Soil may protect onions from E. coli

Early research indicates one of the best protections for onions against irrigation water-borne bacteria, such as E. coli, may be the soil itself.

onionThat research is being conducted at the Malheur Experiment Station by Joy Waite-Cusic, assistant professor of Food Safety Systems at Oregon State University.

Onions in the research plot have been irrigated with water inoculated with E. coli, some to extreme highs, Waite-Cusic said. The E. coli was applied during the last irrigation. In the sample of onions taken from the plots, the majority of them did not test positive for the bacteria, Waite-Cusic said.

In one of the latest samplings, onions were harvested one afternoon, put in bags and tested the next morning. Only 16 out of 150 onions tested positive for E. coli, Waite-Cusic said, and this from rows where the irrigation water had been artificially inoculated with 100,000 colony-forming units of generic E. coli for 100 milliliters of water.

“The soil does a good job of filtering,” experiment station superintendent Clint Shock said.

Testing showed that there was less E. coli as the water moved from the furrow or drop tape through the soil to the onion bulb.

Egg moguls belong behind bars

The Des Moines Register writes in this editorial that four months ago, Iowa egg producers Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son, Peter, were each sentenced to 90 days in prison for their role in the nation’s largest egg-related Salmonella outbreak.

decosterNow, however, the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, the National Association of Manufacturers and other major business organizations are fighting to keep the DeCosters out of prison.

They’ve filed briefs with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, siding with the DeCosters in arguing that while fines and probation are acceptable in such cases, it’s unconstitutional to put corporate executives behind bars for the criminal actions of their underlings.

It’s an interesting case with major legal and ethical implications. After all, mere fines aren’t much of a deterrent to executives who collect multi-million-dollar salaries. But a 90-day stint in prison, as the DeCosters themselves argue in their court filings, carries with it the “personal loss and stigma” associated with becoming a convict.

In this case, a prison sentence certainly seems warranted. The Quality Egg salmonella outbreak of 2010 sickened at least 56,000 people (about 1,800 confirmed) and triggered a record-setting recall of more than half a billion eggs.

salmonella.eggsAs to whether the DeCosters themselves were to blame for the outbreak, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Bennett found the two men had created a “culture of rampant safety violations” and a “work environment where employees not only felt comfortable disregarding regulations and bribing USDA officials, but may have even felt pressure to do so.”

The editorial conclueds that tens of thousands of people were sickened as a direct result of the manner in which the DeCosters managed — or, rather, mismanaged — Quality Egg and its employees. For that, the DeCosters should be held accountable. A prison sentence is entirely appropriate.

Heston-norvirus-isn’t-my-fault Blumenthal reopens his Fat Duck restaurant

The Daily Mail delivers what those in the biz call a BJ-piece in a fawning portrait of Heston Blumenthal, whose new menu will take diners on a ‘story-telling’ journey aimed at capturing childhood feelings of adventure when the new menu at his Fat Duck restaurant launches next month.

heston.blumenthalI have those childhood memories: being on the couch for a couple of days, watching bad game shows and barfing endlessly, much like the 529 diners and staff who were sickened by norovirus at the Fat Duck in 2009.

He has even turned to magician Derren Brown for tips on how to personalise people’s dinner choices by using auto-suggestion techniques so that diners get what they think they most crave.

Get the food safety right first, then indulge yourself with magic.

He also acknowledged that having more than 70 staff make handmade food for 40 seats at each service would likely force up the price of a meal.

Follow the money.

Food bugs: ‘You can’t stop what’s comin’ they aren’t waitin’ on you, that’s vanity’

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

no.country.for.old.menMy worst failure as a human is that many loving, generous and smart people want to help me.

And I don’t want their help.

But sometimes, people need help, even if they don’t know it.

I sliced the tip off my thumb while making the girls’ lunch – food safety risk – and after three hours of bleeding, I finally took my wife’s advice and ended up with a few stitches.

I apply these lessons to food safety. The outbreaks that occur, the terrible soundbites, the gross mismanagement and I wonder, why didn’t they seek help sooner?

Most of it is psychological, just like my resistance to seek help, or, as one correspondent wrote, “it simply can’t happen. Until it does.”

Top 10 signs someone may need microbial food safety help:

The bugs will keep on coming, and whether it’s pride or vanity, people will ignore the protective measures until they get caught.

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. 

