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Israel – Food Safety Travel Alert

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Anyone who has stayed in one of the high-end Israeli hotels will know instantly what is  meant by an “Israeli breakfast.” At it’s best, it is opulent and can fuel an entire day’s tourist activities. Even modest Israeli hotel breakfasts put to shame the ‘complimentary’ breakfasts offered by hotel chains in the USA and Canada.

When my husband and I applied to renew our US passports several weeks ago, we decided that our first trip with the new documents would be to Israel. As soon as the passports arrived in the mail, we solidified our plans.

Our only previous visit to Israel was twenty-three years ago, and I could still recall the sight, smell and taste of those Israeli hotel breakfasts, complete with several choices of egg dishes, a variety of salads, sweet melons and juicy oranges, freshly baked breads and rolls, and decadent breakfast pastries.

We landed at Ben Gurion Airport on the evening of October 3rd, and took a taxi directly to the Orchid Okeanos Boutique Hotel, situated right by the beach in Hertzliya. Following an abbreviated night of sleep, we arose, eager to begin the day with one of those amazing breakfasts.

The offerings at the Orchid were neither opulent nor decadent by Israeli hotel standards. Nevertheless, we partook of freshly squeezed orange juice, freshly baked rolls and croissants, smoked salmon, halvah, and fresh melon. I drank cappuccino and my husband, who is not partial to coffee, opted for soy milk.

We decided to work off some of the calorie intake by walking to the car rental agency offices, some twenty minutes away. An hour or so after breakfast, while we were waiting our turn at the car rental desk, my husband became violently ill. Volunteer first responders from the Magen David Edom arrived at the scene with incredible speed, followed a few minutes later by an ambulance.

We spent the rest of the morning at the ER of the closest hospital. Fortunately, the doctors could find nothing organically wrong, and my husband recovered quickly. As we rode our taxi back to the hotel, I began to suspect he had been the victim of Bacillus cereus food poisoning.

Bacillus cereus (B. cereus for short) is a multi-talented, spore-forming microbe. One of its talents is the production of an enterotoxin – a heat-stable protein that can trigger vomiting in as little as thirty minutes after ingestion.

For the microbe to multiply in a food sample and produce its toxin, the food must be held at room temperature for several hours. But the soy milk – the most likely culprit – was kept in a small refrigerator in the breakfast room. Might the refrigerator have been defective?

We had our answer the next morning when I reached into the refrigerator and discovered it to be at room temperature. The LED status display on the front of the unit was flashing “OFF” in bright red letters.

With Israel’s reputation as a world leader in so many areas of medicine, science, and technology, it is easy to forget that this is still a third-world country in other respects. I have since learned from a reliable source that Israel is not equipped to test food for bacterial toxins. Test kits for these toxins are readily available and are relatively easy to use. This is not rocket science.

We allowed ourselves to forget that we were in the Middle East. I let down the food-safety guard I always have maintained during our travels to places such as Myanmar, Thailand and Bora Bora. And my husband suffered the consequences.

Don’t make the same mistake we did. Follow these safety rules whenever you travel, especially to third world countries.

1. Do not drink the water or use ice in your drinks;

2. Never eat food purchased from street vendors;

3. Avoid raw salads;

4. Be very cautious about the food you select from a buffet; and

5. Be watchful of holding temperatures for perishable foods.

By following these rules, you will miss some interesting taste experiences, but you will be more likely to remain healthy to enjoy the rest of your trip.

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Recalls and Alerts: September 27 – 30, 2018

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Here is today’s list of food safety recalls, product withdrawals, allergy alerts and miscellaneous compliance issues. The live links will take you directly to the official recall notices and company news releases that contain detailed information for each recall and alert.

If you would like to receive automatic email alerts for all new articles posted on eFoodAlert, please submit your request using the sidebar link.

Canada

Allergy Alert: Highwide International recalls Lavite brand Soft-Dried Mango (100g; Product code 2018 APR 20 / 2019 APR 20; UPC 8 936131 430107) due to undeclared sulfites.

Food Safety Recall: Ernie et Ellie (Montreal, QC) recalls various prepared foods that were manufactured under conditions that may have rendered them unfit for human consumption. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Food Safety Recall: Le Fumoir d’Antan recalls various smoked fish products that were not maintained frozen, which may have rendered them unfit for human consumption. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Europe

Allergy Alert (Belgium): Imperial Meat Products recalls Aoste Pain de Viande(100g; Best before dates 24/09/2018, 3/10/2018, 9/10/2018, 18/10/2018, 19/10/2018; Lots 004028, 004036, 004041, 004049, 004050) due to undeclared egg and gluten.

Allergy Alert (Netherlands): Hoogvliet recalls various products due to undeclared nut, shrimp, wheat and soy. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Allergy Alert (UK): N J Marketing Ltd recalls Lemon Bonbons (180g; Use by September 2019) due to undeclared soy and milk.

Food Safety Recall (France): Seeberger GmbH recalls Seeberger brand Popcorn (500g; Lots #L435136, L435137, L437018, L437019; Expiry dates 01/2020, 02/2020,  02/2020, 02/2020) due to elevated levels of mycotoxins.

Food Safety Recall (Germany): Glockenbrot Bäckerei GmbH & Co. OHG recalls BÄCKERKRÖNUNG Pro Vital Schnitte (500g; Batch code K264; Best before 01.10.2018) due to foreign matter (black plastic pieces) contamination.

