Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – February 18th, 2005

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

February 18, 2005

Report Identifies Safety Concerns in Preharvest Stage of Food Production

Recent outbreaks of foodborne illnesses can be linked to contamination occurring in the preharvest stage of food processing, according to a new report by the American Academy of Microbiology (AAM). The report, “Preharvest Food Safety and Security,” states that due to environmental variability, food in the preharvest stage is more vulnerable to contamination than food in the processing and packaging stages.

Conceding that elimination of all foodborne pathogens is not a feasible goal, the AAM submits that the realistic objective of preharvest food safety is to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses by reducing the number of pathogens in food and potential for contaminants in the preharvest stage. To reach this goal, the report recommends establishing an accessible international database of genetic sequences for known foodborne pathogens, in addition to new and improved tools for detecting pathogens in farms and crops.

The report is based on the findings of a colloquium convened by the AAM in Perthshire, Scotland in December 2003. Participants of the colloquium also discussed creating guidelines for the best management practices at farms and establishing specific criteria to ascertain the success of preharvest intervention strategies.

To read the complete report, please go to: American Academy of Microbiology: Preharvest Food Safety and Security Report .
National Water Infrastructure Security Probed in New Study

A new report released by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) states that the nation’s water supply and water quality infrastructure remains vulnerable to terrorism. In the wake of the Sept. 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress and other policymakers are considering a number of options in this area, including enhanced physical security, communication and coordination, and research.

According to the report, a relatively small number of large drinking water and wastewater utilities (15 percent of all systems) are located in primarily urban areas and provide water services to more than 75 percent of the U.S. population. As Congressional appropriators determine where to allocate federal dollars these urban areas warrant attention, the CRS report suggested. While most utilities have emergency preparedness plans in place, many were established to respond to natural disasters and domestic threats such as vandalism.

Regarding physical security, a key question has been whether protective measures should be focused on the largest water systems and facilities, where risks to the public are greatest, or on all water infrastructure, since small facilities may be more vulnerable.

Efforts to develop voluntary protocols have been ongoing since the terrorist attacks, but have failed to produce a solution, the CRS report found. Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not authorized to require water infrastructure systems to implement specific security improvements or meet particular security standards.
Study Suggests Glove Use May Not Mean Safer Food

According to one recent study by scientists at the University of Oklahoma Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, food-handling gloves worn by fast-food restaurant workers may not reduce bacterial contamination. Data gathered from 140 fast-food restaurants in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Wichita, Kansas showed that flour tortillas handled by gloved workers were more than twice as likely to have coliform bacteria on them as were those handled by gloveless workers.

In the study, researchers collected 371 flour tortillas at restaurants from four fast-food chains in the two cities and tested them for bacteria. Although the results were not statistically significant, the study found that the coliform rate for samples prepared with gloved hands was 9.6 percent versus 4.4 percent for non-gloved hands. The presence of E. coli, Klebsiella sp., and S. aureus was detected in one, two, and eight samples, respectively.

The researchers note that the observed tendency of food workers to wear the same pair of gloves for extended periods and complacency might account for the apparent failure of gloves to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. The results further suggest that glove use might be counterproductive because workers might wash their hands less frequently when gloved.

The study was published in the January issue of the Journal of Food Protection.

To review a brief abstract of the study and/or purchase the full report, please go to: The Effect of Glove Use by Food Handlers in Fast Food Restaurants .

EPA Issues Proposed Rule on Pesticide Use in Water

A proposed rule and interpretive statement recently issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) affirms the agency’s public position that pesticide applications meeting compliance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) do not require additional National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The statement represents efforts by EPA to respond to recent court decisions necessitating the need for agency clarification regarding CWA permitting requirements as it applies to the introduction of pesticides to or over the nation’s waters. This action is in accordance with EPA policy that currently does not mandate a CWA permit when a pesticide meeting FIFRA requirements is deployed in public waterways.

The EPA first solicited pubic comment on this issue in a Federal Register Notice published in August 2003. The proposed rule is open for comment for 60 days until April 4th.

To read the EPA statement and proposed rule, please go to: EPA National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Information .

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