How to have fewer people barfing from food? Inspections and government are only one tool

It’s an easy story for beleaguered journalists: a belligerent government versus a belligerent union, with both making wild claims about food safety.

Lost in the rhetoric is any concern about the people who eat – pretty much all of us – and the people who barf.

The union representing federal food inspectors says Canada’s food safety system is being pushed beyond its limits.

restaurant.inspectionSome $35-million and 192 inspectors are on the food safety program’s chopping block over the next two years, according to online documents posted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The agency has also disbanded a team of inspectors dedicated to protecting consumers from food fraud throughout Metro Vancouver. The Consumer Protection Unit once boasted 11 inspectors, but that number dwindled to four due to attrition.

The federal health ministry referred questions to the CFIA, which responded to the union’s claims with a broad e-mail.

“The statements by the union are false. There have been no cuts to food safety. Canada has one of the safest and healthiest food systems in the world,” it said.

The agency acknowledged there have been recent changes to how it handles the Vancouver area.

Time to change the discussion and the approach to safe food. Time to lose the religion: audits and inspections are never enough.

• Food safety audits and inspections are a key component of the nation’s food safety system and their use will expand in the future, for both domestic and imported foodstuffs., but recent failures can be emotionally, physically and financially devastating to the victims and the businesses involved;

• many outbreaks involve firms that have had their food production systems verified and received acceptable ratings from food safety auditors or government inspectors;

• while inspectors and auditors play an active role in overseeing compliance, the burden for food safety lies primarily with food producers;

• there are lots of limitations with audits and inspections, just like with restaurants inspections, but with an estimated 48 million sick each year in the U.S., the question should be, how best to improve food safety?

• audit reports are only useful if the purchaser or  food producer reviews the results, understands the risks addressed by the standards and makes risk-reduction decisions based on the results;

• there appears to be a disconnect between what auditors provide (a snapshot) and what buyers believe they are doing (a full verification or certification of product and process);

• third-party audits are only one performance indicator and need to be supplemented with microbial testing, second-party audits of suppliers and the in-house capacity to meaningfully assess the results of audits and inspections;

• companies who blame the auditor or inspector for outbreaks of foodborne illness should also blame themselves;

• assessing food-handling practices of staff through internal observations, externally-led evaluations, and audit and inspection results can provide indicators of a food safety culture; and,

• the use of audits to help create, improve, and maintain a genuine food safety culture holds the most promise in preventing foodborne illness and safeguarding public health.

 

Audits and inspections are never enough: A critique to enhance food safety

30.aug.12

Food Control

D.A. Powell, S. Erdozain, C. Dodd, R. Costa, K. Morley, B.J. Chapman

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713512004409?v=s5

Abstract

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.

Disclosing inspection results: Voluntary or mandatory?

My philosophy on disclosing restaurant inspection information hasn’t wavered much in the past 10 years: Make inspection results public and communicate them meaningfully to help patrons make decisions. There’s a patchwork approach to disclosure throughout the world: happy faces, letter grades, number grades or the not-well-used barf-o-meter.

barf.o.meter_.dec_.12-216x300

Whatever the system is, it’s necessary to pull back the curtain on what happens when inspectors are around. The transparency not only builds trust in the system, but also allows folks to choose businesses based on their own risk tolerance.

According to Australia’s Fraser Coast Chronicle, businesses will be provided with a rating score but will not be required to post it. The hope is that businesses receiving a stellar score will see the marketing advantage and will voluntarily post the ratings – while those not posting due to less-than-ideal ratings will raise their level of attention to get the higher rating.

Branded Scores on Doors, the program’s aim is to encourage food safety across the Fraser Coast.

Businesses will not be forced to display their ratings but the thinking is those with better scores will display to gain customer trust and improved trade.

A report showed those with a lower rating would be made to pay more fees, while the businesses that scored better paid less because fewer inspections were needed.

Joep Dekker from Wild Lotus in Hervey Bay said he would proudly display his score.

He said he was confident of a strong rating because he knew his business had high standards when it came to cleanliness.

“It is something to be proud of, a good score,” he said.

According to the Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne-Allen County (Indiana) health department is taking a different path to disclosing inspections: Moving to a risk-based rating and a corresponding smartphone ap.

Ann Applegate, director of the health department’s Food and Consumer Protection Division, said her department is considering programs from across the country to find a good match for the county.

“We have been looking at several different models of these restaurant grading systems and seeing how we can implement those into what we currently have,” Applegate said.

The new grading scale or points system would place more emphasis on risk-based violations, making it easier for the public to understand the severity of the violation.

