Improperly processed low-acid foods sold at Virginia farmers market; health alert issued

In 2011, a 29-year-old man was hospitalized after five days of progressive dizziness, blurred vision, dysphagia, and difficulty breathing. The patient required mechanical ventilation and botulism antitoxin. He remained in the hospital for 57 days and then spent some time in a rehabilitation facility. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he had tasted some potato soup that included botulinum toxin.

In 1977, 59 patrons of a Detroit Mexican restaurant became ill with botulism after consuming improperly canned peppers. As a result of rumors of a pending shortage of fresh peppers, the restaurant staff decided to stick lightly-cooked peppers and some water in jars and seal them.

Putting low acid foods in a jar and sealing them without either acidifying (with vinegar/fermentation) or processing using pressure is a bad idea.

According to WTVR, Corfino Foods of Richmond VA has been selling soups and sauces that were improperly processed resulting in a health alert from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.corfino-foods

These products were improperly processed, making them susceptible to contamination with Clostridium botulinum.

Corfinio Foods has already suspended production of all of its canned soups and sauces and the firm is currently working with VDACS to come into compliance with state requirements.

Although there have been no reported cases of illness associated with these products, VDACS is issuing this consumer warning so that people who have previously purchased the products do not consume them.

The soups and sauces are packaged in glass, mason style jars with metal, screw on lids and have been sold at the Brandermill Green Market. The jars are marked with the Corfinio Foods label.

The firm was made aware of the dangers associated with selling improperly processed foods of this type and is working with VDACS and the market to notify consumers of the product recall.

Consumers who have any of these products or any foods made with these products should discard them immediately. They should double bag the jars in plastic bags and place in a trash receptacle for non-recyclable trash. Those who don’t wear gloves when handling these products should wash their hands with soap and running water after handling.


Maine food boat shut down, and reopened due to food safety issues

One of the more compelling subplots on the was-AMC-now-Netflix series, The Killing, is one of the character’s broken relationship with her former case worker and parent figure – who lives on a house boat in Seattle.

That’s how much the show has devolved after a promising first couple of seasons.

Maybe I’m just bitter after investing 20+ hours of background watching.glba36861

Food safety in from mobile vendors has been much maligned, and propped up, but food boats are a new thing to me. In Portland (Maine) There’s at least one example of a food business operating on the open seas – from a small boat that delivers and sells food to boaters. According to, Reilly Harvey, of Mainstay (the boat) had been shut down due to operating outside of food hygiene laws. But then given a reprieve with conditions.

The Portland (Maine) Press Herald had a fun slice-of-life feature on their hands. They found a woman, Reilly Harvey, who takes a small boat out into the state’s waters full of delicious homemade pies and entire lobster dinners to sell to boaters. 

The desserts were just the beginning. Harvey’s boat, Mainstay, is rigged with a three-burner propane stove set in the stern, and three pots sat waiting for lobster, clams and butter, all of which Harvey had aboard. There were tubs of cauliflower-curry tofu salads with yogurt-lime-cilantro dressing and homemade biscuits that had come out of the oven less than an hour ago.

The day after the story appeared in the newspaper it was over. The state shut her down. There are rules, man! Where are her sinks? She has to have running water! From the Press Herald’s follow-up coverage:

“It makes me feel sick to my stomach and sad,” said Reilly Harvey, who runs Mainstay Provisions out of an old boat she keeps on Andrews Island. Harvey said she was contacted by a state health inspector and told she must pass health inspection standards for mobile vendors – think food trucks – and get her vintage 22-foot wooden launch, the Mainstay, fitted with sinks and hot and cold running water if she is going to continue to serve hot food.

There are only 3½ weeks left in her season. Unless she is able to comply with the regulations, it is unlikely she’ll be able to operate Mainstay Provisions as usual in 2014.

UPDATE: Ira Stoll has alerted me that Harvey has been granted a reprieve, requiring her to have a wash basin, five gallons of water, a food thermometer and a bucket to drain hot water. The permission-based society is so kind!



