Good Ebola (and foodborne illness) advice: don’t eat poop

We used to use don’t eat poop as a secondary barfblog tagline. Then it was don’t eat uncooked poop.  New York TV, anchor Errol Louis of NY1 has resurrected the advice in reference to the city’s first Ebola case:

If you came across some strange mucus or feces or something out there on the street, on the subway, or anywhere else, don’t eat it. Don’t let it get into your body, don’t touch it.

Good call.

 

Food Safety Talk 69: Laura Nelson and Jay Neal

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.photo-Training-Day-2001-1

The guys start episode 69 by discussing old movies that Ben has never seen, like Play Misty for Me and the Good  the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  Talk turned to chimps, Bonzo and Bubbles (not this Bubbles). They then talked about some more recent TV shows like Californication, The Americans, Dr. Who, Intruders, Comic Book men. And yes, the food safety experts are excited about New Girl season 3 on Netflix. The topic shifted to edible marijuana issues in Colorado related to Salmonella contamination and then Don reviewed a book that he recently read, “The minotaur takes a cigarette break” to which he awarded 5 thermometers.

Don and Ben were then joined by special guests Laura Nelson and Dr. Jay Neal. Laura Nelson is Vice President of Business Development and Technical Services at Alchemy Systems, a food industry training solution provider and Jay Nelson is an Associate Professor at the University of Houston. The group had a discussion started on behavior-based food safety training including a survey that Alchemy commissioned, Global Food Training Survey Reveals New Emphasis on Worker Behavior. Laura also talked about an internal report looking at training staff  on food safety behaviors including an observation/coaching follow-up. The group talked about some of the common issues that the food industry encounters – staff may have been trained but the actual practices aren’t always happening. Laura spoke about how to get at the reasons behind why practices don’t occur – and that food safety culture is tough for some industry folks to define.

Jay talked about a training technique that includes breaking down specific processes into small pieces and how the literature is pointing to encouraging feedback and coaching along with positive reinforcement. Jay’s experiences are that managers are really important to culture and where their priorities are (sales, customer experience, food safety) will affect team performance. All four of them discussed ways to improve workers skills; Don pointed out that measuring behavior is very hard, and the group discussed some work that Jay had published in this area. Jay shared an amusing classroom social experiment where he teaches his students to empathize with non-english speakers. He assigned the students a recipe in a undecipherable font and only the manager has a clear recipe. They must try to cook together but they are not allowed to talk.

In After Dark, Ben introduced Don to the Sponge Bath, a weird way to keep kitchen sponges sanitized. Ben and Don promised to talk more on the topic in future podcasts.

(This is satire) Senate Passes Bill Mandating Hand Washing

Our foray into sharing satire news has backfired a few times. There was this one story about hot oil being spilled in the kitchen during, some uh intimacy, that garnered a bit of backlash for not being food safety enough. 201410006fullOften we get a few emails saying that what was posted wasn’t real news. This one is satire from cap News, and we know it. The folks at cap News even picked the perfect picture (at right, exactly as shown).

A new bill introduced in the Senate that requires Americans to wash their hands after using the bathroom or touching any surface that may contain germs has passed by a 78 to 22 margin and now heads to the House of Representatives where little resistance is expected. President Obama is reportedly already waiting at his desk to sign the bill into law.

“Uhh, this legislation is our first step in the battle against an Ebola outbreak here in the United States,” said Obama. “Between that, hand sanitizer, and coughing into the crook of our arms, we should be in pretty good shape to take this disease head on.”

Democrats and Republicans alike have stepped up in support of the proposal, saying it is a much cheaper alternative than diverting military funds to try to find a cure. Proponents point out that the implementation timeframe is much quicker as well.

“All we need to do is slap up some signs in restrooms across America and we’re good to go,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “Even here in the rotunda, although we’ll probably have to post them every two feet to get the message across.

“Yes, Sen. Vitter, I’m looking at you,” he added. “Do they not make soap in Louisiana?”

Critics of the bill call it unenforceable, saying that similar measures were unsuccessful in stopping the spread of cooties throughout the Midwest earlier this year. The Coalition of Republicans Against the President is calling for tougher legislation, pointing out that dutiful Americans washing their hands won’t matter if current laws continue to allow unhygienic immigrants across the borders.

“For our money, step one is closing down every Walmart, Denny’s and Bowl-a-rama because that’s where the dirty masses congregate with their germs and whatnot,” said CRAP Chairman Fitz McManus. “Those places are just a hotbed of Ebola waiting to burst.”

