Doug Powell

About Doug Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of barfblog.com, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Download C.V. »

Study says foodborne illnesses cost $77 billion a year

The first step in solving any problem is to recognize that a problem exists.

problemBS.

From rehab to the National Rifle Association, the phrase is thrown around like candy at Halloween, yet it doesn’t change or even influence behavior: those steps are harder.

The food safety world is inundated with reports recognizing the problem, but little changes.

A new report by the American Association for Justice (formerly known as Association of Trial Lawyers of America) concludes that the food industry’s drive for profits over safety has fueled a series of illness outbreaks and that the civil justice system remains consumers’ last and best line of defense.

“American consumers expect and deserve safe food. Yet, time and again, food producers have cut corners on food safety knowing full well that tainted products cause serious illness or even death. Cutting corners puts profits over people and that’s unforgivable when it comes to our food supply. Parents should never have to be worry about the safety of the peanut butter or ice cream they feed their children,” said Larry Tawwater, President of AAJ. “Because regulators are underfunded and understaffed, it is the civil justice system that provides the accountability necessary to safeguard our food supply.”

 Every year, 48 million people fall sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and at least 3,000 die from foodborne illness, costing the nation approximately $77 billion. Recalls in 2015 have surged compared to 2014 rates. In one of the most recent high-profile outbreaks, three people died after consuming Blue Bell ice cream contaminated with listeria. The company reportedly knew as early as 2013 that it had listeria in one of its plants. The outbreak is the most recent of the “ten worst outbreaks” chronicled in the new report.

problem.2“If your food supply begins with corporate run factory farms, it begins in a system that prioritizes corporate profits over public health,” Jessica Culpepper, food safety & health attorney for Public Justice, said on today’s call.

Are not small growers charging ridiculous amounts for boutique food with dubious health claims also profit-driven?

AAJ Researcher David Ratcliff said what’s so surprising is how often outbreaks of foodborne illnesses occur, adding, “We’re focused on so many other things when it comes to food – gluten, calories and GMOs (genetically modified organisms),” he said. “There’s a sense it won’t happen to us.”

‘I feel like it’s my responsibility, but I don’t feel like I’m to blame’ 6 sick with E. coli in Seatlle: Was it cilantro?

A local food vendor whose tacos may have put a 4-year-old girl in the hospital with E. coli has apologized.

e.coli.foodtruck.seattleHealth officials are now investigating six cases of E. coli in King County.

All little Elizabeth Buder knows is that she’s in the hospital with a painful tummy ache, but the 4-year-old’s parents know the strain of E. coli she has can be deadly.

“There’s not just IV tubes in her arms, but in her neck,” said Elizabeth’s dad, James Buder. “How do you explain that to a 4-year old?”

Health officials believe Scout, as she likes to be called, contracted E. coli after eating steak tacos with pico de gallo at the Issaquah Farmers Market on August 8th. She ate at a food stand run by Los Chilangos food truck catering.

The owner, Noemi Mendez, is cooperating with the investigation.

“I feel horrible,” she said. “And I apologize. I feel like, you know, it’s my responsibility, but also I don’t feel like I’m to blame here.”

Mendez said the Heath Department told her E. coli may have come from cilantro, which she uses in all her food and gets from several different suppliers.

“They can’t be certain, because now they have to go through every suppler that I get the cilantro from and find out what happened there,” Mendez said.

Or should have been done prior to the outbreak.

‘We hired a consultant’ Mass. restaurant manager blasts health board

A local Chinese restaurant temporarily shut down by the Board of Health says it won’t reopen because of the board’s “baseless” and “irresponsible” decision.

red.pepper.farminghamIn a scathing letter sent to the Board of Health Monday, the manager of Red Pepper, 17 Edgell Road, said the restaurant was firmly refusing “to accept your unjust order.”

Hong Jiang said the health board hurt the restaurant’s reputation and made false and inappropriate statements during its Aug. 24 meeting, including exaggerating its history of critical violations. Citing prior problems and recent failed inspections, members voted 3-0 to close the restaurant until it took steps to ensure food safety.