‘Impossible to update a facility to control listeria if built in 1950s’ Acme’s new smoking plant

Due to its ability to grow in the cold and conditions that typically thwart other bacteria, listeria has always been a major concern for the cold-smoked fish industry.

smoked.salmonWith the February opening of a 100,000-square-foot cold-smoking facility in North Carolina, the Brooklyn-based Acme Smoked Fish Corporation hopes to quell those concerns with a raft of new processes to prevent the bacteria’s spread. With a new facility just for cold-smoking, which was designed to reduce possible cross contamination during manufacturing and make equipment much easier to clean, the company now has a much greater ability to control listeria, company R&D senior manager Matt Ranieri told Undercurrent News.

“Now that we have a dedicated facility, we’re able to really control the level of salt. We’re able to really hone in and fine tune in a way that wasn’t possible before because of the equipment,” he said.

The plant, which was built at an investment of $32.2 million according to the newspaper WilmingtonBiz, can process up to 30,000 pounds of smoked fish per day and was designed to isolate critical parts of the manufacturing process.

“It’s impossible to update a facility to the level that you need to control listeria if it was built in the 1950s,” he said.

“No product is released until we have results both from the environment and the product that indicate the absence of listeria,” he said.

I miss Bill Keene: Museum catalogues food poisoning in Oregon, elsewhere

Lynne Terry of The Oregonian writes that an unusual museum stocked with food packages including everything from ground beef to alfalfa sprouts has gone live on the internet.

bill.keene.portland
The Outbreak Museum, physically located in Portland, showcases the culprits in food poisoning cases.

The museum was the brainchild of Oregon’s star epidemiologist William Keene, who died suddenly at the end of 2013. He cracked dozens, if not hundreds of outbreaks that sickened people from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine with food tainted by E. coli, salmonella, norovirus, campylobacter and listeria. He worked with manufacturers and health officials alike with one goal in mind: prevent consumers from getting sick.

He collected packages of tainted items in outbreaks he worked on and other public health officials sent him containers from their investigations. The museum includes items from the 1999 salmonella outbreak traced to alfalfa sprouts, the 2006 E. coli outbreak involving spinach and the 2012 E. coli outbreak traced to raw milk.

Dr. Paul Cieslak, medical director of Oregon’s immunization program, said the museum is designed to educate younger epidemiologists about the significance of past outbreaks and how they influenced public health decisions and epidemiological investigations.

“It’s mainly meant to be instructure,” Cieslak said.

The items are open to public health students and school groups by appointment. The website includes more extensive information on 12 outbreaks.

Food porn hero shot: Tricks of TV cooking shows

I can’t watch cooking shows.

The music is terrible, the chefs are awful and food safety is essentially non-existent (see paper we wrote over a decade ago).

celebrity_chefs4 A post on the social media site Reddit asked people who have worked on the set of food shows to reveal the strangest things they’ve seen while working.

According to user ‘Elroypaisley’ who worked on a daytime talk show with daily cooking segments, most the hard work is done by a food stylist behind the scenes.

“Most of the food is either A) not edible (under cooked chicken, just browned on the outside to look good for camera or sprayed with shining spray to make it look glossy) or B) Eaten by the crew,” write the redditor.

“The most enlightening fact, for me, was that many of the chefs have no idea what the recipe is, what they are cooking when they arrive or how it’s made.

“A food stylist shows up two hours before taping, having been up the night before all night making the ‘beauty dishes’ — these are the dishes the camera will take shots of to show what the final product looks like. Then the stylist lays out every ingredient, every bowl, every tool that will be needed.

“The chef arrives, does hair/makeup and comes to set where the stylist briefs them. ‘Chef, today you’re making such and such. These are the ingredients for the reduction sauce, etc’. The chef goes over the recipe a few times, then we go live and they are the expert.”

User ‘Landlubber77’ worked as a production intern on a food network and said the dish prepared on screen by the chef isn’t usually the one that features in the fancy photos.

“When they want to stage shots of just the food on its own, the ‘hero shot’, they have an intern make a duplicate of the meal (doesn’t matter if it’s undercooked inside because nobody is gonna eat it) which just has to look good on the surface. They then spray it with an aerosol can of some ungodly preservative to make it ‘stay’.

When it comes to shows such as MasterChef, ‘absinthevisions’ wrote that “each dish can be made several times so there is a lot of waste”.

masterchef“If it’s a contest style show, the judges don’t eat the version that you see cooked and plated. That version is thrown away and a new version is cooked specifically for them to eat. Then they take 2-3 bites from a plate and throw the rest away.”

If you’ve ever seen a cooking show where the chef is given a special ingredient at the start of the show and you’ve been amazed by how quickly they brainstormed and executed their dish, well … don’t be amazed.

