Monday, December 3, 2018

Romaine returns: what you should know

Karla Salp

Romaine lettuce will soon be back on supermarket shelves.
Caesar salad lovers everywhere will soon be celebrating romaine lettuce’s return to local produce shelves. But with repeated recalls over the last several months, you may still have lingering concerns about buying romaine and other leafy greens. Here’s some food for thought.

What happened? 

Shortly before Thanksgiving, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a food safety alert about romaine lettuce linked to a multi-state E. coli outbreak. The alert called on stores to remove all romaine lettuce from the shelves and warned the public against buying or eating any romaine.

Investigations subsequently identified the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California as the likely source of romaine lettuce that sickened 43 people. At this point, no common grower, distributor, or brand has been identified.

This week, CDC lifted its food safety alert for all lettuce, except romaine grown in the Central Coast region of California, where the romaine harvest is already over for the year.

What about Washington lettuce? 

If you are sure you are buying Washington-grown romaine lettuce, you can purchase it knowing our state is not believed to be part of the outbreak.

Can I eat lettuce from other states?


Romaine lettuce from the growing areas near Yuma, Arizona or Imperial County and Riverside County in California; the state of Florida; and Mexico is not linked to this outbreak.  Romaine that has been grown indoors has not been associated with the outbreak.

Romaine returning to the shelves should be labeled with a harvest location and date.

If you aren’t sure where the romaine lettuce was harvested, the CDC still recommends against eating it.

Is produce contamination only a problem on big farms? 


Although consumers can become ill from food grown on large or small farms, there are many safeguards in place to help protect consumers. Federal regulations require large farms to adopt practices that prevent the spread of foodborne illness – particularly in foods that are consumed raw, like lettuce. While farms defined as “very small” are not required to comply with these regulations, many take training and employ food safety practices anyway.

What is WSDA doing to keep Washington produce safe to eat?

In 2016, WSDA started a new Produce Safety Program to focus on providing training and education in partnership with Washington State University about how to improve produce safety on farms as well as comply with federal regulations. Here are upcoming trainings in Washington:
Yakima – 12/6 (FULL)
Tacoma – 1/29/19
Anacortes – 2/19/2019
Richland – 3/6/19

WSDA also offers a free, educational farm visits, called On-Farm Readiness Reviews, to help farms prepare for compliance with produce safety inspections that will begin next year.

What can I do improve the safety of the raw vegetables I eat? 

Here are tips from the CDC to reduce your risk from eating raw fruits and vegetables:

Wash your hands, kitchen utensils, and food preparation surfaces, including chopping boards and countertops, before and after preparing fruits and vegetables.
Clean fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, or cooking, unless the package says the contents have been washed.
Keep fruits and vegetables separate from raw foods from animals, such as meat, poultry, and seafood.
Refrigerate fruits and vegetables you have cut, peeled, or cooked within 2 hours.
It is important to remember that eating produce provides many health benefits. Growers, processors, and the government take food safety seriously. You can help by taking simple steps like properly cooking and washing your produce to further reduce even the minimal risk that fresh produce presents.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Washington Grain Commission receives Director's Citation award

Chris McGann

Wheat was Washington's third largest crop in 2017 according to the USDA. 
WSDA awarded the Director's Citation to the Washington State Grain Commission this month to honor its 60 years of service to Washington’s agricultural community.

Proactive about meeting the challenges

Wheat farmers work in a challenging environment where issues such as weather, pests, disease, conservation, marketability and politics demand proactive attention.

At a recent awards ceremony in Portland, Oregon, WSDA Director Derek Sandison commended the Grain Commission, wheat farmers and the industry for supporting the research, marketing and education needed to address these challenges.

“I applaud the wheat industry and their partners for their dedication to ensure farming continues to be sustainable in our region,” Sandison said in a letter to the commission. “Through the continuous efforts of the staff, commissioners, growers and partners, I am certain that the wheat industry will have a positive effect on the State of Washington for many years to come.”

Exceptional Service to Agriculture

WSDA awards the Director’s Citation to highlight exceptional supporters of our state's farming, ranching and food producing community.

WSDA Director Derek Sandison presents Washington State
Grain Commission Chairman Gary Bailey the Director's
Citation award. (Photo courtesy Washington Association
Wheat Growers.)
“With nearly 2.2 million acres of wheat stretched across the state, Washington's wheat farms not only offer a crop vital to the effort of feeding the world with nutritious food, but also an important part of our state's economy,” Sandison said.

