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Stolen E. Coli Contaminated Ground Beef Prompts USDA Warning

E. coli tainted beef that was recently stolen could become a public health threat.  U.S. regulators have issued a public health alert for about 14,800 pounds—671 kilos—of missing ground beef products that may be contaminated with the potentially deadly E. coli bacteria, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said on Thursday.  The alert came after a refrigerated trailer containing ground beef was reported stolen by Texas American Food Service Corporation.  A portion of the beef was set aside because the company thought it may have been tainted with E. coli.  The firm, based in Fort Worth, Texas, does business as American Fresh Foods, a privately held meat producer.  American Fresh Foods is working with the USDA and local and state police to recover the stolen product and truck and warned consumers not to buy its ground beef from questionable vendors.  The USDA’s public health alert covers ground beef products packaged for consumer use carrying the establishment number “EST. 13116″ on the package labels.  Bulk products carry labels bearing the establishment number “EST. 13116.”  The ground beef was produced on December 19th.

E. coli 0157:H7—Escherichia coli 0157:H7—is one of hundreds of E. coli strains, the vast majority of which are harmless.  Strain 0157:H7 is quite virulent and produces a powerful toxin that can cause severe illness and even death and is the leading cause of food and waterborne illness in the United States.  According to Center of Disease Control (CDC) estimates, there are over 70,000 cases of infection and 61 deaths occurring in the U.S. annually with most illness linked to undercooked or contaminated meat.  Although E. coli is routinely found on cattle farms and in the intestines of healthy livestock, outbreaks only occur when meat becomes tainted during slaughter, the bacteria contaminates the grounding process, and tainted meat is released and consumed by the public.  Symptoms of E. coli 0157:H7 illness include potentially severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and dehydration.  Children, the elderly and people with poor immune systems are most vulnerable.

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Tot Tower Block Recall Issued Due to Choking Hazard

Government regulators and eeBoo Corporation issued a voluntary recall for the toy maker’s Tot Tower blocks on Thursday, saying a plastic covering poses a choking hazard to children. New York-based eeBoo has received two reports of young children mouthing the plastic covering after it became detached from the block.  About 170,000 dangerous toys are being recalled. The blocks are the latest in a string of recalls of products manufactured in China that pose safety risks due to lead content, powerful magnets, or choking hazards.  The Tot Tower toys come in 10-block sets in various themes, including:  Things I Know New, Garden Fairies, Hardware Store, Around the Land, Read-To-Me, Animal Sounds, Animal Alphabet, ABC, and Nursery Friends. “Tot Towers” and “eeBoo Corporation” are printed on the products’ packaging.  The products have been sold at specialty and gift shops across the U.S. from January 2003 through September 2007 and retail for about $20.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and eeBoo advised consumers to immediately take the toys away from children and return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.  Consumers can also contact eeBoo Corp. directly to receive a replacement toy at (800) 791-5619 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.  eeBoo can also be visited at their Web site at http://www.eeboo.com.

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Listeria in Whittier Farms Milk Kills Two in Massachusetts, Sickens Two Others

Listeria tainted milk produced by Central Massachusetts’ Whittier Farms is the likely source of a listeriosis outbreak in that state, killing two elderly men and sickening two others.   Whittier has halted production and alerted its customers.  Listeriosis is a type of food poisoning especially dangerous to the elderly, pregnant women, newborns, and those with chronic medical conditions.  Investigators have been unable to pinpoint the exact listeria contamination source in the production process; however, samples tested positive for listeria, said Dr. Alfred DeMaria, the state’s director of communicable disease control.  DeMaria believes milk was tainted following pasteurization, perhaps when flavoring was added or during bottling.  Milk is sold under the names Whittier, Schultz, Balance Rock, Spring Brook, and Maple.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 2,500 people become seriously ill with listeriosis annually; 500 result in death.  In Massachusetts, about 25 cases are identified yearly, but DeMaria said those represent only a fraction since most people experience only mild flu like symptoms—fever, muscle aches, nausea, or diarrhea—never reporting them.  In serious cases, the disease spreads to the nervous system, causing headaches, stiff neck, and convulsions.  Listeria lives in soil and water and can easily contaminate dairy and beef products; because listeria thrives in cold, milk is an ideal environment.

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Topps Meat Company, Maker of E. Coli Tainted Beef that Sickened Dozens, to be Purchased by Premio Foods

The Topps Meat Company, the bankrupt ground beef processor that recalled millions of pounds of E. coli tainted meat in September, might soon have a new owner.  Premio Foods, of Hawthorne, N.J., is seeking to purchase Topps Meat via a federal bankruptcy proceeding in a deal that could close in early January. The 67-year-old Topps Meat Company was forced to seek Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Protection following an E. coli outbreak that sickened 100 people in the US and Canada that was blamed on the company’s frozen ground beef products.