While passage is expected in the other chamber of Congress, sources say House Republicans plan to tack on a rubber glove rider for the illiterate portion of the population. The additional provision calls for a pair of latex gloves to be supplied to every person for whom restroom signage remains a literary challenge.

“You can’t trust Americans to read and follow a sign any more than you can trust them to wear around a pair of gloves,” said Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA). “We’re all dead either way, but at least we can say we came up with a backup plan.”

The Centers for Disease Control has announced its support of the bill, saying they wish they had thought of it first because “it has Nobel peace prize written all over it.”

“If this works, then we can get back to focusing our efforts on the zombie apocalypse,” said CDC Director Thomas Frieden. “I don’t think signs will work with them.” 

One hundred years of food safety extension

Ellen Thomas, PhD candidate in the department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences at NC State writes,

When I was growing up, I made occasional trips with my dad to the local extension office to drop off soil samples (we lived on a farm). Up until about 5 years ago, this was really my only experience with Cooperative Extension. It wasn’t until I began graduate school that I was introduced to the far-reaching world of extension. This year marks 100 years of Cooperative Extension in the United States.10447625_692765530308_9060931799503108221_n A United States Department of Agriculture’s extension webpage details the Congressional acts that initially created extension, as well as the primary goals of extension today. I also dug into numerous universities’ cooperative extension pages to learn more about how extension has evolved over the past century, and found numerous examples of agricultural courses offered to consumers, research conducted to improve food safety and communicate those steps to consumers, and technologies developed to vastly improve efficiency and opportunity for growers.

Ellen took the lead on an article for Food Safety Magazine on detailing some of the history of food safety as it relates to the food industry, reprinted below.

Land-grant universities in the United States were established with the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. Their mission was to educate the public on subjects of agriculture, home economics and other practical tasks in the home—to literally extend research and help families across the country. While food safety was not initially within the mission’s scope, food safety has a strong and intertwined history within land-grant universities and Cooperative Extension.

In 1890, Professor Stephen M. Babcock at the University of Wisconsin invented a device that tested the butterfat content of milk quickly and efficiently. He shared this technology with the university and dairy industry throughout the state, creating an open and engaging relationship between the university and the public that continues to this day.

In the early 1900s, advocates began to call for better-quality milk, as well as bringing milk sanitation laws and training inspectors to be consistent in how they enforced regulations. This led to creation of the International Association of Dairy and Milk Inspectors in 1912 (the precursor to the International Association of Food Protection). One of the nation’s greatest challenges was how to obtain the most technical, up-to-date information, and to effectively communicate it to dairy farmers.

In addition to teaching and research, land-grant universities have a long tradition of connecting academics and research to the masses, originally in largely rural areas through a delivery mechanism known as extension; 2014 marks 100 years of the Cooperative Extension system in the United States. The Smith-Lever Act in 1914 further solidified the role of extension in land-grant universities by creating a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in which USDA would provide funds to each state to carry out extension work.

In North Carolina, strong extension programs emerged from canning clubs and corn clubs. These organizations were effective in providing useful information for those interested in home preservation, increasing crop yields, volunteerism and community fellowship. The clubs later developed into 4-H. The structure and overall group principles of 4-H were defined in 1919 at a meeting in Kansas City. Today, 4-H reaches 7 million American children and includes groups in rural, urban and suburban communities in every state; youth are exposed to a wide variety of topics in agriculture and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

During World War I, extension helped increase crop yields and home preserving, as well as the organization of groups to fill gaps in the labor force. Extension helped create farming cooperatives and provided instruction on home practices to aid families during the Depression. During World War II, extension dramatically increased food production as part of the Victory Garden program.

In the 1960s, Rutgers University extension agricultural engineer William Roberts revolutionized greenhouse farming with the innovation of pumping air between plastic films. Approximately 65 percent of commercial greenhouses throughout the world use this technology today. Further similar greenhouse technology developments continued under Roberts in the years that followed.

In 1969, President Lyndon Johnson began the Expanded Food Nutrition Extension Program (EFNEP) as part of his War on Poverty. Program assistants were trained to teach nutrition and food safety, and to promote overall wellness. EFNEP now operates in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands, Northern Marianas and Micronesia. There are both adult and youth programs with the goal of promoting high-quality diets among audiences with lower incomes and limited access to resources.

