Faith-based food safety has to go after audit deception in China: McDonald’s CEO can do better

Not surprisingly, the China meat scandal has widened.

audit.checklist-241x300McDonald’s Corp feels “a bit deceived” by the audit it received for Shanghai Husi Food Co Ltd, a China supplier that was shut down this week after a TV report showed workers mishandling meat, Chief Executive Don Thompson said on Tuesday.

“We are no longer serving product from the primary facility there that has the challenges and the issues,” Thompson said on a conference call after McDonald’s reported lower-than-expected quarterly earnings.

But why would a huge brand rely an audit?

The Shanghai Food and Drug Administration on Sunday halted operations of Shanghai Husi following a Dragon TV report that showed workers picking up meat from a factory floor, as well as mixing fresh meat with meat beyond its expiration date.

The scandal also has ensnared other Shanghai Husi customers, including KFC parent Yum Brands Inc and Burger King Worldwide Inc.

Many U.S. restaurant operators and retailers rely on third-party auditors to check whether their suppliers comply with food safety rules and other regulations. It is not uncommon for suppliers at the center of food safety scandals to have received high marks on their audits.

 We wrote, and repeated here, it’s time to change the discussion and the approach to safe food. Time to lose the religion: audits and inspections are never enough.

• Food safety audits and inspections are a key component of the nation’s food safety system and their use will expand in the future, for both domestic and imported foodstuffs, but recent failures can be emotionally, physically and financially devastating to the victims and the businesses involved;

• many outbreaks involve firms that have had their food production systems verified and received acceptable ratings from food safety auditors or government inspectors;

• while inspectors and auditors play an active role in overseeing compliance, the burden for food safety lies primarily with food producers;

• there are lots of limitations with audits and inspections, just like with restaurants inspections, but with an estimated 48 million sick each year in the U.S., the question should be, how best to improve food safety?

• audit reports are only useful if the purchaser or  food producer reviews the results, understands the risks addressed by the standards and makes risk-reduction decisions based on the results;

• there appears to be a disconnect between what auditors provide (a snapshot) and what buyers believe they are doing (a full verification or certification of product and process);

• third-party audits are only one performance indicator and need to be supplemented with microbial testing, second-party audits of suppliers and the in-house capacity to meaningfully assess the results of audits and inspections;

• companies who blame the auditor or inspector for outbreaks of foodborne illness should also blame themselves;

• assessing food-handling practices of staff through internal observations, externally-led evaluations, and audit and inspection results can provide indicators of a food safety culture; and,

• the use of audits to help create, improve, and maintain a genuine food safety culture holds the most promise in preventing foodborne illness and safeguarding public health.

Audits and inspections are never enough: A critique to enhance food safety

30.aug.12

Food Control

D.A. Powell, S. Erdozain, C. Dodd, R. Costa, K. Morley, B.J. Chapman

Internal and external food safety audits are conducted to assess the safety and quality of food including on-farm production, manufacturing practices, sanitation, and hygiene. Some auditors are direct stakeholders that are employed by food establishments to conduct internal audits, while other auditors may represent the interests of a second-party purchaser or a third-party auditing agency. Some buyers conduct their own audits or additional testing, while some buyers trust the results of third-party audits or inspections. Third-party auditors, however, use various food safety audit standards and most do not have a vested interest in the products being sold. Audits are conducted under a proprietary standard, while food safety inspections are generally conducted within a legal framework. There have been many foodborne illness outbreaks linked to food processors that have passed third-party audits and inspections, raising questions about the utility of both. Supporters argue third-party audits are a way to ensure food safety in an era of dwindling economic resources. Critics contend that while external audits and inspections can be a valuable tool to help ensure safe food, such activities represent only a snapshot in time. This paper identifies limitations of food safety inspections and audits and provides recommendations for strengthening the system, based on developing a strong food safety culture, including risk-based verification steps, throughout the food safety system.

 

Australian swimmer has gastro, just 24 hours out from the Commonwealth Games opening

A member of the Australian swim team has contracted the Norovirus after more than 50 staff members at Commonwealth Games athletes’ village have been affected by the highly contagious virus otherwise known as gastro.

286783-fee89b38-00cc-11e4-a9df-6cbc2a380379Despite the Games press manager Andrew McMenamin insisting that athletes should not be alarmed, saying the bug had been contained to security personnel, at least one Australian athlete has presented with symptoms and has been quarantined.

We’ve always done it this way and haven’t made anyone sick; Sark Butter recalled from shops after E. coli found

Sark dairy farmer and butter producer Phil Perree was devastated about the recall, which had followed routine product testing by Environmental Health to ensure food products are safe to be eaten.

sark.butterAny presence of E.coli makes food unsafe to eat.

‘We use unpasteurised milk to make our butter which is the traditional way we’ve always done it. Pasteurising obviously kills off the extra bacteria. Perhaps the problem has been caused by this heat or because it’s been stored for too long,’ he said.

