It’s the super happy holiday version of Food Safety Talk. Don and Ben chat about Christmas movies, gambling as children and other holiday traditions. Making appearances in the guys’ discussion are Twitter and posting great questions of regulators about poor recall notices; cooling and holding cous cous and regulatory interpretations of time as a public health control; norovirus outbreaks at schools; and, Chipotle’s food safety culture.
This is why avant-garde jazz saxophonists shouldn’t be responsible for food safety
And that’s nothing against avant-garde jazz saxophonists, although I hate jazz.
But what I really hate is when people make dumb decisions that lead to another’s death, all marketed with the halo of natural, and yet still heralded as some titan of business.
In late Oct. 1996, an outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 was traced to juice containing unpasteurized apple cider manufactured by Odwalla in the northwest U.S. Sixty-four people were sickened and a 16-month-old died from E. coli O157:H7. During subsequent grand jury testimony, it was revealed that while Odwalla had written contracts with suppliers to only provide apples picked from trees rather than drops – those that had fallen to the ground and would be more likely to be contaminated with feces, in this case, deer feces — the company never verified if suppliers were actually doing what they said they were doing. Earlier in 1996, Odwalla had sought to supply the U.S. Army with juice. An Aug. 6, 1996 letter from the Army to Odwalla stated, “we determined that your plant sanitation program does not adequately assure product wholesomeness for military consumers. This lack of assurance prevents approval of your establishment as a source of supply for the Armed Forces at this time.”
Once a huckster, always a huckster.
Stephanie Strom of the N.Y. Times reports for the past 20 years, Greg Steltenpohl, an avant-garde jazz saxophonist turned beverage entrepreneur, has worked to rekindle the magic behind his greatest hit — and make peace with a nightmare that led to an abrupt fall.
Food safety issue: Mr. Steltenpohl started the juice company Odwalla in 1980, selling drinks out of his band’s Volkswagen van in and around San Francisco. Within a few years, the company was a multimillion-dollar business, flying high as one of the first breakout healthy drinks now commonplace in grocery aisles.
Then, in 1996, a child died and dozens were sickened because of contaminated apple juice produced by Odwalla, changing everything. About 90 percent of the company’s revenue evaporated almost overnight in the wake of the outbreak. With the company on the brink of bankruptcy, Mr. Steltenpohl and his partners were forced to sell a controlling interest in Odwalla to private equity firms, the equivalent — to him — of selling out to the devil. Not long after, the company was sold to Coca-Cola.
Dude, you sold out long before that, pushing production and foregoing safety to make bucks.
Quite a fairytale he spins.
“Odwalla took him to the top of the world and then to the bottom,” said Berne Evans, his business partner today. “I don’t think he’s ever gotten over it.”
But now Mr. Steltenpohl, a gentle and avuncular 62, is once again near the center of beverage industry buzz as the head of Califia Farms, a nut milk business that is fast expanding into bottled coffees and other drinks. This time, he is taking advantage of a new trend sweeping the industry, as young beverage companies — empowered by changes in distribution and consumer tastes — are rising and competing successfully with titans like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.
Only a few years after its founding, in 2012, Califia is on track to ring up $100 million in sales and is adding products at a fast clip. The company is considered one of the hottest young brands in the beverage world, leading to whispers about whether one of the big competitors will soon swoop in with a buyout offer that Mr. Steltenpohl and his partners can’t refuse.
Not this time, he insists. “I’ve had to sell out once,” Mr. Steltenpohl said. “That was enough.”
The story has lots of financial stuff, and how people who know shit about food safety market and sell shit to people who don’t know better, and the people who know shit make billions.
With Trump as President, the time is ripe for a comeback, I guess.
Duane Stanford, the editor of Beverage Digest, said a young beverage company today can buy its flavors from a flavor house, branding expertise from a branding expert and manufacturing from a producer on contract.
“You have this situation where these companies can become viable, robust, cash-generating businesses without the help of a big company,” he said. “They’re even getting creative at building independent distribution networks.”
Odwalla came together out of a necessity to eat. After graduating from Stanford with a degree in environmental sciences, Mr. Steltenpohl joined with some friends to start a band called the Stance. He also got hooked on the taste of fresh-squeezed orange juice, which his father made for him.
“We were a band of musicians who weren’t really that accomplished — or popular,” Mr. Steltenpohl said of himself and the band members, who became his partners in Odwalla. “We were broke and starving, and we figured if we started a juice business, we could live off the juice and maybe make a little extra.”