Food safety at temporary events and festivals costs money

We use festivals as great weekend diversions for the kids. Every week I check out the local events schedule and take the boys anywhere that’s got cool stuff to see or do (including bouncy houses, simulated toboggan hills or bug displays). Usually there are fundraiser booths with burgers or bbq sandwiches.

Sometimes they are run by professional folks. Other times it is a cadre of well-meaning amateur food handlers.______2632069_orig

A couple of years back some public health folks got in political trouble for tossing away a bunch of problematic high risk sandwiches at a Windsor, Ontario fundraiser. The organizers claimed foul about the public health folks were doing their job – keeping unsafe food off of plates. Politicians jumped in and turned it into a circus about regulating ‘blue-haired grandmas‘.

What was lost in all the rhetoric was that good jurisdictions have food safety standards for all food being sold, regardless of where the funds to to, and that health authorities have a duty to ensure that the rules are being followed.

And that costs money.

According to Holly Meyer of the Post-Crescent Media , between $7500 and $10k are spent annually by the Appleton (Wisconsin) Health Department on temporary events and festivals. 

The Appleton Health Department uses permits, training and inspections to ensure food stands are operating properly, said Kurt Eggebrecht, the department’s health officer. Those efforts cost both the vendors and the taxpayers thousands of dollars every fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30.

The food stand owners, like those who have to set up at the weekly Downtown Appleton Farm Market or annual Octoberfest, must apply for permits.

From July 1-31, the health department issued 83 permits, taking in $4,378. Eggebrecht said those numbers will jump in a couple of months because of Octoberfest.

The costs vary by permit, with nonprofit stands paying $30, temporary restaurants paying $123 and traveling retail stands paying $68.

The health department’s environmental staff also conducts inspections at the stands and spends time consulting and training with the vendors, Eggebrecht said. The department pays for the staff hours to perform the duties. They spent $10,406 in 2012-13, $7,480 in 2013-14 and $990 so far this year. (The totals exclude administrative, vehicle and fuel costs.)

Being a good community steward and passionate individual doesn’t make someone good at food safety. Investing resources into standards, verification and coaching certainly can help.

Faith-based food safety: Georgia peanut plant chief says we faked Salmonella tests

A Georgia peanut plant manager testified Friday that his company had been shipping contaminated nuts with fake documents showing them to be salmonella-free before the plant was identified as the source of a nationwide outbreak that killed nine Americans and sickened more than 700.

peanut“In my mind, I wasn’t intentionally hurting anyone,” Sammy Lightsey told jurors at the trial of his former boss, Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell, and two others.

Lightsey, who managed the plant from July 2008 until the company went bankrupt following the outbreak in 2009, pleaded guilty to seven criminal counts in May after agreeing to testify for prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence. He was the top manager at the peanut plant, reporting directly to Stewart Parnell.

Soon after taking the job, Lightsey said, he discovered that peanut paste was being shipped to Kellogg’s for use in peanut butter crackers the same day they were produced, without waiting the 48 hours it takes to receive results of lab tests for salmonella and other contaminants.

Rather than wait, Lightsey said, the plant would ship paste with lab results that actually came from different batches tested a week earlier, certifying they were negative for salmonella.

Lightsey said he confronted Michael Parnell, who handled the contract for Kellogg, one of the company’s biggest customers.

“I went to the office and called Mike Parnell and I told him we can’t do this; it was illegal and it was wrong,” Lightsey said. “He informed me it was set up before I got there and don’t worry about Kellogg’s, he can handle Kellogg’s.”

Lightsey said he didn’t push the issue further. He didn’t say if he ever discussed the fake lab results with Stewart Parnell.

In a related story, Russ Bynum of TribTown writes that jurors are learning a disconcerting fact: America’s food safety largely depends on the honor system.

“Could all these people have been charged criminally with something? The answer is, hell yes,” said Bill Marler, an attorney who claims to have won $500 million for victims of foodborne illnesses over the past two decades.

