Food Safety Talk 81: Food safety matters every week

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.

After a brief discussion about Quadrophenia, the guys thankfully decide to not sing this episode.Unknown-3

Ben mentions that the last video store in the Raleigh area is closing. This led to some discussion about the job security of academic careers where Don stated, ‘prediction is very difficult especially about the future.’

Spurred by Ben’s short visit to Baltimore, the guys then discuss how awesome The Wire is.  Don mentions a perspective by David Simon, the Wire’s creator, on the real life situation in Baltimore.  Ben was recently in Baltimore for the Food Safety Summit.  A nod goes out to Brian Saunders for doing a good job of boots on the ground coverage of what’s going on in Baltimore during the Food Safety Summit.

Don recommends Acorn TV for anyone interested in British TV. This subscription service has British programming not typically shown on US TV. At the Acorn website Ben spotted Time Team an archeology reality series that he thinks his kids would love.

This week Ben talks about media interviews and a focus on multiple food safety stories all hitting at the same time. He talked a cutting boards post on barfblog that garnered some attention.  He also fielded inquires regarding the Blue Bell Listeria outbreak .  Ben noted that Blue Bell announced they are recalling all the ice cream.

A tragic botulism outbreak linked to a church potluck in Ohio was also a topic in multiple media outlets. The potluck outbreak was linked to home-canned potatoes but the coverage prompted a side conversation about bot and foil-wrapped baked potatoes.

Looking ahead to future food outbreaks Ben mentions that a bill was introduced in North Carolina to legalize raw milk.  This bill would allow consumers to legally acquire raw milk via a cow share mechanism.  In this article Ben is quoted challenging an inappropriate comparison of raw milk outbreak data by the bill’s sponsor.

In After Dark Don shames Ben for not listening to Roderick on the Line. Again.

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‘Doesn’t have all the industrialized stuff in it’ Raw goats milk in Alaska

After we won the hockey final yesterday, several of the parents said to me or Amy, “we didn’t expect that. Our team dominated.”

goats-1-600x450We were up 6-0 before the other team knew what was happening.

On the drive home Amy said, I told them, Doug probably had a plan (which I did). I appear sorta dopey (which is easy), but do the homework and know the game.

And sometimes get lucky.

Watching the raw milk comings-and-goings is something like that.

The majority of producers invoke the gosh-shucks-raw-is-just-natural line, without adding that smallpox is also natural. And E. coli.

The regulators seem lost in this rhetorical garden, portrayed as villains, even though the are relied upon to clean up the mess when things go bad.

Victor Nelson and his wife, Tabitha, have been supplying raw milk from their dairy goats to people in Petersburg, reported KFSK-FM.

The couple raises chickens, pigs and goats on a few acres of land at Point Agassiz, an area across the sound from Petersburg. They’re the only family living out there year-round, surrounded by craggy peaks, cedar trees and glaciers.

“We started with two goats and just for raising quality milk that doesn’t have all that industrialized stuff in it and people kept asking us so we decided to buy a few more and a few more,” said Tabitha Nelson.

They have more than 30 now.

The Nelsons say people go crazy for the fresh milk — “We could never meet the whole demand for Petersburg,” said Tabitha — but there are limitations on how they can sell it.

In Alaska, you can only buy raw dairy products like the Nelsons’ unpasteurized goat milk through a herd share agreement, so the customers in Petersburg are partial owners of the goats.

Unpasteurized dairy products are heavily regulated because they’ve been known to carry disease-causing microorganisms like E. coli. In 2013, a campylobacter outbreak on the Kenai peninsula was linked to raw milk.

Someone I know posted this on Facebook today: carrots being sold from a truck

Names and locations have been changed to protect, uh, identities.


So many questions.

Where did the carrots come from? Where did they go? How was $20 arrived at as the price? Does this fit into someone’s food safety plan?

In unrelated news, CDC estimates that about half of the foodborne illness in the U.S. is attributed to produce.

Food Safety Talk 80: Literally the hummus I’m eating

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.1442690399236

The show opens with a discussion of Don’s mic stand and quickly segues into “Linda’s Famous Cigar Story”, and Ben’s annual pollen throat. After a discussion of their various ailments, Don wishes Ben an almost 37th birthday.

Ben is currently expecting a new macbook, which was discussed on Episode 116 of the Talk Show. Don shares his recent experiences looking at Apple Watch in the Apple Store, and his preference for the Milanese Loop and his new burr grinder and aeropress.

When the talk turns to food safety, Ben talks about his work with Family & Consumer Sciences in North Carolina, (called Family and Community Health Sciences at Rutgers University) and how Ben has recently changed his training practices from classroom lecture to supermarket and restaurant inspection field trips based on inspiration from Dara Bloom.

This inspires Don to talk about the work he’s doing to help documentary film makers doing a story on shelf life dating of foods especially milk. Ben shares some of the myths circulating about expired milk including this bogus article from Livestrong, and the work he’s doing on expired food and food pantries.

From there the discussion moves to other shelf life myths including the egg float or shake tests, and why they are bogus, as well as places to go for good egg information, because someone on the Internet will always be wrong.

The discussion turns to recalled hummus recall messaging and Ben’s post hockey snacking tips.

As the guys wrap up the show they briefly talk about Blue Bell ice cream and the doses of Listeria that might have made people sick and the future of food safety given the advances in molecular biology, clinical microbiology and whole genome sequencing. Ben shares some final thoughts on Salmonella in spices and how whole genome sequencing might impact that industry too.

In the brief after dark, Ben and Don talk about yoga, and getting healthy, the Turing Test, and the new Star Wars movie trailer.

Study says foodborne illnesses cost $77 billion a year

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


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.”

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: 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.