[Mindy] Waldron said the department is also in the process of developing an app for smartphones that would allow people to view public documents such as food and beverage inspections.

Encouraging thermometer use, one person at a time

doug.sorenne.hockey.apr.14Australia shuts down for Easter.

It’s the end of two weeks of school holidays, the weather in Brisbane is ideal, so everyone is at the beach.

We went to the arena.

We did go to the beach Friday, but Saturday was two different outings and sausage sizzles.

First it was leisure in a park down by the Brisbane River. Brisbane has numerous, fabulous parks outfitted with lots of electric grills, and open spaces for kids and adults alike. I had forgotten my thermometer but my brofriend remembered to bring the one I had given him.

thermometer.chicken.apr.14The grills aren’t the most efficient, so people were waiting for us to hurry up and get on with things. A couple saw us temping sausages with the tip-sensitive digital thermometer and proclaimed, what a great idea. They were preparing ginger-soy chicken, so I said, use the thermometer. We’ll get it back later. They were hooked.

Then it was a hockey tournament at a neighboring arena where Sorenne made her game debut, and I returned to coaching for the first time in nine years.

They also had a sausage sizzle as a fundraiser. I was too busy with the kids to ask about thermometers, but it was a great way to spend a Saturday evening.

Beach, hockey, thermometers – what’s not to like?

dp.coaching.apr.14

Supermarket madness: shopping for food safety

powell_inside02

From the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety:

Shopping is a competitive sport.

Especially for groceries.

People who would think nothing of laying out $200 for a fancy-pants dinner and atmosphere, will digitally or electronically clip coupons to save $0.10.

I watch people when I go shopping for food, about every second day, and maybe they watch the creepy guy watching them.

My questions may not be the same as other cooks or parents, but I have a lot.

Should that bagged salad be re-washed? Some bags have labels and instructions, some don’t. What about the salad out in bins that came from pre-washed bags? Should it be re-washed?

Is washing strawberries or cantaloupe going to make them safer?

Where did those frozen berries come from? Am I really supposed to cook them and can’t have them in my yogurt because of a hepatitis A risk?

Are raw sprouts risky?

How long is that deli-meat good for? Is it safer at the counter or pre-packaged?

Should I use a thermometer or is piping hot a sufficient standard for cooking meat and frozen potpies? Can I tell if meat is cooked by using my tender fingertips?

Is that steak or roast beef mechanically tenderized and maybe requires a longer cook time or higher temperature?

Are those frozen chicken thingies made from raw or cooked product? Is it labeled? Is labeling an effective communication mechanism?

These are the questions I have as a food safety type and as a parent who has shopped for five daughters for a long time in multiple countries. It has guided much of our research.

I see lots of things wandering through the grocery store, but I don’t see much information about food safety.

When there is an outbreak, retailers rely on a go-to soundbite: “Food safety is our top priority.”

As a food safety type I sometimes see that, but as a consumer, I don’t.

This sets up a mental incongruity: if food safety is your top priority, shouldn’t you show me?

The other common soundbite is, “We meet all government standards.” This is the Pinto defense – so named for the cars that met government standards but had a tendency to blow up when hit from behind – and is a neon sign to shop elsewhere.

Leaving brand protection to government inspectors or auditors is a bad idea.

For a while I started saying, rather than focus on training, which is never evaluated for effectiveness, change the food safety culture at supermarkets and elsewhere, and here’s how to do that.

But now the phrase, “We have a strong food safety culture,” is routinely rolled out but rarely understood, so I’m going back to my old line: show me what you do to keep people from barfing.

doug.ben.family.Food safety information needs to be rapid, reliable, relevant and repeated. I don’t see that at grocery stores.

The days of assuming that all food at retail is safe are over. Some farmers, some companies, are better at food safety. And they should be rewarded.

Most of us just want to hang out with our kids and get some decent food – food that won’t make us barf.

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

CFIA plays the 99 per cent numbers game

CFIA is getting into the 99 per cent game, usually reserved for hucksters on TV.

99.9 per cent sounds good, but that’s only a 3-log reduction. For food safety purposes, log-5 (99.999 per cent) to log-7 (99.99999 per cent) reductions in dangerous pathogens are often strived for.

Last week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced that 99.8 per cent of whole cantaloupe samples tested negative for the presence of Salmonella (they didn’t test for Listeria, but should have).

cantaloupe.salmonellaPlaying the 99 per cent game is also terrible risk communication: it doesn’t matter how small the percentage of positive samples were if you were one of the 23 people that dies from Listeria in Maple Leaf cold-cuts in 2008.

