Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Testing, testing, testing for Cronobacter sakazakii in powdered infant milks
According to an article written by Punendu C. Vasavada, Ph.D., written in August of 2005, "A mere two years ago, the food industry did not have a method to test for E. sakazakii..." [what we now have renamed Cronobacter sakazakii courtesy of researchers employed by the University of Zurich, Switzerland, Nestle Research Center, and University College of Dublin, Ireland]
Dr. Vasavada writes about the difficulty of determining how E. sakazakii gets into infant formula. He mentions how it has been isolated in very low concentrations, "and even at these low levels, exposed at-risk infants have suffered serious injury and death." In this article, he describes 3 methods of isolating and enumerating E. sakzakii from powdered infant formula: the European Method, Canadian Method and the FDA Method. These methods are all slightly different. Then he discusses newer methods using PCR (polymerase chain reaction) for rapid screening of infant formula samples. He states, "In collaboration with Nestle Research Centers in Switzerland and the U.S., Dupont Qualicon developed and introduced in 2003 a PCR-based assay for rapid detection of E. sakazakii in infant formula, dry dairy and soy ingredients samples."
So we have gone from no methods to test for this organism in powdered infant formula prior to the year 2003 to the development of rapid screening methods using PCR. Some of the same researchers (employed by Nestle) who renamed E. sakazakii to Cronobacter also wrote another paper called, "Development of a Novel Screening Method for the Isolation of "Cronobacter' spp. (Enterobacter sakazakii)," published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology in February of 2008 with one of the authors affiliated with Oxoid Ltd. (a company that sells rapid test kits for the food industry, government, for such pathogens as Cronobacter sakazakii).
Oxoid Ltd. developed a PCR assay for the DuPont Qualicon BAX system. Dupont Qualicon "collaborated with the Nestle Research Centers in Switzerland and the United States to develop a PCR-based assay for rapid detection of Enterobacter sakazakii in food and environmental samples."
Oxoid Ltd is one of the many partners to the CDC Foundation. Some of the many partners are Abbott Laboratories (Ross infant formulas), Bristol Myers Squibb Company (Mead Johnson formulas), Pfizer (which bought out Wyeth's infant formula division), Target (which sells its own brand formula), The Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation, many other drug and food companies like Cargill, Coca-Cola, GlazoSmithKline, Gilead. OraSure (hiv testing), Eli Lilly, Genentech, Merck). These partners work with the CDC Foundation's projects.
As someone looking at this situation from a perspective of research funding and influences, I am rather concerned. You have a huge food corporation, Nestle, funding the research for testing of powdered infant formula and other powdered milk products. Or should I say you have researchers who are paid by Nestle to create testing kits for Enterobacter sakazakii, renamed to Cronobacter (renaming based on research done by some Nestle researchers). While I understand a food company's interest in the development of testing kits for food pathogens, I feel concerned about how in 2011 we cannot find this renamed organism in powdered infant formula. Yet, babies are still dying and being maimed by this organism. So should we believe that the infant formula industry has fixed the problem of contamination by this organism in powdered infant formula? And should we now believe that that the problem is in the environment, somewhere in the environment, either the parent improperly fixing the product or the hospital personnel improperly fixing the product? Legally for the infant formula industry, not finding this pathogen in powdered infant formula this year is financially beneficial. No lawsuits because they can prove by tests (that industry created) that the organism no longer resides in powdered infant formula. It leaves this situation in a terrifying muddle because parents cannot know exactly how to protect their infant, other than breastfeeding. And we know from the various infant formula blogging mommies that that isn't going to happen anytime soon. I would feel more comfortable about this situation, if the tests that were developed had no one from the food industry involved. And I would feel more comfortable about this situation if the CDC was not getting its "projects" funded by the CDC Foundation that partners with most of the infant formula, food, and drug industry. Why aren't we more concerned about the kind of influence and funding going on that impacts our health care system. Testing kits are becoming the bread and butter of our medical care, and yet their accuracy seems to go unquestioned. We use genetic engineering techniques for these tests based on the belief in the infallibility of the science. Yet from my perspective, it is akin to believing in the infallibility of the Catholic Pope. Medical science has become a faith-based system and all doubters are excommunicated.
Copyright 2012 Valerie W. McClain