“Your irresponsible bureaucratic decision has already caused serious financial losses on us since August 24, and conditions you required to allow us to ‘reopen’ is financially unaffordable for a small business like ours,” Jiang wrote. “As such, we are forced to permanently close the Red Pepper Restaurant in Framingham.”

The Board of Health took action after learning inspectors repeatedly found critical violations at Red Pepper in recent months, such as uncovered food, improper food temperatures and no towels or soap at a handwashing station

“It is astounding that a Health Board would arbitrarily erase two years between the dates, in an apparent attempt to exaggerate Red Pepper’s problems and mislead the public,” he wrote.

Jiang also disputed statements Chairman Mike Hugo made about previous consultants calling the place a “hopeless mess” and saying no one there was paying attention to food safety. Jiang wrote the restaurant hired one consultant in 2012 to train kitchen staff and then a second who “praised the cleanliness of our kitchen and also expressed satisfaction with our cooperation during his training sessions.”

Jiang wrote that no one was ever sickened by eating at Red Pepper, and customers, in fact, have written many positive public reviews about the authentic Sichuan cuisine.

Growers upset, but ‘it’s not the handling’ Oyster farms in Mass. remain closed as more Vibrio illnesses reported

Katama Bay oyster farms will remain closed for another week following additional confirmed cases of Vibrio illness tied to the area, a state Department of Marine Fisheries official said Tuesday afternoon.

SUN0705N-Oyster7The 12 shellfishermen harvesting oysters out of Katama Bay were scheduled to resume operation on Thursday morning after a one-week precautionary closure announced last Wednesday by state health and fisheries officials. The closure was prompted because of three reported cases of Vibrio parahaemolyticus caused by consumption of raw oysters from Katama Bay.

Now the closure will be extended for another seven days due to three more confirmed cases of Vibrio from mid-August, state Vibrio program coordinator Chris Schillaci told the Edgartown shellfish committee at a meeting Tuesday. The meeting was attended by a small group of Katama Bay oyster farmers.

Under state guidelines, two to four illnesses within a 30-day period would result in a seven-day closure, while four or more illnesses require a 14-day closure. More than 10 illnesses would require a 21-day closure and a recall.

There have been six Vibrio cases reported from Katama Bay in the past 45 days, Edgartown shellfish constable Paul Bagnall said, and three in the last 30 days.

The Katama Bay closure is the first Vibrio-related shellfish closure in Massachusetts this year.

Katama and other oyster-producing areas around New England have seen more reported cases of Vibrio in recent years. This marks the third year in a row that Katama Bay oyster farms have been closed for some period of time in the late summer because of Vibrio.

Ryan Smith, a member of the shellfish committee and a Katama oyster farmer, said while demand remains high for farmed oysters, the repeated closures are stressful and there is a loss of business.

“It seems like nobody really knows what’s going on,” he said, adding that the closures seemed to start “out of nowhere” three years ago.

Oyster farmers peppered Mr. Schillaci with questions about how the illnesses were reported, accounted for and traced to the growing area, and discussed whether more stringent measures might be put in place in future years. In 2013 the state adopted strict protocols for handling oysters, and Mr. Schillaci said he’s observed Katama oyster farmers following those guidelines.

“It’s not the handling that’s the problem here and I truly believe that,” he said.

 

Surveys still suck: US and UK ask food safety questions but answers don’t predict behavior

Good money follows bad.

The top food safety concern among Americans is no longer “foodborne illness,” having been overtaken by “chemicals in food,” according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2015 Food and Health Survey.

larry-david-yawn-knicks-otHowever, when it comes to risks to consumers, foodborne illnesses are far and away the greater health concern.

This year, 36 percent of Americans cited “chemicals in food,” such as pesticide residues, as the most important food safety issue for them and their family, edging out “foodborne illness from bacteria” (34 percent). The increase in the number of people citing “chemicals in food” as their top concern is striking. Last year, only 23 percent of Americans chose that option.

116lzja.jpgThe UK Food Standards Agency in their biannual survey found the top two food safety issues of total (ie spontaneous plus prompted) concern for respondents were food hygiene when eating out (37%), and the use of additives in food products (29%).