He read a book, “100 Businesses You Can Start For $100,” and the partners invested in a juicer and started making juice. They didn’t even try to break into groceries and convenience stores, instead stocking refrigerators in video stores and laundromats with Odwalla fresh juice each day. “Everyone who was a musician back then was basically living out of a VW bus,” Mr. Steltenpohl said. “We quit living in ours and began selling juice out of the back.”
For most of its early years, the Santa Cruz Community Credit Union financed the company. But as consumers cottoned on to its intensely flavored, wacky mixes of unpasteurized juice, it needed something more.
In October, 1996, a 16-month-old Denver girl drank Smoothie juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc. of Half Moon Bay, California. She died several weeks later; 64 others became ill in several western U.S. states and British Columbia after drinking the same juices, which contained unpasteurized apple cider — and E. coli O157:H7. Investigators believed that some of the apples used to make the cider might have been ins
The brand’s claims about the healthiness came back to haunt it as reporters dug into its failure to heed warnings about food-safety lapses.
Those failures are legendary in the food safety world, and a similar failure for Steltenpohl to say, “(Coke) never saw the enormous potential of the Odwalla brand and instead saw it as just another product in the juice portfolio.”
It’s also a failure for the N.Y Times to not report how those Odwalla failures went straight to the top..
Odwalla’s brand is nothing more than a cautionary food safety fairytale.
I have many.
Maybe Cafia will become one.
The story notes that Steltenpohl is also trying to avoid past mistakes. The plant is equipped with cutting-edge food-safety monitors that share alerts about problems as they happen with the entire senior management team. Josh Butt, who previously oversaw food safety systems at Danone, the big French dairy company, presides over the plant’s operations.
Cutting-edge is a phrase that appeals to investors but means shit to any food safety type.
Cutting corners is this guy’s calling card.
And making a buck.
This is what I wrote at the time:
Sometime in late September 1996, 16-month-old Anna Gimmestad of Denver has a glass of Smoothie juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc. After her parents noticed bloody diarrhea, Anna was admitted to Children’s Hospital on Oct. 16. On 8 November 1996 she died after going into cardiac and respiratory arrest. Anna had severe kidney problems, related to hemolytic uremic syndrome and her heart had stopped several times in previous days.
The juice Anna — and 65 others who got sick — drank was contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, linked to fresh, unpasteurized apple cider used as a base in the juices manufactured by Odwalla. Because they were unpasteurized, Odwalla’s drinks were shipped in cold storage and had only a two-week shelf life. Odwalla was founded 16 years ago on the premise that fresh, natural fruit juices nourish the spirit. And the bank balance: in fiscal 1996, Odwalla sales jumped 65 per cent to $60 million (U.S.). Company chairman Greg Steltenpohl told reporters that the company did not routinely test for E. coli because it was advised by industry experts that the acid level in the apple juice was sufficient to kill the bug.
Who these industry experts are remains a mystery. Odwalla insists the experts were the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA isn’t sure who was warned and when. In addition to all the academic research and media coverage concerning verotoxigenic E. coli cited above, Odwalla claimed ignorance.
In terms of crisis management — and outbreaks of foodborne illness are increasingly contributing to the case study literature on crisis management — Odwalla responded appropriately. Company officials responded in a timely and compassionate fashion, initiating a complete recall and co-operating with authorities after a link was first made on Oct. 30 between their juice and illness. They issued timely and comprehensive press statements, and even opened a web site containing background information on both the company and E. coli O157:H7. Upon learning of Anna’s death, Steltenpohl issued a statement which said, “On behalf of myself and the people at Odwalla, I want to say how deeply saddened and sorry we are to learn of the loss of this child. Our hearts go out to the family and our primary concern at this moment is to see that we are doing everything we can to help them.”
For Odwalla, or any food firm to say it had no knowledge that E. coli O157 could survive in an acid environment is unacceptable. When one of us called this $60-million-a-year-company with the great public relations, to ask why they didn’t know that E. coli O157 was a risk in cider, it took over a day to return the call. That’s a long time in crisis-management time. More galling was that the company spokeswoman said she had received my message, but that her phone mysteriously couldn’t call Canada that day.
Great public relations; lousy management. What this outbreak, along with cyclospora in fresh fruit in the spring of 1996 and dozens of others, demonstrates is that, vigilance, from farm to fork, is a mandatory requirement in a global food system. Risk assessment, management and communication must be interlinked to accommodate new scientific and public information. And that includes those funky and natural fruit juices.
A couple of weeks ago I left my cozy bubble of Raleigh and travelled to Wayne County NC for an evening talk at the Farm-City Banquet. As I was driving I thought about Doug and Gord Surgeoner’s mentorship – both instilled the importance of engaging with real people around issues and chatting over dinners.
Research and extension activities need grounding in reality.