“I’m a firm believer in using the civil justice system to hold people accountable. But these criminal prosecutions have really got people’s attention,” said Marler. “It’s a completely different viewpoint that these CEOs and managers have when they’re facing jail time and fines that aren’t insured.”

Meanwhile, the FDA lacks the resources to regularly inspect food producers, and when outbreaks happen, they largely depend on their goodwill to find the source.

Pay attention, be the goalie: Texas A&M Center for Food Safety

I have a drill I do weekly with the goalies at hockey practice.

I’ll have three of them, each in front of a net, and I tell them, pay attention, you never know where I’m going to shoot the puck (neither do I, but I’m a goalie).

powell_soli_AUG2Their job is to know where the puck is and predict where it’s going to be so they can better position themselves. I can look one way but shoot another. The goalie is the last line of defense when others mess up.

Much of food safety is, pay attention – especially to the checks that are supposed to reduce risk.

In 2009, the operator of a yakiniku barbecue restaurant chain linked to four deaths and 70 illnesses from E. coli O111 in raw beef in Japan admitted it had not tested raw meat served at its outlets for bacteria, as required by the health ministry.

“We’d never had a positive result [from a bacteria test], not once. So we assumed our meat would always be bacteria-free.”

That’s like telling goalies, unless the shooter is staring at you, the puck will stay out of the net.

Those who study engineering failures –the BP oil well in the Gulf, the space shuttle Challenger, Bhopal – say the same thing: human behavior can mess things up.

In most cases, an attitude prevails that is, “things didn’t go bad yesterday, so the chances are, things won’t go bad today.”

Jacques-PlanteAnd those in charge begin to ignore the safety systems.

Beginning August 2, 1998, over 80 Americans fell ill, 15 were killed, and at least six women miscarried due to listerosis. On Dec. 19, 1998, the outbreak strain was found in an open package of hot dogs partially consumed by a victim. The manufacturer of the hot dogs, Sara Lee subsidiary Bil Mar Foods, Inc., quickly issued a recall of what would become 35 million pounds of hot dogs and other packaged meats produced at the company’s only plant in Michigan. By Christmas, testing of unopened packages of hot dogs from Bil Mar detected the same genetically unique L. monocytegenes bacteria, and production at the plant was halted.

A decade later, the deaths of two Toronto nursing home residents in the summer of 2008 were attributed to listeriosis infections. These illnesses eventually prompted an August 17, 2008 advisory to consumers by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Maple Leaf Foods, Inc. to avoid serving or consuming certain brands of deli meat as the products could be contaminated with L. monocytogenes. When genetic testing determined a match between contaminated meat products and listeriosis patients, all products manufactured at a Toronto Maple Leaf Foods plant were recalled and the facility closed. An investigation by the company determined that organic material trapped deep inside the plant’s meat slicing equipment harbored L. monocytogenes, despite routine sanitization that met specifications of the equipment manufacturer. In total, 57 cases of listeriosis as well as 22 deaths were definitively connected to the consumption of the plant’s contaminated deli meats.

esposito_tony_8x10In both Listeria cases, the companies had data that showed an increase in Listeria-positive samples.

Pay attention.

One Canadian academic dean-thingy said the 2008 Listeria outbreak was a real eye-opener.

This person should not be in charge of anything to do with microbial food safety.

Food safety culture has been talked about a lot, but it seems so much talk and not so much data.

Food producers should truthfully market their microbial food safety programs, coupled with behavioral-based food safety systems that foster a positive food safety culture from farm-to-fork. The best producers and processors will go far beyond the lowest common denominator of government and should be rewarded in the marketplace.

They should pay attention.

Kellogg’s was taking Salmonella-contaminated peanut paste based on paperwork? Pay attention.

Nestle did.

Australians are so laid back, or so I’m told, they don’t bother to look both ways when driving. Stop signs seem optional.

courtlynn.hockeySo I’m always telling my younger and older kids (when they visit) you have to pay attention, because that car will not stop for you.

I coach hockey in Australia, where 5-year-olds and 10-year-olds are on the ice at the same time, and I say, pay attention. Because that 10-year-old can wipe you out.