Topps Meat Company, a leading US frozen ground beef processor, recalled over 330,000 pounds of frozen ground beef patties in late September following an E. coli outbreak in New York that sickened six people and was linked to one of its products.  While investigating the Topps ground beef E. coli outbreak, health authorities discovered a box of Topps frozen ground beef patties in one of the victim’s freezers.  Testing revealed the patties were infested with E. coli O157:H7. Days later, Topps recalled another 21 million pounds of beef.  Before it was over, the Topps Ground Beef E. coli outbreak spread to 8 states and several Canadian provinces.  Unable to absorb the costs of the Topps ground beef E. coli recall, the company closed its doors on October 5, and filed for bankruptcy in November.  Its Elizabeth, New Jersey processing plant has been idle ever since.

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Snuff Not a Safe Option for Those Looking to Stop Smoking

Snuff, or smokeless tobacco, is as dangerous as cigarettes and other forms of smoking.   This is the time of year for resolutions and what better resolution that to quit smoking?  Many trying to quit might opt for snuff, thinking it is a healthier choice. In fact smokeless tobacco isn’t a safe alternative, says a University of Minnesota cancer expert.  “The results of our studies do not support the concept that smokers should switch to smokeless tobacco,” writes Stephen Hecht, PhD.  “Long-term use of nicotine replacement therapy may be a better option.”  Hecht has been studying smokeless tobacco—mainly as oral moist snuff—for over two decades.  In fact, snuff can leave at a serious risk of developing cancer of the larynx and other ailments.

The two types of smokeless tobacco are chewing tobacco and snuff.  Chewing tobacco is sold in loose leaf, twist, and plug forms; snuff comes in moist, dry, and sachet forms.  The most popular form of smokeless tobacco today is moist snuff.  Hecht notes that smokeless tobacco—which can cause oral and pancreatic cancer—contains carcinogens called nitrosamines in levels similar to nitrosamines in cigarettes.  Nitrosamine levels in smokeless tobacco are about 1,000 times higher than in other consumer products and beyond the content allowed by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in products such as beer and bacon.  Products touting low nitrosamine claims don’t eliminate the risk, according to Hecht.  An enormous amount of indirect evidence indicates that nitrosamines are human carcinogens and tobacco-specific nitrosamines are one of the major groups of chemical carcinogens in tobacco products, no doubt responsible for the link between tobacco use and cancer.

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HIV Tests for Pregnant Woman, Infants in New Jersey Sparks Controversy

HIV tests will be routine for pregnant women and infants in New Jersey. Acting New Jersey Governor Richard J. Codey signed a measure into law Wednesday that will take effect in six months and will incorporate HIV testing as part of routine prenatal care.  HIV testing will also be required for some newborns in N.J. under the new law supporters say puts N.J. in the forefront of the national fight against transmission of the disease to babies.  “We can significantly reduce the number of infections to newborns and help break down the stigma associated with the disease.  For newborns, early detection can be the ultimate lifesaving measure,” said Codey, acting governor while Governor Jon S. Corzine is out of the country for the holiday.  Codey sponsored the bill as the Senate president.  The bill allows women to opt out of the HIV testing, but critics argue the screening will deprive women of their right to make medical decisions.

New Jersey is the first state to push HIV testing for both pregnant women and newborns.  Arkansas, Michigan, Tennessee, and Texas require health care providers to test a mother for HIV, unless she asks not to be tested, while Connecticut, Illinois, and New York test all newborns.  The law also requires newborns to be tested when the mother tests positive or her HIV status is unknown.  Riki E. Jacobs, executive director of the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation in New Brunswick, the state’s largest AIDS service agency, said the law won’t help the women who don’t get prenatal care.  “We need to focus on getting people into care and keeping them in care,” Jacobs said. “That is our most potent prevention weapon.”

