 ppb, there was a greater risk of urinary and lung cancer in children and adults.

While the average inorganic arsenic concentration tested in Canada by CFIA on different infant cereals was approximately 100 ppb, certain brands of infant food exceeded the European legal limit, with the highest measurement being 200 ppb, according to a CFIA Food Safety Action Plan report, which conducted testing in 2015 on samples collected between 2011 and 2013.

Although Canada and the U.S. adhere to the Codex Alimentarius standards

set by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, each government must first consult with stakeholders before implementing additional safety measures like those set by the Europeans for infant food and this takes time.

In a recent review of arsenic tolerance in apple juice, for instance, representatives from a whopping eight industries weighed in, including the Canadian Beverage Association, Heinz Canada, Juice Products Association (American) and Société des alcools du Québec. These stakeholders were asked for comment regarding limits for apple juice in 2014 — and regulatory changes have not yet been implemented.

Another barrier to implementing maximum levels of allowable inorganic arsenic in baby food is uncertainty regarding how much arsenic is too much.

The Taiwanese studies cited by Europe in its decision to cap levels in baby food at 100 ppb described the health effects of arsenic contamination consumed by approximately 7,000 people.

Since the time of these Taiwanese studies in 2010, scientists say there is still much to learn about the cancer risk at low arsenic levels.

As recently reviewed by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, Center for Environmental Health in the U.S., the risks associated with arsenic for different types of cancer, such as liver, bladder, kidney or lung cancer, are highly variable and the reason for this variability is not understood. They recommend additional studies on large populations of arsenic-exposed people of different age and gender.

Expert committees, including the Joint FAO/ WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, recognize there are other, non-cancer areas of concern for the toxicity of inorganic arsenic, such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Scientists at the FDA are currently testing the effects of arsenic on neurodevelopment.

“Concerns have been raised about potential developmental effects on infants and adverse pregnancy outcomes,” says an FDA site about arsenic in rice cereal. The agency also found that exposure may result in a child’s decreased performance on certain developmental tests that measure learning.

In addition, the translation of new scientific findings into changes in policy takes time.

Sarah Rothenberg, assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, says she was approached by staff from a U.S. regulatory agency at a recent conference and told “you need to keep doing your work (on arsenic in rice-based foods); we are reading your papers.”

But, “you need multiple research groups reporting the same thing before regulatory groups take a look,” Rothenberg says.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper

Read also at FDA:

What You Can Do to Limit Exposure to Arsenic . . . . .


Ireland First With New DNA Food Scanning Tool

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) revealed that it now has a new DNA scanning tool to identify the entire DNA content of a food. The new analytical tool can proactively identify all the ingredients and their biological sources in a food, which will aid regulators in protecting consumers in relation to potential food fraud and/or misleading labelling. The FSAI worked with a commercial laboratory (Identigen) over the past two years in adapting a relatively new DNA sequencing technology known as “next generation sequencing”, so that it could be used as a DNA scanning tool in food. The idea is to compare the actual ingredients in a food, identified by their DNA profile, with those declared on the label. Up to this, DNA testing of food required analysts to know what they wanted to look for specifically and then test for it – such target information is no longer a pre-requisite.

According to Dr Pat O’Mahony, Chief Specialist, Food Science and Technology, FSAI this applied use of next generation sequencing is unique in a regulatory context and will be a significant new asset for regulators to identify exactly what is contained in a food and if that matches what is stated on the product’s labelling. It is now possible to scan the entire DNA content of a food without any prior knowledge or suspicion of what may or may not be present in that food.

“Even with the restriction of having to target the DNA of certain plant or animal species in previous studies, the FSAI has been able to detect food allergens and GMOs, and demonstrate the mislabelling of fish products. Of course targeted DNA analysis was also the method used by the FSAI in discovering horsemeat in beef products, which ultimately brought the global awareness of food fraud to a new level.”

The restrictions imposed by the need to target only specific species and ingredients in products led the FSAI to look for new innovative ‘non-targeted’ screening methods. Next Generation DNA Sequencing (NGS) is the basis of the new DNA food scanning tool and has been applied successfully by the FSAI to screen 45 plant-based foods and food supplements from Irish health food shops and supermarkets. It looked for the presence of all plant species in the selected products and identified 14 food products of interest that may contain undeclared plant species.

Of the 14 products selected for further investigation, one was confirmed to contain undeclared mustard at significant levels. Mustard is one of the 14 food allergenic ingredients that must be declared in all foods under EU and Irish food law. Another product (oregano) was found to contain DNA from two undeclared plant species, one at significant levels. A third product was found to have no DNA from the plant species declared on the label, but instead rice DNA was identified. All three products are under further investigation.