Data and sampling are a necessary evil and I’m glad CFIA is making the results public. But testing is limited and fraught with caveats. It’s expensive, and industry has lots of data, so why not make it public, in the context of an overall approach to food safety for a specific food.

CFIA reports  a total of 499 whole cantaloupe samples were collected and tested for Salmonella bacteria, which can cause a serious illness with long-lasting effects. One sample was found to be unsatisfactory due to the presence of Salmonella.

A week later, CFIA said more than 99.9 per cent of leafy green vegetable samples had no detectable levels of bacterial pathogens and were safe to consume.

As part of a five-year microbiological plan that began in 2008/2009, the CFIA analyzed a total of 4,250 domestic and imported, whole and fresh-cut fresh leafy vegetable samples available in the Canadian market for Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O157:NM and generic E. coli. The fresh-cut samples were also tested for Listeria monocytogenes.

The 2009/2010 study deemed 12 samples to be “unsatisfactory” due to the presence of Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and/or high levels of generic E. coli. None of the samples were found to be positive for E. coli O157:H7 or E. coli O157:NM.

French court fines former owner, director of Marcel Baey for 2010-2011 Listeria cover-up

A French court condemned the former director of salmon smoker Marcel Baey on April 8 in relation to an investigation into unreported listeria occurrences and misleading marketing material at the company in 2010 and 2011, reported La Voix du Nord.

smoked-salmon2-265x268The court also imposed a fine of €50,000 on the company’s former owners. However, that money is unlikely to ever be paid considering Marcel Baey’s assets were taken over by from receivership Poland’s Suempol in July 2013.

“This case relates to events between 2010 and 2011,” Marcel Baey’s current production manager Romain Marce told Undercurrent News following the court ruling. “It does not concern Suempol but the entity Marcel Baey. It is therefore the liquidator who is concerned.”

The authorities which uncovered the malpractices at Marcel Baey from 2010 to 2011 stressed that these were in the past, and that the company and its owners Suempol are fully compliant with regulations.

According to La Voix du Nord, the court heard that Marcel Baey had dissimulated a sanitary crisis in 2010 and 2011. The Boulogne-sur-mer-based company was also found guilty of misleading promotion on its products.

The findings were uncovered by the French agency Direction departementale de la protection des populations (DPPP), which started investigating the company following hear-say from competitors.

Evans of CFIA gets honorary degree

Dr. Brian Evans, former chief vet at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the point-man on the first mad cow disease outbreak in 2003, is the first recipient of an honorary degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Calgary.

Evans is the retired executive vice-president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and was the country’s chief veterinary officer for 15 years.

Brian EvansHe graduated from the University of Guelph with a bachelor of science in agriculture in 1974 and a doctor of veterinary medicine in 1978.

While at CFIA, he was also Canada’s delegate to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) for 13 years. He was elected secretary general for the OIE regional commission for the Americas and to four consecutive three-year terms as the representative of the member countries of the Americas Region on the OIE’s executive council.

Most recently, he was appointed the international body’s deputy director general responsible for animal health, veterinary public health and international standards.

He is married to Laurianne and has four children.

And is a genuinely thoughtful dude.

Potential outbreak at Muskegon sports bar

Muskegon, MI birthplace of the Detroit Red Wings’ Justin Abdelkader and punk rocker Iggy Pop is also home to what looks like a foodborne illness outbreak. According to Mlive, patrons of Bonicki’s Bistro reported illnesses to owner Norm Spyke as well as the local health authorities.395394_237923292949867_1801694089_n

Officials at Public Health – Muskegon County are asking recent patrons of a Muskegon Township sports bar to fill out a survey to gather data for a foodborne illness investigation.

Jill Montgomery Keast, the health education supervisor at Public Health – Muskegon County, said the agency is in the early stages of determining the type and cause of an outbreak that occurred at Bonicki’s Sports Bistro, 1891 East Apple Ave.
Keast said the department received at least six calls from local customers who fell ill between April 3 and April 6. 
“We were in full compliance as far as I know. They are looking into the matter,” Spyke said.

Bonicki’s achieved compliance with the Michigan Food Law on Jan. 8, according to the latest inspection data available online at www.swordsolutions.com. The records show that sanitarians cited the restaurant for priority violations related to ice and food storage that were eventually corrected.

On the Bonicki’s Sports Bistro Facebook page is a message from the ownership:

Contrary to some news organizations poor reporting skills
WE ARE STILL OPEN!
The Muskegon County Health Department has been here and has checked us on everything, they found nothing wrong with how we store, prepare, cook, or serve our food.
During this time please remember the people that work here, for many of them this is their only job, bad press effects everybody. 
#shoplocal #lovemuskegon

Getting sick from food sucks too.