The Master Gardener program began at Washington State University in the 1970s with the idea to train volunteers in horticulture to educate the public to reach a larger audience. The curriculum included culturing plants, fruits and vegetables, and grasses; how to deal with pests, diseases and weeds; and how to safely administer pesticides. The curriculum was administered by state- and county-based faculty. Over time, the program has grown, gaining more recognition; it is now sponsored across the United States and Canada. The program structure has also been extended to other portions of extension, such as food preservation.

In 1988, listeriosis, a highly infectious and potentially serious illness caused by the bacterium Listeria, was linked to hot dogs and deli meats. The tragic outbreak included 108 cases, with 14 deaths and 4 miscarriages or stillbirths. Researchers at Colorado State University conducted extensive experiments to characterize Listeria and explore methods of mitigating its prevalence in foods. High-risk groups, particularly pregnant women, were the focus, and suggestions for reducing risk, such as heating deli meats before consumption, were distributed in extension fact sheets nationally.

Kansas State University enjoys a strong relationship with a variety of meat producers, which has been building over the past few decades. Meat science faculty engage in research related to meat quality, sensory evaluation, meat safety, color stability, packaging and numerous other factors related to meat from slaughter to handling at home. The department offers courses on campus and through distance learning, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points courses throughout the Midwest and value-added services for meat processors. The department has been releasing papers on optimal equipment for small producers, handling wild game and other technologies since the 1990s.

With the increase of foodborne illness associated with produce in the 1990s and 2000s, the University of California, Davis, established the Center for Produce Safety in 2007, which integrates industry, government and academic research with the ultimate goal of maximizing produce yields while maintaining the best quality and safety of product. The center provides short courses, workshops and certifications for produce growers, related to quality, postharvest technology and safety, and has funded numerous research projects.

Extension faces many challenges and opportunities as the system moves into its second century. While state and federal appropriations and other funding streams have decreased recently, agriculture has also changed—less than 2 percent of Americans are farmers today. The Food Safety Modernization Act, with the goal of making food safer, will provide many food businesses with new regulations to comply with. Cooperative Extension will continue to play an integral part in assisting businesses (especially the small and very small) to assess and manage food safety issues—and help consumers understand what goes into making food safe. Extension programs across the country have also increased their social media presence, continue to provide evidence-based recommendations and conduct applied research that affects food from farm to fork. Extension has adapted to numerous changes over the past century, taking the lead in bringing new food safety technologies to agriculture and food production worldwide.

Market food safety at retail so consumers can choose: Not training or technology

Maple Leaf Foods hosted its Sixth Annual Food Safety Symposium last week in Mississauga (that’s in Canada).

hucksterAccording to The Poultry Site, this year’s event was themed ‘People or Technology’, asking participants to debate which was the best investment to make a step change in food safety globally.

Dr. Randy Huffman, SVP Operations and Chief Food Safety Officer at Maple Leaf said, as many do, that food safety as a non-competitive issue and the company actively shares food safety learnings and promotes sharing of information among industry and government groups.

These are the wrong questions and wrong assumptions.

Yes, people need training – ever seen a peer-reviewed paper evaluating the effectiveness of such training?

Yes, new technology does wonderful things and also creates wonderful new opportunites for new bugs because food is a biological system that will always change.

Yes, food safety should not be a competitive issue and information should be shared.

But that’s not marketing at retail.

Any time I say, food safety should be marketed at retail – E. coli counts in spinach, Salmonella in eggs, Listeria in (Maple Leaf) cold cuts, I get told food safety is a non-competitive issue.

But I’m talking about marketing. People say the reason they buy local, organic, natural, sustainable, dolphin-free and hundreds of other categories is primarily because of safety.

market.naturalAs a consumer, I want to know which eggs have a history of low Salmonella counts. The technology exists and is being used to access complete restaurant  inspection reports with smart phones on those A-B-C rating in New York City.

Food safety may be non-competitive, but implementation is altogether different: some companies are better than others. As a parent doing all the grocery shopping, I want to know what companies are better at microbial food safety. As a PhD in food safety, I want to figure out how best to convey meaningful information.

But have your conferences, feel important, and read barfblog.com daily and bear witness to the outrageous levels of microbial food safety failures.

The kind that make people sick.

Taiwan tycoon resigns over food safety scandal

The head of a leading Taiwanese food company resigned on Thursday after his firm was implicated in a string of food safety scandals that resulted in hundreds of tonnes of products being pulled from shelves.

taiwan-chins-food-oilWei Yin-chun stepped down as chairman of Wei Chuan Foods Corp, the Taiwanese unit of food giant Ting Hsin International Group which owns popular instant noodle brand Master Kong, a statement said.