“Our two year project has proved that next generation sequencing has the capacity to screen a variety of plant-based foods for the presence of undeclared plant species. It is important to understand that any results of the initial scan will always need to be corroborated by more established analytical techniques. Being able to scan the entire DNA content of a food means that it will be difficult to substitute or hide an ingredient of biological origin without it being detected. The plan is that in the future, the FSAI will apply the same technology for the screening of meat, poultry and fish products,” concluded Dr O’Mahony.

Source: Food Safety Authority of Ireland

Gadget: Portable Device Checks Food Contamination in Real-time


FoodTech startup Inspecto Ltd. introduces a new device that detects chemical contamination in food in real-time. The portable scanner can detect contaminants at concentration levels as required by regulators, guaranteeing traceability and complete transparency.

Inspecto’s innovative device brings lab testing to the farmers, food manufactures, and retailers without time-consuming, high-cost lab testing. The Inspecto solution is fast, accurate, affordable, and saves unnecessary costs. This high-tech solution offers the food industry the ability to tailor contaminant testing to their needs and location.

“Our solution helps make food safer and cleaner, and ensures maximum transparency,” says Avner Avidan, CEO of Inspecto. “We already are engaged in pilot projects with leading food companies wanting to take product safety assurance and traceability to the next level.”

The next-gen inspection system scans the product or the crop and identifies contaminants according to specific requirements of the client. A sample is placed in a disposable capsule for detection, inserted into the device, and then activated with a simple press of a button. It scans the sample and processes it automatically within minutes, resulting in a reliable, quantified measurement of the selected contaminant. The scan can be conducted outdoors or indoors, anytime to ensure responsible sourcing. All results are stored on a cloud, recorded and analyzed in real time. This high-tech device fills the industry’s need to conduct more frequent testing at different points along the production line, with immediate results.

“Since each scan is conducted in real-time and the results are stored on the cloud, Inspecto can offer additional services to our customers that, until now, were impossible for them to implement,” explains Avidan. “For example, it enables our customers to approve or reject a shipment on the spot based on the results, and they can even use blockchain to store their information more securely.”

“We developed a portable device to ensure the safety of the product ‘from farm-to-fork’ and help food manufacture control their entire supply chains,” says Yair Moneta, VP of Business Development for Inspecto. “It can disrupt the entire way contaminants are currently being tested, reducing the risk of recalls, food waste, and potential lawsuits.”

The Inspecto device can be tuned to identify almost any chemical contaminant, in any product, liquid or solid. “The advantage of Inspecto is the ability to identify and magnify the unique spectral fingerprint of each contaminant,” added Moneta. “Moreover, you can conduct multiple scans per day without waiting for the results or paying exorbitant lab costs.”

Source: Cision

Fruit and Vegetable Safety

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Eating a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables provides important health benefits, but it’s important that you select and prepare them safely.

Fruits and vegetables add nutrients to your diet that help protect you from heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. In addition, choosing vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other produce over high-calorie foods can help you manage your weight.

But sometimes raw fruits and vegetables contain harmful germs, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, that can make you and your family sick. In the United States, nearly half of foodborne illnesses are caused by germs on fresh produce.

The safest produce is cooked; the next safest is washed. Enjoy uncooked fruits and vegetables while taking steps to avoid foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning.

At the store or market:

  • Choose produce that isn’t bruised or damaged.
  • Keep pre-cut fruits and vegetables cold by choosing produce that is refrigerated or kept on ice.
  • Separate fruits and vegetables from raw meat, poultry, and seafood in your shopping cart and in your grocery bags.

At home:

  • Wash your hands, kitchen utensils, and food preparation surfaces, including chopping boards and countertops, before and after preparing fruits and vegetables.
  • Clean fruits and vegetablesExternal before eating, cutting, or cooking, unless the package says the contents have been washed.
  • Wash or scrub fruits and vegetables under running water—even if you do not plan to eat the peel—so dirt and germs on the surface do not get inside when you cut.
  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
  • Dry fruit or vegetables with a clean paper towel.
  • Keep fruits and vegetables separate from raw foods from animals, such as meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Refrigerate fruits and vegetables you have cut, peeled, or cooked within 2 hours (or 1 hour if the outside temperature is 90°or warmer). Chill them at 40°F or colder in a clean container.

Groups With a Higher Chance of Food Poisoning

Anyone can get a foodborne illness, but people in certain groups are more likely to get sick and to have a more serious illness. These groups are:

  • Children younger than age 5
  • Pregnant women
  • Adults aged 65 and older
  • People with weakened immune systems

If you or someone you care for has a greater chance of foodborne illness, it’s especially important to take steps to prevent it.

Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

California Farm Tied to E. coli Outbreak Expands Recall of Leaf Lettuce and Cauliflower

E.J. Mundell wrote . . . . . . . . .

The California farm where romaine lettuce was implicated in the recent nationwide E. coli outbreak said it is expanding its recall to include other forms of produce.