No one wants their kid to get sick from animals: best practices paper published

From North Carolina, U.S. to Brisbane, Australia, outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella and other pathogens related to petting zoos or animal exhibits have been devastating to the families involved.

We wanted to provide a checklist for parents, and the teachers who book these events.

Two veterinarians from Kansas State University – Gonzalo Erdozain who completed his Masters of Public Heath with me and is about to graduate as a vet, and Kate KuKanich, an assistant prof with whom I’ve had the pleasure gonzalo.pic_.may13-300x300of writing several papers with – joined with me and my BFF Chapman (until we have a fight over hockey) and we tried to produce some guidelines.

The uniting factor was – we all have kids.

We’ve all seen microbiologically terrible practices, and read about them from around the world, and thought, maybe we should try and provide some guidance.

And now it’s been published.

Gonzalo did the bulk of the work for his MPH, but we all contributed our experiences.

For me, it was going to the Ekka in Brisbane, something like the Texas State Fair. The petting zoo was absolute madness, and after living in Brisbane and hanging out with micro-types who told me, don’t go to the Ekka, you’ll get sick, we didn’t go last year.

Fourty-nine people got sick from E. coli O157.

North Carolina has had repeated and terrible outbreaks.

As a father of five daughters, I’ve had many requests over 20 years to go on a school trip to see the animals. As a food safety type, I’ve been kate.jackroutinely concerned about best practices. The other parents may dislike microbiology, but I’m concerned with the health and safety of the children involved.

I am extremely proud of this paper, with the hope that maybe there will be fewer sick kids. I’m also extremely proud to be associated with my co-authors.

Best practices for planning events encouraging human-animal interactions

03.Apr.14

Zoonoses and Public Health DOI: 10.1111/zph.12117

doug.ben.familyG. Erdozain , K. KuKanich , B. Chapman  and D. Powell

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/zph.12117/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

03.Apr.14

Zoonoses and Public Health

G. Erdozain , K. KuKanich , B. Chapman  and D. Powell

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/zph.12117/abstract?deniedAccess

Educational events encouraging human–animal interaction include the risk of zoonotic disease transmission. ‘It is estimated that 14% of all disease in the USA caused by Campylobacter spp., Cryptosporidium spp., Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157, non-O157 STECs, Listeria monocytogenes, nontyphoidal Salmonella enterica and Yersinia enterocolitica were attributable to animal contact. This article reviews best practices for organizing events where human–animal interactions are encouraged, with the objective of lowering the risk of zoonotic disease transmission.

(And it was Amy that noticed the thing had been published; always ahead by a century.)

petting.zoo.guidelines

Does food safety risk analysis have a public hope? How politics make us stupid

I have no time for scientists who bitch behind closed doors about how they’re misunderstood by the public.

As Thomas Jefferson famously stated, which I always use to introduce my risk analysis course, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion by education.”

communicationI’m not a fan of education, but I am a fan of compelling, current, credible information.

Ezra Klein writes about the More Information Hypothesis: the belief that many of our most bitter political battles are mere misunderstandings. The cause of these misunderstandings? Too little information — be it about climate change, or taxes, or Iraq, or the budget deficit. If only the citizenry were more informed, theb thinking goes, then there wouldn’t be all this fighting.

But the More Information Hypothesis isn’t just wrong. It’s backwards. Cutting-edge research shows that the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become.

This isn’t cutting-edge. This has been known for at least 50 years.

I heard the same thing about genetically engineered foods in the early 1990s (I’m old) and tried to tell the corporations, facts are not your answer: it’s compassion, stories.

That worked out well (that’s sarcasm).

Klein writes that in April and May of 2013, Yale Law professor Dan Kahan — working with co-authors Ellen Peters, Erica Cantrell Dawson, and Paul Slovic — set out to test a question that continuously puzzles scientists: why isn’t good evidence more effective in resolving political debates? For instance, why doesn’t the mounting proof that climate change is a real threat persuade more skeptics?

The leading theory, Kahan and his coauthors wrote, is the Science Comprehension Thesis, which says the problem is that the public doesn’t know enough about science to judge the debate. It’s a version of the More Information Hypothesis: a smarter, better educated citizenry wouldn’t have all these problems reading the science and accepting its clear conclusion on climate change.

That’s a new-fangled version of the needle theory – a willing public waiting to ingest science.

Doesn’t work like that.

Kahan goes on to say that the science community has a crappy communications team. Actually, scratch that: Kahan doesn’t think they have any communications team at all.”

Easy to throw darts from the outside. My team can tell you what you need to know about food safety science communication.