Just like some unexpected bug.

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

Who wants to be embarrassed? Reputational risk drives social media processes

From a C on a restaurant door to a public lawsuit, embarrassment may be the most effective way to make food safer.

In the handwashing world, it’s a combination of shock and shame.

public.embarrassmetAnd that seems to work with food suppliers.

Wall Street and Technology reports that in a recent study, reputational risk exceeded compliance as the top concern for financial services organizations with respect to social media.

Though compliance drives so many decisions in financial services, that’s entirely not so with social media. Instead, reputational risk is a greater concern, according to a recent survey of audit professionals.

According to the 2014 Internal Audit Capabilities and Needs Survey by Protiviti, a global business consultancy owned by Robert Half International, financial services respondents identified brand/reputational damage as the greatest risk posed by social media. Compliance came in a distant second, with data security ranking third.

Drilling down, 53% of financial services industry respondents gave reputation risk a “No. 1″ ranking among the hazards. By contrast, 19% named compliance as the greatest risk, and 9% selected data security.

The survey drew responses from 600 internal auditors representing all types of industries. Of those, 110 were drawn from financial services institutions; 76% came from US firms.

This all applies to food safety risk.

Listeria found in homemade Macedonian sausage

I’m all over home preserving jams, pickles and salsa but I’ve not been able to get into home fermenting sausages. Not just the root word for botulism, European fermented sausages have been linked to Listeria issues in the past. According to FOCUS News Agency, an outbreak of Listeria in Macedonia may or may not be linked to homemade sausages (something might be lost in translation).

Listeria bacteria were found in two kinds of homemade sausages, a check of the Food and Veterinary Agency shows, the Macedonian online news edition NOVA reported.

Some 300 samples are expected to be additionally tested.

According to the Agency, the contaminated products cannot be linked to the people infected with Listeria.

The edition says there have so far been eight people suffering from listeriosis in Macedonia, four of whom have died.


Costco calls customers to let them know of recalled fruit

While it might make data conspiracy folks antsy Costco continues to put purchase tracking to good use (sorta, as this Listeria/stone fruit situation may not be that much of a public health risk). According to  Costco has been directly calling members who purchased recalled Wawona Packing Co. fruit based on a real-time database of purchases.Unknown-2

Craig Wilson, vice president of quality assurance and food safety at Costco, told HuffPo that the company keeps a log of every single item customers purchase.

We know every item that everybody purchases every day. If there’s an issue with an item — be it ground beef, peaches, socks or tires — we can contact the members that purchased the item, because we have a record of that purchase.

So, seems all that creepy data collecting can be put to good use once in a while. In fact, this isn’t the first time Costco has used its consumer data to help in cases related to foodborne illness: The company teamed up with the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention and local investigators to help track the source of a salmonella outbreak in 2010.

According to Wilson, Costco even mailed follow-up letters to consumers after the initial phone calls. If only our roommates could be this thorough when warning us the milk has gone bad.

Identifying and connecting with customers that have purchased recalled items is a good strategy. That’s the kind of action that demonstrates the food safety culture of a business. Telling customers how this incident changes Costco’s supplier specifications/verification (at all) and how internal decisions are made are a next step in pulling back the curtain on food safety for the public.

Visiting College Station for the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety Annual Meeting

Gary Acuff, Director, Texas A&M Center for Food Safety, is one of the coolest dudes to hang out with at meetings. He’s got great insights about food safety, productivity, Apple products and family stuff and is an all around fun guy. I’m heading out to College Station on August 12 to hang out with Gary for a day and give a talk.

Details are below:
Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 6.54.36 PM

Join us for the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety 2014 Annual Meeting on Tuesday, August 12 at 11:00 AM at our Earl Rudder Freeway lab.

The annual meeting will begin with a special seminar presented by Dr. Ben Chapman entitled: “Food safety communication around beef isn’t well done (no pun intended),” followed directly by the Annual Meeting. Lunch will be provided.