“Chairman Wei is deeply saddened and blames himself over the food safety incidents. Even though the incidents may have originated from problematic materials from the suppliers, he expresses heartfelt apologies for being unable to effectively manage the origin,” the company statement said.

Skipchen – translated as garbage bin kitchen – takes dumpster diving sorta commercial

Dumpster diving, or freganism, has been around for a while but the current movement gained momentum through restauranteur (and Against Me! drummer) Warren Oakes’ magazine, Why Freegan?

Although we’ve detailed the movement a few times, a twist on things UK Chef Dylan Rakhra has a different take on things – a dumpster-diving driven restaurant, Skipchen, where the menu changes every day based on ingredients that are available. According to the Guardian Skipchen’s suppliers are of the public kind, “Some of the food is donated but most is found: on farmland, outside mainstream restaurants and, most commonly, in supermarket skips.” Skips are garbage bins. Skipchen chef Dylan Rakhra with the crab and prawn salad

After Skipchen closes, its teams of volunteers go on the prowl to “intercept” foodstuffs that have passed their sell-by dates and, though they are perfectly safe and edible, are discarded by the major stores. “We get the food from anywhere and everywhere that has food going to waste,” said Sam Joseph, co-director of the Real Junk Food Project, which has launched Skipchen in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol.

Joseph accepts that it is not legal to scavenge from supermarket skips but he argues that it is the right thing to do. “If edible food is going in the bin that’s wrong. “We really need to get it to people. We have cases of malnutrition rising in the UK. This isn’t something happening over in Africa. People here are struggling to feed themselves nutritiously. The real crime is the supermarkets throwing that edible food in the bin. That’s what we need to change.”

Joseph said the teams of “skippers” watch as supermarket workers bin food and pluck it as soon as they can. “I am really conscious of food safety and food hygiene,” said Joseph. We get the food out and into a refrigerator straight away. They don’t use food that has gone beyond its best-before date whereas we will.”

Customers are invited to pay what they want and can eat for free if they are struggling financially. “I think it’s a brilliant idea,” said Sullivan. “It’s a scandal that so much food goes to waste.”

Where the movement falls apart is giving the dumpster-salvaged food away to needy folks who may not be provided with enough information to make risk/benefit decisions: this food is free, but because we don’t know how it was handled, and can’t cook many toxins out of it, it might make you barf.

160 sickened: Australian restaurant to face criminal charges for using raw egg mayo

Over a year after 160 people were sickened from Salmonella linked to raw egg mayonnaise, owners of the former Copa Brazilian restaurant have been charged with criminal offences over the largest salmonella outbreak in Canberra’s history.

mayonnaise.raw.eggMany diners who ate at the newly-opened all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbecue were left with salmonella poisoning, and the Canberra Hospital’s emergency department reportedly had one of its busiest days on record.

Some victims are understood to still be suffering long-term health problems. 

A major ACT Health investigation found an egg supplier in Victoria to be responsible for the bad eggs.

The restaurant, which had only recently opened before the incident, issued an apology to those affected and removed all products containing raw egg from its menu to ensure the poisoning was not repeated.

It closed voluntarily, before reopening under the close watch of ACT Health authorities.

But the restaurant eventually closed its doors and left Dickson in June this year.

A criminal case has now been launched against Copa’s owners, listed on court papers as Zeffirelli Pizza Restaurant Pty Ltd.

Two charges have been laid for selling unsafe food likely to cause physical harm.

Under ACT food safety law, those who either knowingly or negligently sell unsafe food can face criminal prosecution.

The criminal charges come after the majority of the food poisoning victims settled civil claims against the restaurant. 

Copa has paid out an estimated $1 million, including costs, to many of those struck down by salmonella. 

Australia has a raw egg problem. A table of raw egg related outbreaks in Australia is available at http://barfblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/raw-egg-related-outbreaks-australia-3-3-14.xlsx

Food Safety Talk 67: John Bassett

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.1411999879196

In episode 67, Ben is on hiatus and Don talks with John Bassett. The scene opens with a vivid description of a picturesque English village with pigeons pooping on the eaves and birds chirping in the background.