“Since 1958, the Washington Wheat Commission, now the Washington Grain Commission, has been steadfast in their aim to support the success and profitability of the more than 3,000 wheat farmers in our state,” he said.

For more information about the Washington State Grain Commission visit their website.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Do your horse a favor, give it a flu shot

Dr. Brian Joseph 
Washington State Veterinarian

Donkeys and horses are susceptible to equine influenza virus
but with regular vaccinations the disease is preventable. 
Equine influenza virus (EIV) or “horse flu” is a highly contagious but preventable disease found here in Washington.

Protect your animals with regular vaccinations and proper hygiene.

About horse flu

Equine influenza outbreaks occur annually in Washington and across the United States and are a major cause of economic loss due to lost training days and veterinary costs.

They can be prevented through immunization, but the virus remains persistent because of irregular or inadequate vaccination and asymptomatic disease carriers.

Horses in Washington have been infected

Every year, horses in Washington become infected with EIV. Since mid-November 2018, eight confirmed cases have been reported to the Washington State Veterinarian’s office. However, EIV is a common disease and is managed by private veterinarians, not WSDA.

Signs that your horse may have EIV

High fever
Thick green or yellow nasal discharge
Swollen lymph nodes under the jaw
Harsh, dry cough
Depression, loss of appetite and weakness

Most horses recover in two to three weeks, although complete recovery in severely affected animals may take several months. Any horse showing clinical signs should be isolated for at least 21 days.

Can humans get EIV?

No, but dogs can.

What to do if you think your animal may have the flu

Call your vet if you think your horse may be infected. Veterinarian treatment is vital for proper diagnosis and care. Uncomplicated cases require rest and supportive care. Affected horses should rest for a minimum of three weeks -- one week for each day of fever.

These horses should not attend shows or leave the premises during that time.


Equine influenza virus spreads rapidly through barns, race tracks and training facilities through the inhalation or contact with germs shed by infected horses.

Contaminated equipment such as feed buckets, tack and grooming aids can spread the disease.

Practice good hygiene

The virus can be inactivated by commonly used disinfectants and diligent use of hand sanitizer.
Exposure can be reduced through quarantine and observation of newly acquired horses for a two week period; a prudent practice after any horse acquisition or transport.

How to protect your animals

Vaccinate. This is a preventable disease with regular immunizations and biosecurity.

It is recommended that at-risk horses, such as show horses, be immunized at three month intervals while sedentary horses may be vaccinated annually due to a smaller risk of exposure.

Work with your veterinarian to come up with a vaccination program and biosecurity plan tailored to your needs.

For additional information visit WSDA's Animal Health Program page.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Regulating marijuana infused edibles like food

Chris McGann
WSDA Communications

The THC infused caramel center for a
Wave Edibles chocolate turtle.
A marijuana-laced munchable might calm your nerves, help you sleep or ease your pain; it might even get you high, but it shouldn’t make you sick.

That’s the rationale guiding Washington State Department of Agriculture's Food Safety program marijuana infused edible (MIE) facility inspections.

WSDA has conducted MIE facility inspections since 2013 under Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) authority. But this year the agency took charge of food safety regulation for the pot industry, including the power to carry out enforcement and recalls.

WSDA Food Safety Inspectors Keren LaCourse and Jeff Freshly
observe operations at Db3 marijuana processing facility.   
A lot like food

At a recent inspection of Db3, a high tech marijuana extraction and production facility in South Seattle, WSDA NW Regional Food Safety Manager Keren LaCourse explained the criteria with Db3 co-founder Michael Devlin.

“It’s just like a food inspection, but it’s edibles,” said LaCourse. “We look at some of the same criteria that we could look for in a food processing establishment.”

WSDA evaluates things such as proper hygiene, sanitation, pest control, materials storage, and allergenic cross contact to name just a few items listed on a 53-point checklist.

Welcome news to some processors

Devlin said he was pleased to know that WSDA now has its own regulatory authority over marijuana infused edibles and that it will be more involved with the edible companies.

Db3 co-founder Michael Devlin and Operations Manager Lindsay
Short explain their THC extraction process and food handling
 practices during a WSDA facility inspection.  
He said it makes sense to hold marijuana infused edible producers to the same standards as food processors, with the same accountability.