According to a company statement, Adam Bros. Farming Inc., in Santa Barbara County, said it is also recalling red and green leaf lettuce as well as cauliflower.

The company said it did so, “after it was discovered that sediment from a reservoir near where the produce was grown tested positive for E. coli O157:H7,” the strain implicated in the outbreak.

As well, “the Adam Bros. recall has prompted a sub-recall by Spokane Produce Inc., of Spokane, Wash.,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in its own news release issued late Monday.

Spokane Produce “recalled sandwiches and other products under the Northwest Cuisine Creations and Fresh&Local labels,” the FDA said.

Federal health investigators announced on Dec. 13 that they had pinpointed Adam Bros. as at least one California farm implicated in the recent outbreak of E. coli illness tied to romaine lettuce. They said that more farms in the same area are probably connected to the outbreak.

So far, 59 people across 15 states have come down with the often severe gastrointestinal illness. Health concerns were so high that just before Thanksgiving, the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked Americans to temporarily stop consuming all romaine lettuce while they investigated the source of the outbreak.

That investigation has now pinpointed Adam Bros. as a source, experts at the FDA and CDC have said.

“One of the samples tested by the CDC was positive for the outbreak strain by genetic fingerprinting, and was found in the sediment of an agricultural water reservoir at one ranch that is owned and operated by Adam Brothers Farming in Santa Barbara County, Calif.,” said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, senior advisor to the FDA Commissioner.

He said the farm was cooperating with the investigation. The farm hasn’t shipped romaine lettuce since Nov. 20, and Ostroff said the farm is “committed to recalling products that may have come into contact with water from the agricultural water reservoir.”

That said, other farms in the area might still be implicated, so “people should still pay close attention to where their lettuce is from,” he added.

Because of this and other recent outbreaks, romaine lettuce now sold in the United States has labeling indicating the place and date of harvest. If heads of romaine are sold loose, without affixed labels, retailers are being asked to post a notice showing place and date of harvest near the store register.

Most romaine sold in the United States is safe to eat. Right now, precautions are limited to romaine lettuce from just a few California counties, the FDA said.

“We continue to advise avoiding romaine lettuce from Monterey, San Benito and Santa Barbara counties in California,” Ostroff said.

Hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown romaine also does not appear to be related to the current outbreak.

Illnesses from the E. coli O157:H7 strain implicated in this outbreak have sometimes been severe. Although no deaths have been reported, there have 23 hospitalizations and 2 cases of kidney failure, health officials said.

“The E. coli strain isolated from ill people in the current romaine lettuce outbreak is also closely related to the E. coli strain isolated from people in a 2017 outbreak linked to leafy green in the United States and romaine lettuce in Canada,” noted FDA Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas.

So who’s most at risk from E. coli?

Dr. Robert Glatter is an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who’s seen the effects of infection with the gastrointestinal bug firsthand. It’s not a minor ailment, he said.

“In general, symptoms of E. coli infection generally begin about three to four days after consuming the bacteria, and may include abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, and watery or bloody diarrhea, along with fever,” Glatter said.

And while healthy people who battle a bout of E. coli typically recover within five to seven days, the illness can be more protracted — and even deadly — for people already made vulnerable by chronic disease or advanced age.

“People with diabetes, kidney disease or those with cancer or autoimmune disease run the risk of a more severe illness,” Glatter explained.

The particular strain of E. coli detected in the current lettuce outbreak — E. coli O157:H7 — is particularly nasty, he noted.

“Most strains of E. coli do not actually cause diarrhea, but E. coli O157 produces a powerful toxin that injures the inner lining of the small intestine, leading to bloody diarrhea,” Glatter said. Even a tiny amount of ingested bacteria could spur this type of illness.

“It can make people much more ill, and may lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure, in some cases,” he said.

In many cases, antibiotics are used to help beat back an E. coli infection, but these drugs can affect the kidneys, Glatter noted.

“Antibiotics may be necessary in certain cases, so it’s important to see your doctor if you have continued and severe symptoms such as fever, bloody diarrhea, and you are not able to eat or drink,” he said.

However, in the case of E. coli O157:H7, “taking antibiotics may actually increase your risk of developing kidney failure, so it’s important to speak with your health care provider if you should develop severe symptoms,” Glatter advised.

And if you do think you might be sick with E. coli, or any other foodborne illness, make sure you don’t spread it to those near you.

The bacterium “can be transmitted person-to-person, so it’s vital that anyone who is potentially infected wash their hands thoroughly and not share utensils, cups or glasses,” Glatter said. “This also goes for bath towels. Linens also need to be washed in hot water and treated with bleach.”

He noted that “ground beef, unpasteurized milk, fresh produce and contaminated water are common sources of E. coli bacteria.”

Source: HealthDay