Saturday, July 02, 2005

Milky way

Thursday's post (The milk of human dumbness) suggested the brouhaha over publishing a paper about terrorists putting something in the milk supply might be better directed to the USDA and the dairy industry to make the food chain safer. In particular, we called attention to the fact that everything said about the botulinum toxin issue in the scientific article the government tried to suppress was equally applicable to almost any other contaminant. One of our readers, Dan in Boulder, reminded me of this episode from ten years back, which I quote below from the Food Safety Network archives. Note the epidemiologist in charge of the investigation:

BOSTON -- A paper in today's New England Journal of Medicine by doctors from the Minnesota Department of Health and other agencies concludes that at least 224,000 people got sick two years ago from salmonella-tainted Schwan's ice cream, making this the biggest documented case of food poisoning traced to a single source. The outbreak was eventually traced to tanker trucks that were used to haul both ice cream mix and raw eggs.

One of the authors, Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, Minnesota state epidemiologist, called the Schwan's outbreak "a harbinger of things to come" because of the potential for spreading a single tainted ingredient to millions of people through nationally distributed foods.

The team calculated that nearly 3.4 million people ate some of the 1 million gallons of ice cream shipped from the plant in September 1994, and 6.6 per cent of them got sick. This works out to 224,000 cases of food poisoning. And that is believed to be a conservative estimate. The report said just three-tenths of 1 percent of the probable cases of salmonella poisoning from this episode were actually recognized by doctors and reported to state health departments

However, a Schwan's spokesman, said: "We have seen nothing that even remotely approaches that number."

He said he expects that by the time a class-action lawsuit is settled, 20,000 to 25,000 people will have made claims against Schwan's for food poisoning from the episode.

In an editorial in the journal, Dr. Martin J. Blaser of Vanderbilt University estimated that 1 percent of the population gets infected with salmonella each year. The Schwan's outbreak "probably reflects only the tip of the iceberg," he wrote.
Addendum, just released by the FDA:
July 1, 2005

FDA Issues Nationwide Alert on Possible Health Risk Associated with Cold Stone Creamery "Cake Batter" Ice Cream

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is alerting the public that products containing "cake batter" ice cream sold at Cold Stone Creamery stores throughout the country may be associated with an outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium infection in several states. After being informed by FDA of the potential contamination problem, Cold Stone Creamery has agreed to immediately remove all "cake batter" ice cream products from its stores throughout the country. Consumers who may have purchased take home products from Cold Stone Creamery containing "cake batter" ice cream should not eat them, but instead dispose of them immediately.

"FDA is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and our state partners to determine the source of the contaminated product and is issuing this alert to protect the public," said Dr. Robert Brackett, Director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition."

Salmonella Typhimurium is an organism, which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in small children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy people may only suffer short-term symptoms, such as high fever, severe headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Long term complications can include arthritis.

The ice cream's possible contamination with this organism came to light after multiple cases of infection with this form of Salmonella were reported in late May and early June, 2005 in Minnesota, Washington, Oregon and Ohio. To date, 14 people are ill from this unusual strain of Salmonella. Many of the people reporting this illness also reported consuming "cake batter" ice cream at a Cold Stone Creamery shortly before the onset of their illness.

Individuals who believe they have become ill as a result of eating this ice cream should consult their health care provider and contact their local health department.

FDA will keep the public aware as more information develops.