The top wider food issues of total concern were the amount of sugar in food (51%), food waste (49%) and the amount of salt in food (47%).

Crypto cases spike in Tenn.

East Tennessee health officials are seeing a major spike in reported cryptosporidium cases, a water-dwelling parasite that most commonly contaminates public water sources.

diaper.pool“It is a parasite that lives in the bowels of people who are infected with it,” said Darci Hodge, director of quality and infection control at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. “It can live in animals and it can be passed on by people or animals in living water for a short period of time, and that’s often how you and I will get it.”

Hodge said Children’s Hospital confirmed 29 reported cases of cryptosporidium this year, the biggest number of cases it’s seen in years.

Within the past five years, the second highest number of reported cases of the disease at Children’s Hospital was only five.

“It was significant enough because the Health Department and we, here, really talked a lot about it because it was odd to see so many cases,” Hodge said.

The Knox County Health Department has 34 reported cases on record this year.

“It only takes one person with this illness to have a little spill in the pool, you might say,” said Connie Cronley, an epidemiology nurse at the Health Department. “It could infect lots of folks.”

Cronley said the parasite comes with many symptoms, but not all of them may appear serious enough to contact a doctor.

6 sick with E. coli in Seatlle: Hipster food trucks hit food safety

King County Public Health is investigating six E. coli cases that appear to be linked to a food truck that visited farmers markets.

Los Chilangos“Through a few initial interviews with ill people, we determined that everyone who became sick had something in common – they ate food prepared by, a local food vendor called Los Chilangos,” Public Health staff said in a statement.

The department required the food truck to stop selling food.

A 4-year-old girl is one of those affected, and her mother said her daughter became sick after eating at Los Chilangos around August 8.

The food truck visited the Issaquah and Sammamish farmers markets.

Deanna Buder said her 4-year-old daughter started experiencing pain and swelling in her abdomen, and stopped eating. Tuesday is her seventh day at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

e.coli.foodtruck.seattleLos Chilangos serves food at seven farmers markets in King and Snohomish counties, operates two food trucks, and also caters events. Los Chilangos uses Eastside Commercial Kitchen, where they share space and equipment with about a dozen other food businesses.

The kitchen was told to stop producing food, as were the food trucks that used it.

“We are still investigating the source of the E. coli,” the Public Health statement said. “If we determine that a food contained the E. coli bacteria, we will try to trace it back to stores, suppliers, and even farms to address the root of the problem with corrective actions, if possible.”

King County Public Health released the key steps of their investigation:

  1. We [King Co. Public Health] interviewed people who got sick.

“At this time [Tuesday afternoon], six people have been infected with the same strain of E. coli (three have been hospitalized). When Public Health determines that anyone is sick from a serious foodborne illness like E. coli, we [King Co. Public Health] interview them to determine what may have caused their illness. We  [King Co. Public Health] do this to find the source of the outbreak and prevent others from getting infected. In this instance, through a few initial interviews with ill people, we [King Co. Public Health] determined that everyone who became sick had something in common – they ate food prepared by a local food vendor called Los Chilangos. Public Health took swift action and required Los Chilangos to cease operations.”

  1. We [King Co. Public Health] investigated a food business that was associated with the people who got sick.

“But we  [King Co. Public Health] didn’t stop there. Los Chilangos serves food at seven farmers markets in King and Snohomish Counties, operates two food trucks, and also caters events. Los Chilangos utilizes a shared kitchen space, called a commissary kitchen. The kitchen that they use is Eastside Commercial Kitchen, where they share space and equipment with about a dozen other food businesses.”

  1. We [King Co. Public Health] intervened at the specific site and operation.

“The condition of the commissary and the potential for cross contamination were deemed an imminent health hazard, and the health officer issued a cease and desist order to the commissary on Thursday, August 27. Additionally, all of the food vendors permitted by Public Health that use this kitchen were also told to cease operations. Recognizing that this lapse in operation hurts business, our team has worked diligently with these vendors to find new places for them to resume their work and remind them about important food safety measures.”