The morning of the event I wasn’t entirely sure what to talk about – so I asked Schaffner for input during a podcast recording. He suggested ‘A Tale of Two Outbreaks’ – comparing Jensen Farms to PCA. Both tragic outbreaks, both resulting in criminal charges. One was due to an egregious disregard for public health. The other seemed to be a couple of folks who meant well but didn’t quite get microbiology.
Be the bug.
For the next talk I’m gonna add in ConAgra’s Peter Pan/Salmonella outbreak as part of the story.
The Associated Press reports that ConAgra pled guilty and has agreed to pay $11.2 million in fines and other fees as a result of an outbreak a decade ago.
ConAgra admitted to a single misdemeanor count of shipping adulterated food. No individuals at the leading food conglomerate faced any charges in the 2006 outbreak, which sickened at least 625 people in 47 states.
Disease detectives traced the salmonella to a plant in rural Sylvester, Georgia, that produced peanut butter for ConAgra under the Peter Pan label and the Great Value brand sold at Wal-Mart. In 2007 the company recalled all the peanut butter it had sold since 2004.
Leo Knowles, president of ConAgra Grocery Products, offered no testimony as he entered the misdemeanor plea Tuesday on behalf of the Chicago-based corporation’s subsidiary.
“It made a lot of people sick,” federal prosecutor Graham Thorpe said Tuesday as he described ConAgra’s decision to continue shipments from the Georgia plant in late 2006, before corrective actions were completed, despite lab tests that had twice detected salmonella in samples.
“The industry has taken notice of this prosecution,” Thorpe added.
Though the Justice Department called $8 million the heftiest criminal fine ever imposed in a U.S. food safety case, it represents just one-tenth of one percent of ConAgra’s current $8 billion market capitalization. The company also will pay $3.2 million in cash forfeitures to the federal government.
ConAgra said it didn’t know peanut butter was contaminated with salmonella before it was shipped. However, the plea agreement documents noted that ConAgra knew peanut butter made in Georgia had twice tested positive for salmonella in 2004. Problems weren’t all fixed by the time of the outbreak.
The judge noted that others had already received cash from ConAgra in civil settlements, which he said totaled $36 million to 6,810 people.
About 2,000 of them were represented by Bill Marler, a Seattle-based attorney who specializes in food-safety cases. He said the case shows corporations can be prosecuted even when there’s no evidence of intentional criminality. The misdemeanor charge, he said, required only that ConAgra shipped the contaminated food.
“Companies are very concerned, they’re very worried,” Marler said. “They’re very interested in knowing: How can they charge us with a crime even if we don’t mean to do it? People are paying attention to that and hopefully it’s going to drive positive food behavior.”
The folks in the food and agriculture world in Wayne County seemed to pay attention.
Everyone’s got a camera, consumers are asking more about food safety, so quit the bickering and get ahead of the curve.
A shopping mall in Hongkou district of China had digital screens installed at the front doors of its restaurants to broadcast real-time scenes from inside their kitchens, the Jiefang Daily reported. According to Shanghai Municipal Food and Drug Supervision Administration, the mall’s live streaming is a pilot for the new transparent kitchens and stoves project promoted by the local authority. Liu Jun, an official from Hongkou District Market Supervision and Management Bureau, said that other information such as business licenses and health certificates may also be presented on the screens. Mobile phone applications that contribute to food safety will also be utilized. “With these food-safety applications, citizens can have more access to what ingredients are used and where leftovers go,” Zhang Lei, an official from Shanghai Municipal Food and Drug Supervision Administration said.
After visiting a bunch of produce packing plants in the U.S. and Canada over the past decade, I have a keen interest in cleaning and sanitizing conveyor belts. They sure seem like they could be harborage sites for Listeria – especially with all the seams. Traditional conveyor belts are also pretty hard to take apart as part of a daily (or between lot) sanitation step.
My concerns are around how sanitation is carried out (maybe it’s a good compound, maybe not; all sanitation crews are also not built equally) – but equipment really matters too. Sorting machines haven’t been built with Listeria control as a design feature.
According to the Packer, JBT Corp is marketing a better belt.
The SaniClean belt conveyor from JBT Corp. has gained food safety approval and is now commercially available.
“The biggest feature of it is that it is super easy to clean,” Jeff Cook, aftermarket parts and equipment sales manager at JBT, said in a news release. “With most conventional conveyors, you can’t get into them and clean under or around the belt — you need the maintenance department to take them apart to do the cleaning.”
The sanitation precautions include disposable plastic belt supports directly under the conveyor, as well as “food-safe” welds that allow for cleaning of the machine’s hidden and hard-to-reach crevices to stop germs from manifesting.