‘I’m not sure what’s going to happen at this stage. At the moment we have put a halt to everything, I’m not sure whether we will even carry on after this – hopefully everything will get sorted. I’m very sorry to all our customers and very thankful for all the support we’ve had from them over the years.’

He said he produced roughly 100lbs of butter per week.

Open letter to the FSA on the publication of Campylobacter survey results

Richard Lloyd of Which? a UK consumer organization, writes to the UK Food Standards Agency to say:

chicken.thermI am writing to express our grave concern about the proposal being put to the FSA Board to withhold information about the levels of the deadly food poisoning bacteria Campylobacter in supermarket chickens. Campylobacter is a major public health issue. 72,000 people were reported to have suffered Campylobacter food poisoning last year and it kills an estimated 100 people every year.

As you know, the main source for the bacteria is in raw chicken which is why the FSA decided to undertake testing across supermarkets, butchers and convenience stores and publish the results on a quarterly basis with information by retailer and processor.

The publication of the performance of each retailer is in the public interest. The FSA should not sit on this survey data which it initially intended to publish in full.

The FSA was set up because of concerns about commercial and political interference in decisions about food safety. It is with great regret that it has become necessary to remind you of your role to put consumers first, be independent and operate transparently.

At your board meeting today, I urge you to reject the proposal to withhold this information and instead to publish the results in full on a quarterly basis in order to provide consumers with this important information and help to drive up standards.

Maybe use better tests? Fonterra cuts blamed on botulism scare

After a crappy botulism test sparked falling demand for New Zealand-based Fonterra dairy products, the company is now going to axe about 110 jobs at a Hamilton packing site, a union official says.

fonterra.aug_.13-300x253The Dairy Workers Union official told Fairfax Media Fonterra was slashing the jobs at Canpac, in Foreman Rd, by about a third after last year’s botulism scare.

The dairy co-operative called a snap meeting of all Canpac staff this morning to tell them it was cutting back the operation to a 24-hour day, five days a week after a drop in sales volume on products packaged there.

It had been a 24 hours, seven days a week operation since expanding in 2007 on the back of the commodities boom.

Dairy Workers Union national secretary Chris Flatt said a Fonterra presentation had admitted food-safety scares played a part in Canpac losing work.

PR before peer review, incomplete advice, damaging food safety reputation

My grade 7 teacher in Canada, Mrs. Patrick, was the grammar police and instilled a strong value in getting things right (write?). My wife has now taken over that role.

powell_soliI explain to students and my kids that grammar is like traffic signals: maybe it’s not efficient but it’s some rules we can agree on so that I can get to the idea of what you’re trying to express.

Science or evidence-based, has its own rules.

Whether it’s a grasp for headlines, funding or ego, press releases before publication continue, and continue to be a bad idea.

Food safety types can do better.

In Sept. 2000, I called Procter & Gamble to substantiate claims their consumer-oriented Fit Fruit and Vegetable Wash removed 99.9 per cent more residue and dirt than water alone.

The PR-thingies hooked me up with some scientists at P&G in Cincinnati, who verbally told me that sample cucumbers, tomatoes and the like were grown on the same farm in California, sprayed with chemicals that would be used in conventional production, and then harvested immediately and washed with Fit or water. The Fit removed 99.9 per cent more, or so the company claimed.

One problem. Many of the chemicals used had harvest-after dates, such as the one tomato chemical that was supposed to be applied at least 20 days before harvest.

That tidbit wasn’t revealed in the company PR accompanying Fit.

Back in 2000 I asked why the results hadn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the P&G types said it was an important advance that had to be made available to consumers as soon as possible, without the delays and messiness of peer-review.

sorenne.hockeyThings haven’t changed much. What I still don’t quite comprehend is why researchers who do go to the effort of getting published in peer-reviewed journals – which isn’t easy – feel the need to share results publicly before peer review or publication. It lessens their effort.

Maybe it’s a culture thing.

Culture encompasses the shared values, morals, customary practices, inherited traditions, and prevailing habits of communities. It’s when one food service or farm or retail employee says to another, dude, wash your hands, without being told by the boss or the inspector.

Or one when PhD tells another PhD, press release before peer-review sorta sucks. And that’s the culture of science.

Or should be.

In July, 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control took some bi-partisan hits for poor tracking of dangerous pathogens, to which director Tom Frieden responded the agency had corrected the specific defects cited in previous investigations, but had not realized there was a deeper problem with the culture of safety at CDC which he will now address.

For me it’s a hockey-coaching thing: try to do better than last week, have fun, and pay attention – before a 10-year-old runs over the 5-year-old. Keep your stick on the ice and don’t take wooden nickels.

And don’t produce food that makes people barf.

Press release before publication is always a bad idea – cold fusion?

 Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks, ferments and coaches hockey from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

Just market food safety at retail, government is hopeless: FSA plan to name and shame supermarkets selling Campylobacter chicken ditched after pressure from retailers

Maybe there’s something lost in translation; I’m barely starting to understand Australian.

chickenBut if I read this right, the piping hot UK Food Standards Agency has put retail over public health after scrapping plans to regularly name and shame supermarkets selling chicken contaminated with Campylobacter.

Lots of chuckles next time FSA proclaims they are a science-based agency.

According to the Daily Mail, FSA had promised to carry out regular surveys of chicken sold on the high street and publish the results, including the names of the stores, every three months.

The idea was that the public naming and shaming exercise would put pressure on the stores to clean up their chicken and reduce the food poisoning risk to customers.

However, the officials at the watchdog now want to scrap this idea and instead only publish data on the number of birds that are contaminated without identifying the stores involved.

The move has been condemned by a leading academic, who suggested it was driven by pressure from the industry and Government departments, who are keen support supermarkets, farmers and processors.

chicken.thermThe changes represent a major victory for the commercial interests of the big retailers, putting concerns for their sales and profits ahead of consumer safety and their right to know what they are eating.

The fact that the supermarkets have managed to water down the scheme is just the latest evidence as to how lobbying by big business has driven a change in official policy on food and health issues.

Similar lobbying killed off a plan for a blanket ban on junk food snacks and drinks from displays around supermarket check-outs.

The FSA recently revealed that more than one million people are falling victim to food poisoning every year with supermarket chicken named as the greatest threat.

Campylobacter, which is most often found on raw chicken, is the biggest cause of food poisoning in the country.

An official study published in 2009 revealed that two in three of all fresh chicken on shelves was contaminated with campylobacter. More than one in four – 27 per cent – were classed as being highly contaminated.

Despite the fact the FSA has asked supermarkets and farmers to make combatting campylobacter a top priority, the situation appears to have shown no improvement since then.

An FSA paper on the food poisoning caused by campylobacter warned: ‘In addition to the attendant economic costs, cases cause inconvenience, discomfort and misery to those who become infected and a small proportion of cases result in death or long-term consequences, such as reactive arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and Guillain-Barré syndrome, the latter of which affects the peripheral nervous system.’

Despite the clear threat, the FSA’s executives are now asking its board to redraw the rules for its surveys to ensure the stores selling contaminated chicken are not identified in its quarterly results.

A paper prepared by officials states this is in response to ‘legitimate concerns expressed by the industry and other government departments’. The references to other departments relates to the food and farming department, DEFRA, which sees itself as a champion of British farmers, including those producing chicken.

The FSA paper states: ‘In the last update to the Board in March 2014 it was stated that the FSA intended to release the full results, including the names of the retailers and processors, of testing of around 1,000 samples every 3 months during the survey, with the first results published around June/July 2014.’

However, it says it has now decided to change this approach because there is a risk the results will be incomplete and misleading and it would – in some way – be unfair to the stores.

The FSA said: ‘One of the drawbacks of this approach is that no interpretation can properly be placed on interim raw data until the full year’s sampling is complete and fully analysed.

The watchdog’s board is being asked to approve this new approach at a meeting tomorrow.

Erik Millstone, the Professor of Science Policy at the University of Sussex, condemned the move to let the supermarkets off the hook.

Footie star suffers from Salmonella

I tried my hockey goalie re-debut in Australia and strained both my ACLs (that’s anterior cruciate ligament) within 10 minutes. Maybe I’ll prep better next time, or stick to coaching.

clay.smith.aflAussie rules football has become my second favorite sport because of the same randomness and aggressiveness of hockey (the ice kind, have to say that down here) but unfortunately for AFL rising star Clay Smith, he not only tore his ACL, he got Salmonella poisoning.

He’ll be out for the rest of the year.

Cyclospora surge in Texas

Tarrant County Public Health issued a warning Monday about an outbreak of Cyclosporiasis.

pesto.basil.cyclosporaPrior to this month, there were just eight cases reported in the State of Texas, and Tarrant County had seen just one.

But there are now 69 Cyclosporiasis cases in Texas, nine of them in Tarrant County.

So far, health officials have not found the source of the outbreak. They are asking health care providers to test patients who have intestinal issues lasting more than a few days.

Tarrant County Public Health says past outbreaks in the U.S. have been linked to imported fresh produce, including fresh cilantro, pre-packaged salad mix, raspberries, basil, snow peas, and mesclun lettuce.

E. coli outbreak at Minnesota reservation

The Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed several cases of a foodborne illness linked to E-coli on the Fond du Lac reservation.

Between six and 12 people have come down with symptoms of E-coli poisoning over the last week.

The Department of Health is still investigating the source of the E-coli contamination and does not know the strain of the outbreak.