  1. Next steps: tracing the source

“As of today, the investigation isn’t over. We  [King Co. Public Health]  are still investigating the source of the E. coli.  If we determine that a food contained the E. coli bacteria, we will try to trace it back to stores, suppliers, and even farms to address the root of the problem with corrective actions, if possible.

But, it’s possible that the source of E. coli may never be determined. E coli is often linked to beef, but it can also be linked to produce, such as spinach and sprouts, along with a variety of other foods such as unpasteurized juices, raw milk, game meats, and other common foods.

For outbreaks such as this one, we [King Co. Public Health] continue to monitor the situation and look for other common factors among ill people. While we know Los Chilangos is linked, they may not be the only ones involved. For instance, the source of E. coli could be served by other vendors.

We [King Co. Public Health] are currently working with all of the businesses connected to this outbreak to make sure that they are not using any products that may have become contaminated and that they have food safety measures in place. This includes having the businesses address needed repairs to their equipment, providing education to their staff, and ensuring their operations are safe to open.

Though Los Chilangos has been linked to this outbreak, they deserve credit for their dutiful cooperation during our investigation. No food vendor wants to make people sick, and we know everyone is very concerned about the people who have become ill. We will be updating this blog as the picture becomes clearer.”

Neat, no ice: 4 ice safety steps for restaurants, bars, and hotels

Jim Chan, a public health inspector for 36 years who retired in 2013 as manager of the food safety program at Toronto Public Heath, writes:

don_draper-300x225During my career as a Health Inspector, one question often asked by the public is “How safe is the ice in food and drinks serve in restaurants?” There is no easy Yes or No answer without having to explain how ice can be contaminated and in what conditions that ice can cause illness. In general, we tend to view ice much the same way we do with drinking water coming out from the tap, and assume that both water and ice are “clean.” Ice must be treated like food, as both can be a source of foodborne illness if not handled safely.

Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Canada have health code regulations around ice and both define ice as food. Here’s an example of code requirements for ice safety under Food Safety legislation: Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act R.R.O. 1990, Regulation 562 (Food Premises) – Ice used in the preparation and processing of food or drink shall be made from potable water and shall be stored and handled in a sanitary manner. Most pathogenic organisms do not readily multiply in ice in restaurants that’s used for food and drinks. However, scientific research has also shown that some bacteria and viruses can survive cold or freezing for long period of time. Therefore, it is important for restaurant operators to ensure their ice does not become contaminated.

icemachine_junk_450Contamination can be introduced by airborne particles, contaminated water supply, food handlers or dirty utensils. But the main cause of ice in restaurants, bars and hotels becoming contaminated is human error: improper ice handling. Training staff is critical to ice safety. Contaminated ice can cause foodborne illness – reduce your risk with regular cleanings, periodic thorough sanitation (by a professional), regular maintenance, and, of course, training. Note: If your commercial ice machine is in a high yeast environment (pizzerias and breweries for example) or if you’re water source is from a well, you will need additional professional deep cleanings.

Lack of regular inspections, exposure to poor hygiene and improper handling of ice will increase the risk of contamination. You don’t want your restaurant or hotel guests getting sick because of inadequate cleanings and sanitation of your ice machine.

To reduce the risk of ice being a source of foodborne illness, restaurant operators and managers should be aware of the following points and to conduct regular self-inspection to identify problems early:

1) Train restaurant or bar staff in proper ice handling practices (bar and kitchen)

Wash hands before getting ice from ice making machine.

Hold only the ice scoop handle and not other parts of the scoop.

Do not scoop ice using water glasses or cups and never handle the ice with hands.

Do not return unused ice to the ice machine/ice bin.

Keep doors of the commercial ice machine closed except when removing ice.

Ice scoops should be stored outside the ice maker and kept in a clean container. Ice scoop & container should be washed & sanitized regularly.

Do not store anything such as food, drinks, fruit etc. in the ice machine. Never use ice machine as a refrigerator!

Clean the ice making machine regularly and fix all problems identified.

Never put Anything in the ice bin…except clean, untouched ice!