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Secondhand Smoke Exposure Linked to Higher Rates of Allergies in Children

Secondhand smoke exposure is even more dangerous to children than once thought.  Although experts have long known that exposure to secondhand smoke either prenatally or early in life can raise a child’s risk of developing asthma symptoms, the evidence regarding allergies in general has been mixed, resulting in mixed consensus as to the effects of secondhand smoke on youngsters.  Secondhand smoke exposure causes respiratory symptoms in children and slows their lung growth and causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear problems, and more frequent and severe asthma attacks in children.  But now, a new secondhand smoke study, conducted at the Kaolinska Institute in Stockholm and led by Dr. Eva Lannero suggests that young children who were exposed to cigarette smoke as babies may be more likely to suffer from certain allergies.  This new secondhand smoke study suggests that it is possible that being exposed to secondhand smoke triggers inflammation in the lining of young children’s airways which may sensitize them to allergy-triggering substances.  In the new study, Swedish researchers found that four-year-olds who had been exposed to their parents’ cigarette smoking during early infancy were at greater risk of developing allergies to indoor allergens such as dust mites and cat dander.  The children studied were also at an increased risk of developing food allergies.  Lannero and her colleagues reported the findings in the medical journal Thorax.

The study included more than 4,000 families with infants born between 1994 and 1996.  Parents were asked whether either of them smoked when the child was two months, one year, or two years old.  At the age of four, the children had their blood tested for antibodies to a range of common allergens, such as cat dander, dust mite, and mold, as well as foods such as milk, eggs, and wheat.  The researchers found that children who had been exposed to cigarette smoke at the age of two months were 28 percent more likely to have antibodies to either an indoor air allergen or a food allergen.  In particular, their odds of being sensitized to cat dander were double that of children with no secondhand smoke exposure at two months of age.  These children were also nearly 50 percent more likely to have antibodies to food allergens.  The findings, according to Lannero’s team, support the theory that early damage to the mucous membranes lining the airways may make children more sensitive to allergens and offer parents yet another reason to keep their children away from secondhand smoke.

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Listeria Warning Issued in North Carolina Following Three Confirmed Cases of Listeriosis

A Listeria outbreak has prompted a warning from North Carolina public health officials. Following at least three cases of listeriosis in North Carolina, the North Carolina Division of Public Health is cautioning pregnant women to avoid eating soft cheeses, hot dogs and deli-style meats, and prepared salads. The Listeria cases were identified in Moore, Durham, and Mecklenburg counties; a probable case was identified in Buncombe County. All three confirmed listeriosis cases involved Latinas; two were pregnant women whose pregnancies ended in miscarriage. The third Listeria case also involved a pregnant woman; she delivered early but she and her baby are doing well. The probable listeriosis case involves another pregnant Latina who also lost her baby. All four women consumed soft cheeses from a variety of sources. Although the cases occurred close together in time, data from molecular testing conducted at the State Laboratory of Public Health confirmed different strains were involved. Because a single product does not seem to be the source, a general Listeria warning was issued. “This is a tragedy, which could have been avoided,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Jeff Engel. “Listeriosis can be prevented by avoiding unpasteurized milk and other potentially contaminated food, especially among vulnerable people.”

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Listeriosis outbreaks have been associated with consuming unpasteurized or raw milk, contaminated soft cheeses, vegetables, and ready-to-eat meats. The Listeria bacterium is found in soil and water and animals can carry the bacterium without appearing ill, contaminating foods of animal origin such as meats and dairy products. The bacterium has been found in processed foods that become contaminated after processing, such as soft cheeses and deli counter cold cuts. The disease typically affects pregnant women, newborns, and people with weakened immune systems and symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. If infection spreads to the nervous system, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can occur.

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Dangerous Toys Can Cause Eye Injuries, Ophthalmology Group Warns

Toy recalls and toy injuries are on the rise.  While many parents this year have worried about lead in toys, one medical organization is warning of another danger -   toys that can cause serious eye injuries. There were over 210,000 toy injuries treated in U.S. emergency rooms in 2005 and about 6,000 of those involved injuries to the eyes of children under the age of 15, according to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

This year, the CPSC recalled 61 toys involving more than 25 million products; over six million toys have been recalled due to lead, the highest number ever due to product defects. The attention paid to lead tainted toys is understandable.  Lead is known to cause cancer and reproductive harm and can cause mental and physical retardation and behavioral and other health problems in children.  In adults, lead can damage the nervous system. But lead is not the only toy injury danger children face.    Many other dangerous toys can damage children’s eyes, warns the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

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Alaris Pump Modules Recalled by Cardinal Health Following Death Reports

Alaris Pump modules manufactured by Cardinal Health where recalled this week due to a defect in the pumps that could lead to over-infusion.   The company became aware of the defective medical devices following a review of customer complaints and service data. Cardinal Health received one report of an injury and two reports of patient deaths that may be associated with the defective Alaris Pump modules.

The Alaris Pump module recall involves model 8100—formerly known as Medley Pump module—shipped prior to September 27th. Cardinal notified customers by registered letter, posted the letter on their Web site, and set up a dedicated call center and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been advised of the faulty Alaris Pump module.

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