Archive for the ‘food and food-producing animals’ Category


Friday, October 14th, 2011

The culprits, this time.

Reading "USA Today" online, I found an article detailing the repercussions of the recent/ongoing outbreak of disease linked to cantaloupes coming from one specific farm in Colorado. That operation, Jensen Farms, re-called its fruit in mid-September. The Food and Drug Administration and the Seattle-based Institute for Environmental Health have not yet found the root cause of the outbreak. Since the normal shelf life for cantaloupe is ~two weeks, none of the Jensen Farm product should still be in stores. And no other sources have been implicated. Nonetheless, cantaloupe producers in California and Arizona, the two states with the largest crops of this fruit, are seeing sales plummet 80% or more.

That probably shouldn't surprise us. Spinach sales, devastated by the 2006 E. coli outbreak, are still down nearly a third in one California county.

As of October 12, the current outbreak had led to 116 illnesses and 23 deaths, making it the deadliest in more than a quarter century. There was another outbreak in Texas in October of 2010; that one was related to celery and resulted in 10 total illnesses and five deaths.

I went to several online medical sites to refresh my memory on Listeriosis. When I dealt with infections from this bacteria it was in immuno-compromised patients. Listeria is found worldwide, often in association with farm animals, many of which are otherwise healthy carriers of the bacterium. People can also be carriers and perhaps five to ten percent of us have Listeria in our bowel flora.

There are roughly 2,500 US cases of Listeria infections yearly and about a fifth of those infected die. Most are isolated cases, not major outbreaks The bacteria isn't transferred from person to person with the exception of pregnant women and their fetuses or newborn babies.

This is a foodborne illness, most commonly associated with improperly processed deli meats or unpasteurized milk products.

About 30% of all reported US cases occur in pregnant women. As opposed to the majority of us, who may have nonspecific symptoms, or none at all, pregnant women can transmit the infection to their fetuses or to their newborn infants. They also may have minor symptoms, if they are otherwise healthy, but Listeria can lead to miscarriages, stillbirth, premature birth or, potentially, to serious disease or death of newborn babies.

Others at higher risk for serious disease when infected with this bacterium include the elderly, diabetics, cancer patient, AIDS patient, those with significant kidney disease and anyone on immunosuppressive drugs.

It's tough to diagnose Listeria infections: the most common signs and symptoms include fever, muscle aches, nausea and/or diarrhea. There are no reliable tests for the bacteria, so the diagnosis is difficult in the absence of a history of exposure to a potentially contaminated food source during an outbreak.

Most of us clear the infection without any treatment; those at higher risk should be considered for immediate IV antibiotics and consultation with an Infectious Disease specialist is recommended (and if a pregnant woman has the inception, an Ob-Gyn specialist and a Pediatrician should be involved.

Antibiotics for Food-Producing Animals, Part Two

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

This turkey could end up as ground meat

The August 13th edition of The Wall Street Journal contained an article extending the discussion of the recent ground-turkey-related disease outbreak and the routine use of antibiotics in animals raised as food. It noted that the FDA has been reviewing the subject for 40+ years without issuing firm restrictions, supposedly because of a lack of data on resultant health risks in people.

There's a long, long pattern of recommendations coming from scientific panels without any conclusive followup by the FDA or the USDA. The history of these committees and advisory groups is well documented in a Health and Human Services paper I found online and will briefly summarize. I'll provide a link for your own perusal if you get interested in reading more on the subject.

In 1968 the UK started a Joint Committee on the Use of Antibiotics in Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Medicine . The "Swann report" presented to Parliament the following year concluded "that the administration of antimicrobials to food-producing animals, particularly at sub-therapeutic levels, poses a hazard to human and animal health."

That seemed clear-cut to me. The report said that the increase in antibiotic-resistant enteric (intestinal) bacteria of animal origin resulted from the use of those drugs for growth promotion of farm animals.

enteric bacteria in their home turf

Since then, there have been a number of "expert panels" and task forces, both in the United States and elsewhere that have reached essentially the same conclusions. What's lacking is any large study (preferably more than one)  showing a direct connection between antibiotics being given to entire herds and resultant human illness. There has been a lot of "indirect evidence" implicating the widespread use of these drugs in animals as a potential human health hazard.