2) Inspect and clean/sanitize the ice making machine regularly

Inspect the exterior of the machine. Ensure the door, handle and hatch of the ice machine are clean and in good repair.

Look for any evidence of growth of scum, slime or mold inside the machine. If such growths are observed, immediately clean according to the manufacturer’s instructions. (Tip: The ice should be removed from the ice bin and disposed during cleaning to avoid cross contamination by chemicals).

chan.ice.cartoonRoutine cleaning of an ice making machine should be done at least weekly by staff and the process can be as simple as running a sanitizing solution through the cycle, then running two cycles of ice, dispose of these before running ice for drinks and food. Make sure this is part of your weekly cleaning schedule!

3) Routine Ice Machine Services, Maintenance and Major Cleaning/Sanitizing

The ice making machine should be serviced by a professional technician at least twice year, which requires being taken apart for inspection and major cleaning and sanitizing. This needs to be performed by a professional! By choosing Easy Ice for your ice machine (instead of owning or leasing), your ice maker subscription includes 2 deep cleanings a year. And they schedule it for you – saving you not only time but money! And you’re assured the ice machine is clean when the Health Inspector stops by.

A typical cleaning routine would include the following steps:

Turn off the electrical supply and empty the ice bin.

Remove the protective curtain or cover (if present) and check the drain to ensure it is clear.

Clean all surfaces inside using hot water and a cleaner or detergent, follow with an antibacterial sanitizer by wiping all internal surfaces and allow adequate contact-time for the sanitizer to work. (Tip: Do not rinse off the surfaces, allow to air dry)

Wash and sanitize the plastic curtains, cover, ice scoops etc… (Tip: Use hot water and detergent for washing and then soak in a sterilizing solution as per manufacturer’s instructions)

Check the door and ensure it can close tightly to prevent dirt entering the ice making machine.

Switch machine back on and ensure it works properly.

4)  Additional factors to consider for cleaning and sanitizing of commercial ice machines

Biofilms

Microorganisms such as bacteria, can grow together and secret a matrix of polymers to form a protective shield known as Biofilm on surfaces such as food & ice container, ice machine walls, trays etc. Think of the bacteria producing a secretion to make a ‘bionic blanket’ covering themselves and protecting them from attack by chemicals such as cleaning & sanitizing agents. Within the biofilm, pathogens like Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, Shigella can survive and can cause spoilage or infection later when released.

The best way to prevent biofilms from developing is regular cleaning & sanitizing all surfaces that come in contact with food, drinks & ice. However, if biofilms already formed, surfaces must be physically cleaned by scrubbing and than follow with sanitizing to kill the pathogens to ensure a clean and safe environment for food, drinks & ice.

Ice safety is as important as food safety and should be a priority for your restaurant, hotel or bar. By following the above protocol, you can be assured of serving your guests clean, safe ice. Choose to ignore these key points and you may receive a fine, or worse – a shut down, from the Health Inspector. Protect your reputation, your guests and your bank account.

For a document about communication this is a terrible lede: Best practices for improving FDA and state communication during recalls

This document may set some sort of dubious record for the use of collaboration, partnership, and resources in relation to food safety.

fda.recall.commbest.practicesDoes anybody do anything, and will there be fewer sick people?

 Executive Summary

The best practices identified in this document are intended to encourage and enhance timely reciprocal communication of recall information among the U.S.Food and Drug Administration, State and local government agencies (herein after partner agencies) during Class I recalls and outbreaks. Information sharing between the agencies will save government resources and promote a safe and secure food supply.

The focus of the Partnership for Food Protection (PFP) Surveillance, Response and Post Response Workgroup was to enhance recall transparency,communication, and sharing of information that would help move us forward with implementing an Integrated Food Safety System (IFSS). The workgroup identified best practices for sharing recall activities that will not unduly impact the hih workload of partner agencies’ recall staff.