Please RSVP to if you plan to attend so we can get a headcount for lunch.

If you would like to invite a guest who might be interested in joining the Center, just let us know and we will add them to the headcount.

Download the flyer here.

Why China still sucks at food safety

Michael Moss and Neil Gough write in the New York Times that China has been scrambling to right its gargantuan processed-food ship ever since six infants died and thousands more were hospitalized with kidney damage in 2008 from milk adulterated with an industrial chemical.

schaffnerBut as the latest scandal involving spoiled meat in fast-food shows, the attempted transformation over the last six years has run up against the country’s centuries-old and sprawling food supply chain.

From factory inspections to product recalls, laboratory testing to prosecutions, China’s emergent food-quality apparatus has turned into reform on the fly, with ever-changing threats and setbacks. Now, the growing presence of big American brands means that the country’s oversight efforts — and its most glaring lapses — are playing out on a global stage.

Friend of the barblog Don Schaffner (right, pretty much as shown) a professor of food microbiology at Rutgers University and president of the International Association for Food Protection, said, “The way I keep explaining China to people is that it’s kind of like the U.S. in the time of Upton Sinclair and ‘The Jungle,’ ” referring to the 1906 novel that described unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking industry and inspired reform. “There is tremendous desire by the Chinese to get it right, but they have a long way to go.”

The meat episode that started garnering widespread attention on Sunday ensnared a roster of American fast-food giants. It stemmed from a hidden-camera broadcast by Shanghai-based Dragon TV showing processing plant workers using out-of-date chicken and beef to make burger patties and chicken products. Meat that had dropped onto the floor was scooped up and tossed back into the processing machine, the news report showed.

Government investigators have since found that workers at the plant, Shanghai Husi Food, used expired or rotten meat to make Chicken McNuggets, beef patties and other food products totaling more than 5,000 boxes, the official news agency Xinhua reported. One hundred tons of meat products were seized, and on Wednesday police detained five people as part of their inquiry. The factory supplied McDonald’s, KFC and other fast-food restaurants in China, and is a subsidiary of the OSI Group, based in Aurora, Ill.

Along with McDonald’s and KFC, the restaurants that have stopped obtaining supplies from Shanghai Husi include Burger King, Starbucks and the Papa John’s pizza chain. The factory had customers in Japan as well, including McDonald’s Holdings Japan, which said it had sourced about a fifth of its Chicken McNuggets from Shanghai Husi and stopped selling the product on Monday.

schaffner.facebook.apr.14“Company management was appalled by the report and is dealing with the issue directly and quickly” through internal inquiry and cooperation with government investigators, OSI said in a statement. A company spokeswoman declined to answer questions.

The varied and often-stomach-turning episodes in China, along with the growing number of American food companies operating there, have made it a focus of world attention and expert support in the efforts to build its food-quality protections. Events like the government-sponsored China International Food Safety and Quality Conference, which began eight years ago, have been drawing top American experts, from regulators to litigators, who say the challenge China faces is staggering.

“Although China is by outward appearance an incredibly modern and vibrant society, it just doesn’t have a long history of regulatory control, of checks and balances, where somebody is making the decision, ‘If the meat falls on the floor, should I put it back in?’ ” said Bill Marler, a Seattle-based consumer lawyer who has attended the food safety conferences.

Mr. Marler, a leading filer of food-borne illness lawsuits in the United States, cites the lack of a vigorous civil torts system in China as a major hindrance to its food-safety overhaul, arguing that big-dollar cases cause companies to change their ways. But the failings in China’s system range widely, observers said, and persist despite the 2009 update of its Food Hygiene Act with the far-more vigorous Food Safety Law.

There may prove to be a benefit as more American food companies enter the Chinese market. While they are raising public alarm about episodes like this week’s meat scandal, they may also come bearing the expertise to help set things right, Professor Schaffner said.

“They’re not perfect,” he said. “But when companies like McDonald’s and Yum Brands come in, they are bringing high food-safety standards to China, which is good for Chinese suppliers.”