The animals in question, typically turkeys, chickens, cattle or pigs, are  not being treated for specific diseases. They are, en masse, given antibiotics in their feed or water, primarily to increase their weight gain (and thus their profitability for the companies raising them).

A spokeswoman for the National Turkey Federation was quoted as saying, "Antibiotics have been safely used on farms...for half a century to treat and control disease in animals and to improve the animal's (sic) overall health, allowing for greater productivity."

The article in The Wall Street Journal said, "Industry groups are cautious about regulation." They feel human health may actually be improved by the longstanding practice of antibiotics being added to feed and that meat prices are lower becuase the animals use less energy fighting disease and therefore grow faster.

Now six members of Congress asked the FDA to actually implement the proposed rules. After all, it's only been 40+ years and a number of outbreaks since the concept has first been proposed. There was another recall in April 2011, this one of ~55,000 pounds of ground turkey.

It's about time to tighten up the rules.

grass-fed (and grass-finished) vs. grain-finished beef

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

What's your beef?

We've been buying meat (a bison we split four ways, a young sheep we shared with another couple and, most recent a quarter beef) that's been grass-fed and grass-finished. I always thought it was a healthier way to eat red meat, even though overall we're eating smaller meat portions, more fish and chicken, lots more fruit and veggies all the time and an occasional meat-free main meal.

Now I found a very well done (no pun intended) examination of the issue at the website. CNN discussed the Cooking Light Test Kitchen. We have a subscription to that magazine and enjoy its recipes, but I didn't know much about its test kitchen. They had a complete article on the grass-finished vs. grain finished beef controversy. I say grass-finished since essentially all cows eat grass to start with, but some eat only grass and perhaps some hay for six months to a year. Others, those who end up in those huge feedlots like the ones we see when we drive east in Colorado, eat corn mixed with soy and other edibles and are given hormones and lots of antibiotics, whether they are ill or not.

I won't even get into the subject of drug-resistent bacteria in this post, but instead I'll stick to the question of "Can a grass-finished ruminant taste good and can I afford to buy grass-finished beef?" I should mention bison as well, but that meat wasn't tested in CNN's study.

In short, the answer is going to be yes for almost all of us. I know the meat will be less fatty (there's always going to be some fat, of course), but cooked properly, anyone other than those who are specially "trained to evaluate sensory characteristics in beef" won't know the difference. I have a friend who raised beef cattle in Nebraska and disagrees with me on the subject, but the Nutrition Journal article I just quoted (I printed the entire journal article that was mentioned in passing in the CNN piece), basically said it's what you grew up eating. Consumer "sensory panels", that represent the vast majority of us, they felt, were more of an art than a science.

So what are the advanatges and disadvantages of grass-finished beef. It's got fewer calories, roughly four and a half pounds worth per year if you eat as much beef as the average American. Its fat is yellower than the grass-finished cow's, representing more beta-carotene, a significant antioxidant. And it contains more omega-3s as well as more Vitamin A & E.

Disadvantages? It may cost more, if you buy it at the supermarket, but try your area's CSA or look for a local farmer who raises beef and buy it in bulk. CNN got 243 pounds of meat for $5.32 per pound, just a tad higher than they would have paid in supermarkets. We paid <$3 per pound for the quarter cow we bought recently. I'll finish the Chico State article + one from Tufts in another post.

Good fish, bad fish: a cautionary tale

Monday, March 21st, 2011

This fish is in trouble

I've learned something about fish food poisoning these past few weeks. Perhaps I knew about it  in medical school, but that was a long time ago. We love fish, consider it a treat, eat it several times a week and, once in a while, partake of other marine creatures. I like mussels as long as they're cooked,  and will eat sushi, but never raw oysters.

So four people we know have had apparent fish-related food poisoning recently. They didn't eat at the same place or the same fish. That got me curious and I started to hunt down types of food poisoning related to eating fish and other marine critters. I found two that aren't the usual bacterial- or viral-caused forms (I'll write about those another time).

So what happened in the first instance was at a play when a close friend got suddenly and violently ill. He collapsed, was "out of it" for perhaps thirty seconds (I thought cardiac arrest or major stroke), then sat up and vomited copiously over himself and his spouse. Then he seemed weak, but otherwise normal. I went with hin to the ER where he was monitored for cardiac rhythm changes for four hours, got blood work and had a brain scan. All those were essentially normal, but he vomited four more times in the ER and once more as I was driving him home.

