recent outbreaks of hepatitis A linked to imported scallions
(green onions), which have killed three people and sickened
over 600 people, are the latest examples in a sharp rise in
foodborne illness from fruits and vegetables. Foodborne illness
from fruits and vegetables is a huge challenge for the industry
and regulators as Americans demand fresh produce year-round.
Much of the demand is met with imports from countries with less
stringent sanitary standards.
1996 and 1997 large outbreaks of foodborne illness were traced
to imported raspberries and from 2000 to 2002 there were three
large outbreaks of salmonella traced to imported cantaloupes.
Our diet has shifted; we are eating more food that is minimally
processed and the food comes into American markets from a broader
variety of sources. With the increase in the volume of production,
when something goes wrong it goes wrong on a larger scale. It
is a difficult trade-off.
causes the outbreaks?
foodborne illness outbreaks can be traced to contamination that
occurs at the place of preparation, due to improper sanitation
in processing plants/restaurants/homes or due to poor sanitation
on farms. The quality of water used at the plant can also contribute
to contamination. Hepatitis A is a common childhood disease
in developing countries. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
has confirmed that children work on the supplying scallion farms.
Sewage-contaminated water could also have been the culprit,
whether it was used to irrigate the scallions or wash them in
the field or to make the ice used in shipping.
A is spread by fecal matter from infected people; particularly
those who fail to wash their hands after using restroom. The
virus can survive in food but does not multiply outside the
body. Hepatitis A is a liver disease that develops within 6
weeks of an exposure. It is characterized by jaundice (yellow
coloration of skin), fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite,
nausea, diarrhea and fever.
happened in recent case?
restaurant received the scallions in 8.5 lbs. boxes containing
multiple small bundles. After the boxes were unpacked, bundles
were stored upright and refrigerated in a bucket with ice included
in the shipment. These bundles were stored for more than five
days before processing. During processing, employees rinse intact
bundles, cut the roots off and removed the rubber band. Restaurant
workers chopped eight quarts of scallions in a machine and refrigerated
it for more than two days. Periodically, salsas were prepared
in batches of 40-80 quarts. Mild salsa contained scallions while
the hot salsa did not use scallions (and were not implicated
in the outbreak). Mild salsas have a shelf life of three days.
Mild and hot salsas were provided to each customer upon seating
at the restaurant.
POLICIES AND TRAINING
sanitary facilities for field workers is the first line of defense.
Appropriate water quality, use of properly treated fertilizer
and good employee health is also very important in the field.
Item such as scallions and strawberries are more vulnerable
to contamination because their plant surfaces are particularly
complex or adherent to viral or fecal particles. Always obtain
all your supplies, including produce items from approved and
reliable sources. Before you process fruits and vegetables in
the restaurant or any other food service establishment, WASH
WASH WASH! For scallions, cut the rubber bands and the roots
first to wash the produce under cool running potable water.
Wash it thoroughly rather than just rinsing it off under water.
Cook the scallions thoroughly in a casserole or sauté in a skillet.
Monitor your employee health by checking for illness symptoms.
Don’t forget to reinforce the importance of hand washing. Education
is the first line of defense in the battle for food safety.
Back to the food index page
the HDHHS Bureau of Consumer Health Services