Up in the air — Drones aid in fight against mycotoxins

The appearance of mycotoxins in a field of crops isn’t usually an isolated instance. The toxins, which are produced by fungal growth on plants, can have a widespread presence in any given growing season. When one region suffers through a bad episode with a mycotoxin, nearby areas tend to struggle as well.

That’s why farmers and researchers have a vested interest in getting a bird’s-eye view of how mycotoxins spread — literally. Increasingly, aerial drones are being used to monitor how mycotoxins, and the fungi that cause them, spread from field to field and region to region.

David G. Schmale of Virginia Tech is one researcher who has been studying the way mycotoxins travel. Schmale and his team use drones equipped with a number of scientific tools to study the spread of fungi and other harmful crop pests, reports Chemical & Engineering News.

Some of these drones have Plasmon resonance sensors that can identify target pathogens and collect them on a specially designed surface. Through a series of “release-and-recapture experiments,” Schmale’s team releases spores of a fungus known to be local to the area. Before doing so, the researchers identify any piece of the fungus’s DNA that stands out, which will act as a tag in the wild, allowing researchers to track the fungus’s movement. [ More … ]

Water troughs identified as E. coli sites on cattle farms

In any facility where animals are raised, especially for food production, a considerable amount of effort goes into completing one of many goals: preventing E. coli from getting anywhere it’s not supposed to be.

To a certain degree, E. coli is inevitable; it naturally exists harmlessly in the intestines of people and animals. The problem is shiga toxin-producing strains, which are the kinds we associate with food poisoning.

On the farm, E. coli is spread around by feces. Cow feces not only come into contact with the animals that eventually become beef, but also with leafy greens and produce that isn’t protected by an outer skin. From there, contaminated food products can reach somebody’s dinner plate.

Now, a study coming out of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine shows that on farms, water troughs can facilitate the spread of E. coli among cattle, something that can be hard to detect.

“Farmers do not see a problem because there are no clinical signs in cows; it is totally invisible,” said study author Renata Ivanek. [ More … ]

New survey shows 76% of processors use rapid test kits for allergen control

Food Safety Magazine, as part of its Food Safety Insights program, has for many years been talking to food processors about their food safety and sanitation efforts. Recently, the magazine surveyed approximately 275 processors about “their most pressing problems and how they are dealing with those key issues.”

Specifically, they wanted to talk about one thing: allergen control (how they prevent unintended allergen cross-contamination) and, related, sanitation verification (how they make sure their cleaning efforts have been successful).

When asked to describe the strengths of their allergen control programs, about a third of processors mentioned the way they use validated cleaning processes, and how they continue to monitor and verify cleanliness through regular testing.

Validated cleaning processes are those have been documented as the best sanitation methods available for the given production environment. It goes hand-in-hand with sanitation verification, which is the process of making sure these cleaning methods are being implemented effectively. This can be done with several methods, including adenosine triphosphate (ATP) testing, protein testing and allergen testing. Each of these methods involves scientifically detecting trace residues from previously processed food and liquids. If residues are found, cleaning wasn’t sufficient. [ More … ]

Botulism suspected in deaths of four horses

Early last month, four horses became sick and died in Kittitas Valley, a scenic region of the U.S. state of Washington. Equine botulism is the suspect in all four deaths.

The horses, which came from the same farm, began experiencing symptoms — including weakness, difficulty swallowing and tongue paralysis — around the same time. Two were kept in pens, while two were kept in stalls, but they shared the same kind of feed: compressed alfalfa hay.

Equine botulism, which comes from the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, is usually deadly. It’s a progressive neuromuscular disease that quickly leads to weakness and flaccid paralysis (lack of muscle tone with reduced ability to move).

“They go down and can’t get up again,” veterinarian Michael Fuller told Daily Record News. “Once they get down, the survival rate is pretty much zero.”

Respiratory failure is typically the end result in infected horses. [ More … ]

Monday links

assorted allergy food

What’s the latest in the fields of agriculture, food safety, animal science and toxicology? Check it out here.

Animal Science:

Backyard chickens need more regulation — University of California – Davis
A growing number of chickens today are raised in backyards. Many people prefer to raise their own food because they think it will be safer than commercially raised food. Yet, a new study suggests that local ordinances aren’t adequately addressing human and animal health when it comes to backyard poultry.

Number of people killed by animals each year in the U.S. remains unchanged — Elsevier
Injuries inflicted by farm animals, bees, wasps, hornets and dogs continue to represent the most danger to humans, according to a new study. Horses and cattle account for 90% of farm accidents. “Preventing potentially fatal farm animal encounters should be a better promoted and supported public health initiative,” said one researcher.