Food Safety Recall (Germany): Seeberger GmbH recalls Seeberger brand Popcorn (500g; Lots #L435136, L435137, L437018, L437019; Expiry dates 01/2020, 02/2020,  02/2020, 02/2020) due to elevated levels of mycotoxins.

Food Safety Recall (Germany): Glockenbrot Bäckerei GmbH&Co. OHG recalls REWE Beste Wahl Pro Vital Schnitte (500 g; Best before 01.10.2018) due to foreign matter (black plastic pieces) contamination.

Food Safety Recall (Ireland): Manufacturer recalls various spinach leaves and mixed leaves containing spinach due to Listeria monocytogenes contamination. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Food Safety Recall (Italy): GASTRONOMIA D’ITALIA recalls COUS COUS POLLO E VERDURE (200g; Best before 07-10-2018) due to risk of microbiological contamination.

Food Safety Recall (Luxembourg): Seeberger recalls Seeberger brand Popcorn (500g; Lots L435136, L437059, L435137; Expiry date 31/01/2020) due to elevated levels of mycotoxins.

Food Safety Recall (UK-Northern Ireland only): Lidl Ireland recalls Lidl Baby Leaf Spinach (250g; Batch codes #260 & 261; Best before 23rd, 24th & 25th September 2018) due to Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

Food Safety Recall (UK-Northern Ireland only): Dunnes Stores recalls Fresh, Ready to wash, Spinach Leaves (100g; Use by 26th September 2018) and Fresh, Ready to Wash, Mixed Leaves (75g; Use by 26th September 2018) due to Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

Australia and New Zealand

Allergy Alert (Australia): V4 IMPORTS PTY LTD recalls Deli Spice Sesame Biscuit Black (150g; Best Before: 12/2019) due to undeclared peanut and gluten.

Allergy Alert (New Zealand): Harman Impex (NZ) Ltd recalls Idhayam brand Mantra Groundnut Oil (all batches; Product of India) due to undeclared peanut.

Allergy Alert (New Zealand): Bluerock Ltd recalls Veesey brand Egg Free Mayo (200g and 1kg; Best before 8/11/18, 15/11/18 and 19/10/18) due to undeclared egg.

Allergy Alert (New Zealand): Foodstuffs Own Brands Ltd recalls Pams brand Couscous (500g; Batch #NZ006577; Best before 06/08/2019) due to undeclared peanuts.

Op-Ed. FDA acknowledges Kellogg – Kerry tie in Honey Smacks cereal outbreak

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Now that the outbreak is over and the question is purely academic, FDA has acknowledged Kerry Inc. to be the manufacturer behind the Salmonella Mbandaka outbreak linked to contaminated Kellogg’s Honey Smacks breakfast cereal.

Earlier today, FDA released an update to its outbreak investigation report, stating:

“The FDA, CDC, along with state and local officials investigated a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Mbandaka infections linked to Kellogg’s Honey Smacks sweetened puffed wheat cereal. The FDA worked with Kellogg’s to voluntarily recall Honey Smacks from the market and conducted an inspection at the manufacturing facility owned by Kerry, Inc., resulting in a warning letter identifying specific problems at the facility.

The FDA is working with Kellogg’s to ensure Honey Smacks are safe when they are again available to consumers and is continuing to warn consumers against eating any Honey Smacks with a marked “best if used by” date before June 14, 2019.”

The acknowledgment came just two days after CDC declared the outbreak to be at an end, and just three days after a spokesperson for FDA declined eFoodAlert’s request to identify the strain of Salmonella found during the agency’s inspection of the Kerry Inc. manufacturing facility in Gridley, Illinois.

Why the secrecy? Why the delay?

News of the outbreak first broke on June 14, 2018, with a voluntary recall announced by The Kellogg Company, and an outbreak investigation notice from FDA and CDC.

On July 26th, FDA released the text of a Warning Letter issued to Kerry Inc. pursuant to an inspection of the company’s Gridley, Illinois facility.

On July 31st, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to FDA for the inspection and lab reports on which the warning letter was based.

On September 25th, almost two months after making the request, I received the redacted reports. I immediately inquired as to why the specific Salmonella strain found inside the Kerry cereal production plant was redacted from the report. I was told, “The information you have received via foia is all we can provide at this time.” 

Why should this matter?

The Kellogg Company is not Kerry’s only customer.

As I reported three days ago, Kerry initiated its own voluntary recall on July 12th. The recall was not publicized. On July 16th, General Mills also issued an unpublicized recall for a Cheerios variety that contained an ingredient matching the description of the material recalled by Kerry.

According to a spokesperson for CDC, with whom I had an exchange of email messages in late August, no other cereals were linked to the outbreak. Nevertheless, many milder cases of salmonellosis always go unreported, especially by those who cannot afford a visit to the doctor or clinic.

There is no way of knowing whether anyone became infected as a result of eating the recalled General Mills cereal. And, in the absence of a public recall notice, US consumers were left ignorant of the risk.

Breakfast cereals, especially sweetened cereals, are consumed preferentially by children – one of the most vulnerable sectors of the population. In this instance, FDA put the ‘privacy’ concerns of Kellogg, Kerry, and other companies above its mandate to protect the public from contaminated food.