“My brother was a sous chef for his (at the time) boss on a popular food competition show,” wrote Reddit user ‘LadyofRivendell’.

“He said the secret ingredient was revealed a few hours prior to filming and the chefs sat down with their sous chefs and made plans ahead.”

But the best story in the thread was from a caterer called ‘Astrochef12’ who was hired to in the early 2000s by The Oprah Winfrey show to help make a number of different celebrities’ favourite recipes for the studio audience.

Mathiasen, L.A., Chapman, B.J., Lacroix, B.J. and Powell, D.A. 2004. Spot the mistake: Television cooking shows as a source of food safety information, Food Protection Trends 24(5): 328-334.

Consumers receive information on food preparation from a variety of sources. Numerous studies conducted over the past six years demonstrate that television is one of the primary sources for North Americans. This research reports on an examination and categorization of messages that television food and cooking programs provide to viewers about preparing food safely. During June 2002 and 2003, television food and cooking programs were recorded and reviewed, using a defined list of food safety practices based on criteria established by Food Safety Network researchers. Most surveyed programs were shown on Food Network Canada, a specialty cable channel. On average, 30 percent of the programs viewed were produced in Canada, with the remainder produced in the United States or United Kingdom. Sixty hours of content analysis revealed that the programs contained a total of 916 poor food-handling incidents. When negative food handling behaviors were compared to positive food handling behaviors, it was found that for each positive food handling behavior observed, 13 negative behaviors were observed. Common food safety errors included a lack of hand washing, cross-contamination and time-temperature violations. While television food and cooking programs are an entertainment source, there is an opportunity to improve their content so as to promote safe food handling.

What goes in the fridge for safety reasons and other tales

Evidence and perception aren’t often congruent in the food safety world. There are lots of examples from the pages of the Internet: Dirty bathrooms are an indicator of sanitation in the kitchen; pathogens won’t transfer in less than five seconds when food hits the floor; and, yogurt is dangerous if consumed after the best-before date are just a few.

K. Aleisha Fetters of Yahoo News connected with Schaffner and I on the difference between refrigeration for safety and keeping stuff cool for spoilage and quality reasons.

Here are some excerpts.k2-_bd216f83-0923-407e-aea5-f57dc7338ebc.v1

Ketchup: Can remain at room temperature.
Ever wondered why restaurants keep ketchup on their tables rather than back in the fridge? Because it won’t make you sick, says Benjamin Chapman, PhD, associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. Ketchup is so acidic that it prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. It will spoil faster if left out on the counter, but it could still take months to turn bad.

Fruits and vegetables: It depends.
If you think about it, fruits and vegetables grow outside at temps far higher than room temperature. That’s why, when they are whole, they are safe on your counter. However, when you cut them (or in the case of lettuce, just tear their stems from the ground), you actually rip open the cells of the plant. This releases nutrients, water, and bacteria, and allows them to mingle with each other, says food microbiologist Donald W. Schaffner, PhD, distinguished professor at Rutgers University. For example, when you cut a tomato or avocado, you need to keep it in the fridge to prevent the growth of salmonella. However, it’s worth noting that listeria can grow (albeit slowly) at cold temps. That’s why, even if you keep cut melons in the fridge, you should throw them out or add them to the compost pile after four days, Chapman says.

Mayonnaise: Must be refrigerated.
Well, this one is really more of an “it depends,” but we’re going to suggest sticking it in the fridge just in case. Most store-bought mayo is acidic enough to keep on the counter without it growing bad-for-you bacteria all by itself. (That’s why fast-food joints can keep it out in pumps until it’s used up.) But, if you cut some veggies with a knife, and then stick that knife in your jar of mayonnaise, you could potentially introduce bacteria into the mayo that is able to grow at room temperature, Chapman says. Meanwhile, whatever the recipe, homemade mayo is generally not acidic enough to fend off pathogens.

Food Safety Talk 79: You’re Into Botulism Country (with Merlin Mann)

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.3024499-poster-p-meat

Merlin Mann joins Don and Ben for a discussion on food safety and cooking using science at home.

The episode starts off with a discussion on sous vide and time/temperature combinations for pathogen reduction.

The discussion goes to Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking and the science of cooking, sensory and how heat changes food quality and safety. The guys talk about ground meats risks compared to intact muscle meats and then deconstruct risk assessments with bullet analogies. The guys move into pork and trichinosis and how risks have changed but messages stay sticky.

The show ends with a discussion on food safety myths, including confusing food safety and spoilage; storing butter on the counter and  ketchup in the refrigerator.

They decided to leave an in-depth discussion of Sloan for another day.