To develop the best practices, the following recall activities associated with information sharing were identified:

Differing regulations such as commissioning and sharing agreements that impact the timely sharing of recall information

Format of information to be shared

Information technology issues between partner agencies

Identification of FDA and partner agencies recall staff members with whom information can be shared and methods of contacting

crisis_communicationConsideration and possible identification of a universal recall reporting portal to capture and share recall and outbreak information in timely manner which is accessible by all authorized partner agencies

Not all best practices will be applicable in every situation; however, they should be considered where appropriate for the effective coordination of recall activities and the leveraging of mutual resources. This is living document. As additional best practices are identified, they will be captured in this document.

01.sep.15

Partnership for Food Protection’s Surveillance, Response and Post Response Workgroup presents

http://www.fda.gov/downloads/ForFederalStateandLocalOfficials/FoodSafetySystem/PartnershipforFoodProtectionPFP/UCM460013.pdf?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

‘Some pink or no pink?’ Hamburger safety BS

My latest from Texas A&M’s Center for Food Safety:

HomePage_BURGERThe UK Food Standards Agency, created in the aftermath of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) mess, has sunk to new science-based lows and should be abolished.

This is not an evidence-based agency, but rather a lapdog for British arrogance.

For years I have criticized the FSA for their endorsement of piping hot as a safe cooking standard.

It is a regulators job to promote policies based on the best scientific evidence, not to appeal to cooking-show inspired public opinion.

For all the taxpayer-supplied millions provided to FSA the best they can do is appeal to the lowest common denominator.

FSA has published details of a proposed new approach to the preparation and service of rare (pink) burgers in food outlets.

The increased popularity of burgers served rare has prompted the FSA to look at how businesses can meet this consumer demand while ensuring public health remains protected.

hamburger.thermometerThe FSA’s long-standing advice has been that burgers should be cooked thoroughly until they are steaming hot throughout, the juices run clear and there is no pink meat left inside.

This long-standing advice is stupid, because hamburgers can appear pink yet safely cooked, or brown and undercooked. It has to do with myoglobin in the animal at the age it was slaughtered.

This research was published by Melvin Hunt of Kansas State University in 1998.

But FSA knows better.

They say controls should be in place throughout the supply chain and businesses will need to demonstrate to their local authority officer that the food safety procedures which they implement are appropriate. Examples of some of these controls are:

  • sourcing the meat only from establishments which have specific controls in place to minimise the risk of contamination of meat intended to be eaten raw or lightly cooked;
  • ensuring that the supplier carries out appropriate testing of raw meat to check that their procedures for minimising contamination are working;
  • strict temperature control to prevent growth of any bugs and appropriate preparation and cooking procedures; and,
  • providing consumer advice on menus regarding the additional risk from burgers which aren’t thoroughly cooked.

Maybe British inspectors have special bacteria-vision goggles.

Professor Guy Poppy, Chief Scientific Adviser for the Food Standards Agency, said: ‘We are clear that the best way of ensuring burgers are safe to eat is to cook them thoroughly but we acknowledge that some people choose to eat them rare. The proposals we will be discussing with the FSA board in September strike a balance between protecting public health and maintaining consumer choice.’

Not once was a thermometer mentioned. And that’s standard procedure in the U.S., Canada and Australia.

It didn’t take the Daily Mail long to point out that under the proposal, people can eat burgers that are cooked rare and pink in the middle in restaurants, but not at home or on the barbecue.

barfblog.Stick It InThe move follows pressure from some gourmet burger, pub and restaurant chains who argue that the meat tastes better if it is still pink in the middle.

The proposal, which will have to be approved by the FSA board next month, will also lift the risk of prosecution of food outlets by council environmental health officers.

Officials at the FSA say consumers should be allowed to take an adult decision when eating out whether they want to eat a burger that is pink in the middle.
But it is also arguing that people cannot take this same adult decision when cooking burgers at home.

‘The FSA’s long-standing advice has been that burgers should be cooked thoroughly until they are steaming hot throughout, the juices run clear and there is no pink meat left inside.

These piping hot morons should not be taken seriously by any scientist and should be turfed.

Color sucks. Stick it in and use a thermometer.

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

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University.

 hamburger-safe-and-unsafe-thumb-450x138-1751-300x92