Food Safety:

Meat safety: More than just E. coli Food Safety Magazine
When a recall occurs due to a food safety issue, the first thing that enters most people’s minds is pathogenic bacteria. Second would be extraneous material such as metal or plastic. Although these are serious issues, in recent years most food safety-related recalls have actually been due to the undeclared presence of foodborne allergens. [ More … ]

Largest recorded Listeria outbreak attributed to ready-to-eat meat

After months of investigation, the likely cause of the world’s largest-ever recorded Listeria outbreak has been narrowed down: ready-to-eat processed meat.

The South African outbreak has been ongoing since early 2017, with nearly 1,000 reported cases of listeriosis — 183 resulting in the deaths of infected persons, 79 of which were just babies.

This week, South Africa’s Minister of Health announced the culprit was a ready-to-eat, bologna-based product called “polony.” The implicated products were processed by the country’s largest consumer food manufacturer. About 93% of listeriosis patients interviewed by outbreak investigators said they had recently consumed the ready-to-eat meat.

What’s next? Consumers have been advised to avoid all ready-to-eat meat products. Recalls have also been issued for polony, as well as a variety of other meat products, like sausages and deli meats, due to the possibility of cross-contamination. [ More … ]

Time, cost-saving advice for commercial microbiology labs

Since the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, food manufacturers have drastically increased the amount of testing they do to comply with the more stringent rules and regulations. It’s no surprise that manufacturers have increased testing, since it’s one way to keep consumers safe from unintended allergen and foodborne pathogen contamination.

What often goes unnoticed, however, are the unsung heroes who help ease the burden for manufacturers: commercial testing labs.

“When a company just doesn’t have the capability or expertise to perform its own testing, commercial labs handle testing for them,” said Neogen’s Andrew Ciavattone.  “A company just has to box up a frozen sample, ship it out overnight, and the lab can start processing it the very next morning.” [ More … ]

How climate change affects agriculture

Since the creation of our Earth, its climate has seen many changes. Temperatures and humidity have been in flux over millennia; as these change, so do the growing conditions of our crops and the mycotoxin-producing fungi that grow on them.

These changes have significant implications to today’s growers. In the past century, a combination of elevated climatic temperatures and more frequent extremes in precipitation and drought have led to plant stress, and in turn, increased mycotoxin contamination.

As these climate extremes persist, they may threaten food security, as well as jeopardize animal and human health. Growers experience economic loss when their harvest is downgraded, rejected, or discarded due to the level of mycotoxin contamination. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. growers experience losses exceeding one billion dollars annually due to high mycotoxin levels.

Growers may also experience economic loss due to decreased harvest yield as companies struggle to adapt to rapidly evolving growing conditions and changing climates, including higher temperatures. Bernhart Schauberger, a researcher at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says that, “as soon as temperatures go beyond 30 degrees (Celsius, 86°F), it’s very negative for yield.” [ More … ]

Tox Tuesday: Kratom linked to opioids, Salmonella poisoning

Kratom, a plant-based drug commonly taken in an attempt to treat pain and addiction withdrawal, has been in the news a lot lately as authorities try to outline the health risks of the loosely regulated substance.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued two separate warnings about kratom in recent weeks. First, the FDA published a statement describing evidence that certain chemical compounds in kratom bind to the same brain receptors that highly addictive opioids (like oxycodone and hydrocodone) affect, suggesting that kratom could be abused in the same way opioids are.

“The model shows us that kratom compounds are predicted to affect the body just like opioids,” the FDA said. “Based on the scientific information in the literature and further supported by our computational modeling and the reports of its adverse effects in humans, we feel confident in calling compounds found in kratom, opioids.” [ More … ]

Monday links

What’s the latest in the fields of agriculture, food safety, animal science and toxicology? Check it out here.

Animal Science:

Surprising new study redraws family tree of domesticated and ‘wild’ horses — University of Kansas
There are no such things as wild horses anymore, researchers are saying after publishing a study that says the last wild horse species on earth, which lives in the Eurasian steppes, isn’t quite wild after all.

A growing ‘teacup’ pig problem — Farm Journal’s Pork
As teacup pigs become increasingly popular pets, animal shelters are taking in more and more of these animals as owners struggle with natural pig behaviors.

Food Safety:

How brands sabotage themselves where food safety is concerned — Food Quality & Safety
The food industry has defined expectations for today’s brands that reach beyond what was once expected by consumers and third-party organizations. Food safety must be at the forefront of each brand’s priorities, but it must also be demonstrated in more ways than might be expected. [ More … ]