John starts by telling the listeners a bit about his background. He is a veterinarian by training, having earned his degree in New Zealand.  He spent seven years as a veterinary practitioner; a bit like that depicted inAll Creatures Great and Small in Epsom (that’s in England). John returned to New Zealand and began a small animal practice but quickly transitioned to work for a government biosecurity laboratory inWellington (that’s in New Zealand) where he solved problems during extended coffee breaks taken in trendy cafes. John got his start in risk assessment using the OIE approach.  John’s next career move was to industry as a risk assessor with Unilever; this took him back to England (that’s in the United Kingdom).  The guys got sidetracked and discussed the sole-crushing bureaucracy that can be found in big industry (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  John’s latest career change finds him in a new mode as food safety consultant.

The guys discussed the recent Chobani mold incident.  From here the conversation jumped into tea.  Iced tea with added sugar was discussed as a possible growth medium for generic E. coli (special concern was expressed for sun-brewed tea) and the potential for herbal (pronounced ‘erbal’ by some) tea as a source of bacteria and maybe pathogens.

John talked about some of his current risk assessment work, and the difficulty of making risk management decisions for low-frequency events.  John explains his recent interest in Gael Risk assessment techniques. This approach can be used for semi-quantitative risk assessment, and may have value in preventing problems like the recent horse-meat food scandal.  The value of audits in science-based food safety was questioned and discussed, and Don and John disagreed about the value of semi-quantitative risk assessments.

Bandwidth on John’s end starts to suffer (perhaps due to John’s kids arrival home from school) so the conversation is paused briefly, while John (the poopy-head) sorts it out.

The show resumes with a discussion on whether HACCP is risk based or not.  John notes that one key to “selling” a risk assessment might be based on saving money in the long run, perhaps from a reduced need for testing and auditing.  A discussion of the Elliott Review takes place before the guys re-iterate the need for using computerized systems for effective traceback in the food supply chain; especially ones that do not need to be linked via paper documents.

John mentions that he will not be at IAFP 2014 due to lack of a wealthy sponsor; but he does plan to attend the IAFP European Symposium in Cardiff in 2015. Don reveals his IAFP presidential party plans (Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ), while John contemplates pork ribs somewhere closer to home.

John mentioned the use of the sear and shave technique to produce safer raw burgers in the UK.  Don didn’t seem convinced, and will continue using his iGrill and tip sensitive digital thermometer, as suggested for use in previous Food Safety Talk episodes, “because everyone’s gotta have a hobby”.  Both guys reminisced over outbreaks of Campylobacter jejuni from seared chicken livers that occurred in the UK and USA.

In the After Dark portion, Don transitioned into talking about Doctor Who, and John explained he was late for the podcast meeting because of a meeting with McDonald’s own Bizhan Pourkomailian.

Dumped

Ashley Chaifetz, a PhD student studying public policy at UNC-Chapel Hill writes,

Food safety and food quality are not the same, especially when you are in a dumpster searching for food to eat.Unknown-10

NPR’s The Salt covered Maximus Thaler, a “semi-professional dumpster diver with a moral purpose” and his organization, The Gleaners’ Kitchen.

You look at the food and you smell the food … using your senses is really important,” Thaler says.

While vegetables may get mushy and cheeses might mold, it’s nothing that Thaler can’t cut off or cook up. He says the only thing that’s really risky is meat.

“I would never eat a rare steak out of the dumpster,” he says. “Don’t take the meat that’s obvious discolored,” he advises. Eggs, on the other hand, are fine, he says, as long as they don’t smell absurdly strong of sulfur.

“There are complex systemic reasons why there is so much food waste in this country, but at their core is the fact that most Americans have forgotten what good food is.” He argues that humans have evolved to know what good food is, and we don’t need the Food and Drug Administration or sell-by dates to tell us that.

The dates on food packages are certainly flawed but it isn’t because of the FDA. No federal agency regulates the dates on packaging, except for baby formula. Manufacturers and retailers add various kinds of dates to their foods—and use sell-by, best-by, or use-by to help consumers make choices about the quality, not safety, of the items.

Humans have no special ability to smell Salmonella, or E.coli, or any other pathogen that might be reason a grocery has tossed the food into the dumpster (and neither do dogs). Every item Thaler mentioned (vegetables, cheese, meat, and eggs) has been recalled due to pathogen contamination or foodborne illness risk within the last 5 years. Just because he hasn’t gotten sick does not mean the food is zero risk.

I agree with Thaler’s suggestion that more food is wasted than it should be—and certain grocery stores are better than others at donating their barely-damaged fruits and vegetables to food pantries and food banks.

It’s not that I think dumpster diving is intrinsically bad. It’s that the advocates often fail to adequately address certain issues, like food safety.