A new view

When voters legalized it in 2012, Washington State’s main goals for marijuana regulation involved tax collection, preventing misuse and product safety. 

As such, tax regulation for marijuana fell to the Washington State Department of Revenue while marijuana production, processing and retail sale regulations became the purview of the WSLCB.

But it wasn’t long before regulators and producers recognized the importance of covering marijuana infused edibles the same as traditional foods where WSDA has full authority over food safety.

If it's edible, food safety matters

A single 10 mg "dose" of cannabis oil. Db3
uses a proprietary process to extract oil used
to infuse goodies like brownies with THC.
There is only a miniscule difference – a 10 mg dose of a difference to be exact – between a brownie and a brownie-shaped marijuana infused edible. Of course, that little dose can really change how that brownie might make you feel. But you could be in for another kind of experience if the rest of the ingredients, the flour, butter and eggs for example, are mishandled, contaminated or mislabeled. Call that feeling salmonella poisoning to name one common pathogen.

Delvin said Db3 was the first licensed edible company in the state. The firm makes Zoots Premium Cannabis Infusions products such as ZootBites Caramel Espresso Brownies. He said he supported the state's efforts to come up with stronger food safety requirements for the industry.

The irony

An engineer by training, Devlin has more than 30 years in the food processing field. He admits his embrace of new regulations is ironic.

“When I was working in food processing, I always believed that we were overregulated,” he said. “But when we started with edibles, it was obvious we needed the same rules as the other food producers.”

Devlin said his opinion changed because of the nature of the new cannabis industry where there may be some incentive to focus on the THC and neglect quality control for the edible in which it is delivered. If edibles producers compete at that level, they may be taking shortcuts that could increase the risk of making consumers sick, he said.

Protecting the public and the industry

Crafting delicious chocolates has always been a vocation for
 Wave Edibles Chocolatier Nola Wyse. But now she's using her
 skill set to create treats that include a perfectly balanced infusion
 of marijuana extract. 
His desire to enhance food safety regulations in the cannabis industry came partly out of what he described as a moral obligation to protect public health, and also economic concerns.

“If someone gets sick from an edible, people aren’t going to say it was salmonella, the story is going to be that someone got sick from a marijuana product,” Delvin said.

A perception that infused products are unsafe would hurt everyone, he said.

“We are founding participants in a new industry, that’s a responsibility and we don’t take that responsibility lightly,” he said. “We want the industry to be more concerned about food safety. We need to do it right.”

Edible endorsement

About 75 firms with WSLCB Marijuana Processor licenses have purchased the WSDA $895 MIE Endorsement required for making marijuana edibles in Washington state. WSDA inspects facilities within the 12 months of the endorsement purchase.

It is not legal to add MIE products under a Food Processor license, process MIE products at a facility that processes non-marijuana food products or process non-marijuana food products at a facility that produces MIE products.

For more information about food safety and marijuana infused edibles, visit WSDA's Marijuana Infused Edible Inspections page.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

What do you think of biological control? Inquiring local scientists want to know!

Karla Salp
WSDA Communications

WSDA entomologist Maggie Freeman releases wasps
to combat invasive lily leaf beetles.
When it comes to fighting pests – whether weeds, diseases, or animals – many tools have been used over the centuries including manual removal, cultural changes, and use of pesticides. One of the lesser-known tools is biological control – or the use of natural enemies to attack pests.

While biological control may seem like a modern phenomenon, according to Wikipedia, biological control has been used for centuries. The first report of the use of an insect species to control an insect pest comes from China around 304 AD. Jiaozhi people sold ants and their nests attached to twigs, which they placed in trees to protect citrus fruits. The ants attacked and killed insect pests of the orange tree.

Despite their longtime use, some people are only familiar with stories of biological control agents in
Parasitic wasps laying egg on lily leaf beetle larva.
the first half of the 1900’s, some of which were released without adequate research and became pests themselves.

In an effort to understand current attitudes and beliefs about the use of biological control, WSDA is collaborating with Washington State University and the University of Alaska to conduct a survey to learn about public perceptions of classical biological control. Click here to take the survey, which should take about 15 to 20 minutes to complete. Feel free to forward to your friends so they can share their opinions, too!

If you have questions about the survey or project, contact WSDA entomologist Chris Looney.