The marketing sounds good; but who knows what it really means. Food safety approval? By whom? Against what standard? Show me the data (I couldn’t find anything on their website).
Don’t believe the hype without seeing the validation.
Chipotle, one of our favorite barfblog topics, is in the news again as CEO Steve Ells appeared on the Today Show to talk woes associated with recovery from 2015’s multiple outbreaks. Ells says the slow recovery is because their service sucks now. I dunno.
I like to get my real and fake news on the Internet and consume digital stuff so I checked out the Newsy video of Ells walking through a Chipotle kitchen (below, exactly as shown).
At 10 seconds the guy who wrote, “We deployed robust, industry leading new food safety procedures in our restaurants including new handling procedures for produce, citrus and meats as well as comprehensive sanitizing protocols” pokes at a piece of meat on the grill, I’m guessing to check for doneness, with his bare hands.
Steve, a good food safety culture starts at the top. Model safe practices for your staff, mix in a thermometer and some gloves.
This article describes a study of inspections that were conducted by inspectors from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Food and Dairy Division at small-scale processing facilities. Interactions between inspectors and small processors were explored through a qualitative, ethnographic approach using interviews and field observations. Inspectors emphasized the importance of interpersonal skills such as communication, patience, empathy, respect, and consideration in conducting inspections.
This article examines how these skills were applied, how inspectors felt they improved compliance, the experiences through which inspectors attained these skills, and the training for which they expressed a need. These results provide new insights into the core competencies required in conducting inspections, and they provide the groundwork for further research.
Interpersonal skills in the practice of food safety inspections: A study of compliance assistance
Journal of Environmental Health , December 2016, Volume 79, No. 5, 8–12
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that in January 2006, Nestle also rejected the company’s Plainview, Texas, plant after finding dozens of dead mice rotting in and around the plant, dead pigeons near a peanut receiving door and live birds roosting inside the plant.
Congressional types also heard that auditors AIB — also known as the American Institute of Baking based in Manhattan (sigh, Kansas) — were hired and paid by Peanut Corp. of America, notified the company in advance when they were coming, how to prepare for inspections and then gave its plants glowing reviews.
An inspector with AIB wrote to the manager of Peanut Corp.’s Blakely, Ga., in a December 2008 e-mail produced by the committee, “You lucky guy. I am your AIB auditor. So we need to get your plant set up for any audit.”
Mackay told the committee a version of, “how the hell could we know?” and that AIB is the most commonly used inspector by food companies in America.
He also wanted food safety placed under a new leader in the Health and Human Services department, called for new requirements that all food companies have written safety plans, annual federal inspections of facilities that make high-risk foods, and other reforms.
Kellogg’s is a multi-billion dollar company asking for a government handout to do what Kellogg’s should be doing – selling a safe product. Kellogg’s helped create the paper albatross that is third-party audits instead of having its own people at plants that supply product which Kellogg’s resells at a substantial profit. Kellogg’s crapmeister told Washington how to strengthen food safety when he couldn’t keep shit out of his own company’s peanut cracker thingies.
This is a company founded on fairytales and colonic cleansing in Michigan, making its money selling sugar-sweetened treats to kids and their parents, and using a sliver of those profits to sanctimoniously fund so-called research and training, using Michigan State University as their willing vessel.
With this background, it’s not surprising that, as reported by Dan Flynn of Food Safety News, that, “In mid-2007, Michael collaborated with his brother, Stewart Parnell, who was the President and CEO of Peanut Corporation of America, a peanut processing and manufacturing company, to provide peanut paste to Kellogg.”
P.P sales “was a small operation with two tanker trucks and one customer: Kellogg Company.
From mid-2007 to 2008, Michael shipped peanut paste from PCA’s Blakely, Georgia plant (PCA Blakely) to a Kellogg production facility in Cary, North Carolina.”
P.P.’s tanker trucks, filled with peanut paste, during those months were making 1,200 round-trips to provide the product Kellogg’s needed to put a little dab of peanut paste on all those Keebler PB sandwich crackers.
When anyone from Kelloggs talks about food safety, have a chuckle and move on; or tell them what dickshits they are and how they know nothing about food safety.
Audits and inspections are never enough: A critique to enhance food safety
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.
Food Safety Talk, a bi-weekly podcast for food safety nerds, by food safety nerds. The podcast is hosted by Ben Chapman and barfblog contributor Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor at Rutgers University. Every two weeks or so, Ben and Don get together virtually and talk for about an hour.
They talk about what’s on their minds or in the news regarding food safety, and popular culture. They strive to be relevant, funny and informative — sometimes they succeed. You can download the audio recordings right from the website, or subscribe using iTunes.