C-diff on US onions behind latest labeling laws push

The horticulture industry has come out in support of Australian grown onions following yet another contamination scare from produce imported into Australia, this time onions shipped from the USA. “We have undertaken a national education campaign to alert both retailers and consumers that Australia has a plentiful supply of our own locally grown onions,” said Lechelle Earl, CEO of Onions Australia. 
Clostridium Difficile, or C-diff, a notoriously drug resistant bacteria was on the rise in Australia, and on Sunday Australian health officials linked the spike in cases to onions imported from the US. “Looking at the nasty strain in patients we found (the genomes) were identical so there had to be a common source and the most likely source is food,” Said Professor Thomas Riley, a professor of microbiology at the University of Western Australia, in a story published by News Limited’s Daily Telegraph. “We overlayed imports of onions at the time for this particular bug and it (the genome) was a perfect match.” 
As with the recent Hepatitis A scare from packages of frozen berries imported from China, C-Diff contamination occurs through contaminated human or animal feces infecting the produce, and cannot be washed away. Any produce fertilised with cow or human manure is at risk. 
Currently imported produce is not screened for C-diff under Australian regulations, however the latest findings, which follow a spike in cases in 2011 and 2012, could lead to changes in both country of origin labeling and screening laws if bodies such as Onions Australia have their way. Professor Riley also said that it is difficult to test for C-diff on foodstuffs, because the bacteria likes to grow in the human gut and isn't easily cultivated in a petrie dish.
Onions Australia has urged all consumers to confirm exactly where onions have been imported from, and to ensure they are Australian grown in its statement. The group has also said that Coles and Woolworths have undertaken a guarantee not to buy US onions, but to supply Australian grown. Independent retailers, however, are not bound by a similar guarantee.
C-diff has been found in 450 hospitals across Australia, and there are 150 cases detected in NSW each month. In the US cases have reached pandemic proportions, with 500 000 reported each year, and 15 000 deaths. Symptoms of C-diff infection include sever diarrhoea, fever and stomach pains.
Source: Fresh Plaza
Publication date: 4/3/2015