Over the next two weeks he had a cardiac workup with an echocardiogram, a stress test and a 24-hour Holter monitor for rhythm disturbances. All those were negative. He was previously reasonably healthy for his age of 72 and had no history of any seizure disorder.

A few other tests are pending, but then I spoke to a friend who had suffered a similar illness and heard of two others in the community. I went hunting for odd forms of food poisoning as none of these folk had diarrhea and none had sequelae of their short-term illness.

I finally heard the term scromboid fish food poisoning. All four had eaten fish and several had eaten shellfish.

Scromboid turns out to fit better than other diagnoses. It's typically associated with the consumption of fish, especially Scombridae fish like tuna or mackerel. It has a rapid onset, is marked by abdominal symptoms and or prostration, headache, palpitations, or flushing., sometimes tachycardia (rapid heart beat) and low or high BP and usually is self limited. It is caused by a toxin which is not inactivated by cooking and may be associated with spoiled meat.

The CDC says it's the most common chemically-related food poisoning in the United States., but at that only causes 5% of the food-related illness reported. It's much less nasty than ciguatera, the other fish related illlness I found. That one is also toxin-related, heat-resistent, can cause somewhat similar symptoms, but can lead to months ort even years of problems.

After reading of these I'll still go back to our favorite fish restaurant; they had no other patrons with similar symptoms. Scromboid seems to be relatively uncommon & mild in retrospect. On the other hand some speculate that ciguatera caused the migration of the Polynesians between 1,000 and 1,400 CE.

Eggs, eggs and more eggs

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Eggs from Morning Fresh Dairy

I recently started eating egg whites on a regular basis.  We get our eggs from the Morning Fresh Dairy, the same organic dairy that delivers milk to our front door once a week. Lynnette gets a half gallon of fat-free, locally produced milk every week and I  buy a half gallon of their whole milk every other week. The herd resides about eight miles from us and we enjoy purchasing local products whenever we can. Since I'm moderately lactose intolerant, I also buy vanilla soy milk.

We get eggs from the same dairy, and usually go through a dozen a week. I worried about the cholesterol in the eggs yolks although I love to make omelets. So more recently I've started hard-boiling six eggs at a time, keeping the resultant cooked eggs in the refrigerator and eating just the whites. I felt good about getting egg protein, but hadn't done my due diligence so today I started looking at various comments on eggs.

The eggs come from Platteville, Colorado, a small community about 35 miles southeast of Fort Collins where we live. They're produced under the United Egg Producer Animal Husbandry (UEP) standards and, having Googled those, I'm reasonably content. For instance those chickens get no hormones in their food. The UEP standards started with an independent scientific advisory committee in 1999 and came out as a voluntary program in 2002. The USDA and an independent firm called Validus audit farms seeking UEP certification annually and look at cage space, clean water and nutritious food issues.

a better chicken coop

On the other hand, The Humane Society issued a statement against the UEP in 2009, saying their standards were misleading and the so-called battery cages were abusive. In response the UEP issued their own statement in January 2010 discussing revisions in the guidelines. I haven't been to the Plateville facility, so I can't comment on their "hen-friendly" environment.

The other issue is eating eggs. There has been a recent downplay of the role of dietary cholesterol as a risk factor as compared to saturated and especially trans fats. The Harvard nurses' longitudinal study found that consuming an egg a day wasn't associated with a higher risk of heart disease.

Chicken eggs have been termed the "perfect protein" and supply all essential amino acids needed for humans. The yolk is the question I haven't totally resolved: it contains all the egg's vitamin A, D, and E, but rougly four times the calories of the egg white and a large yolk has greater than two-thirds of the recommended daily intake of 300 mg. of cholesterol. There is debate as to whether the egg yolk presents a significant health risk with a variety of research studies showing differing results. On the other hand, one amino acid, choline, is found only in the yolk. Pregnant and nursing women need choline (from some source), as it's needed for fetal brain development.

So for now I'm going to continue eating my hard-boiled egg whites and I'll try to go to Plateville and do my own inspection of the chicken farm one of these days.