Food Safety Talk 106: Mouth spit

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.Unknown-4

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.

Episode 106 can be found here and on iTunes.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Washington company linked to Listeria monocytogenes illnesses gets a warning letter

Like my RSS feed notification for MMWR, FDA’s warning letter email alerts get me all excited about the potential treasures within. Like bearded dragons. And Whole Foods condensate issues.

Most telling are the letters that come after an outbreak investigation and that state almost 18% of environmental samples tested positive for Listeria monocytigenes (whoa).

FDA posted a warning letter to the Oregon Potato Company, AKA Freeze Pack, which was connected to CRF Frozen Foods outbreak.

FDA’s laboratory analysis of environmental samples collected on March 8, 2016, and March 9, 2016, confirmed that nineteen (19) of one hundred and six (106) environmental swabs tested positive for L. monocytogenes.Oregon_potato_Company

Specifically:

– Seven (7) positive environmental swabs were collected from direct food contact surfaces in both your Processing and Packaging Rooms during the production of your IQF diced onions. These direct food contact surface areas include:

o The chiller water and the interior north wall of the water chiller. Water from this chiller is not treated and is recirculated back to the blancher/chiller and used directly on blanched diced onions as a coolant;

o A white nylon strip in the tunnel discharge chute between the IQF freezer and the finished product Packaging Room. Blanched, finished product is conveyed and comes into direct contact with the nylon strip; and

o The metal arm on your chain conveyor belt between the IQF freezer and Packaging Room where blanched, finished product is conveyed directly on this conveying system and comes into contact with the metal arm.

– The remaining twelve (12) positive environmental swabs were collected from locations in your Processing room and your Packaging Room that were in areas adjacent to food contact surfaces and non-direct food contact surfaces.

WGS analysis was conducted on the nineteen (19) L. monocytogenes isolates obtained from the FDA environmental samples collected on March 8, 2016, and March 9, 2016. The WGS phylogenetic analysis establishes that there are at least two (2) different strains of L. monocytogenes present in the facility, with one strain containing seventeen (17) isolates and the second strain containing two (2) isolates. Specifically, the WGS analysis of the strain with 17 isolates showed that the isolates are identical to each other. WGS analysis of the strain with 2 isolates showed that the isolates are identical to 8 cases of human illness dating back to 2013, and to 6 isolates from finished products. These finished products included onions (2 isolates in 2014) and green beans (3 isolates in 2015) tested by a third party laboratory, and a single isolate from white sweet corn collected and tested by the state of Ohio in 2016. Additional investigation established that at least six (6) individuals were hospitalized as a result of related L. monocytogenes associated illness.

There’s a lot of cGMP Violations noted as well including cleaning and sanitizing issues, condensation dripping over IQF production lines and lots of niches for Listeria.

An outbreak can be the horrible gift that keeps on giving

For victims, reminders of an outbreak may be daily and can include long term sequelae from foodborne pathogens like Salmonella.

Folks on the industry talk crisis, recall, restoration and recovery. The events aren’t usually managed quickly. It can take years.jellyofthemonth

According to AP, almost a decade ago ConAgra’s Peter Pan peanut butter was linked to over 600 illnesses; and the fallout continues.

After years of investigation and legal negotiations, federal prosecutors announced last year that Chicago-based ConAgra had agreed to pay $11.2 million — a sum that includes the highest fine ever in a U.S. food safety case — and plead guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of shipping adulterated food. Investigators linked peanut butter produced in Sylvester, Georgia, to 626 people sickened by salmonella before a February 2007 recall removed Peter Pan from store shelves for months.

The charge and accompanying plea deal were revealed May 20, 2015. More than 14 months later, a federal judge has yet to hold a formal plea hearing or approve the settlement.

That could soon change. U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands has ordered a teleconference with ConAgra attorneys and prosecutors on Thursday to schedule a plea date. Prosecutors told the judge in a legal filing July 29 both sides are ready to proceed after a year spent reaching out to possible victims so they could file claims for financial restitution.

“These criminal cases resonate across the world in food safety and I’m certainly an advocate of continuing to do this,” said Bill Marler, a Seattle-based attorney who specializes in food safety and represented 2,000 clients in civil suits against ConAgra after the Peter Pan outbreak. “But I think a little more prompt justice is called for. Something that goes on for a decade doesn’t necessarily make the most sense.”

Poor, poor pitiful me: ‘Social media is killing Chipotle’s recovery’

The Motley Fool writes that Chipotle Mexican Grill’s (NYSE:CMG) food safety crisis has been over for six months. But you wouldn’t know it from the company’s sales results. During the recently ended second quarter, Chipotle’s comparable restaurant sales plunged 23.6%.

chipotle_adThe company can probably blame social media for its slow recovery. The rapid spread of information — and in some cases, misinformation — via social media has made Chipotle’s late 2015 E. coli outbreak much worse for the company than it otherwise would have been.

Social media increased awareness of Chipotle’s food safety problems in the first place, and Chipotle’s food safety issues continued to be the butt of jokes on social media long after the initial outbreak.

In my case, Chipotle was the brunt of social media jokes and taunting going back to 2007.

The lesson for executives in the restaurant industry is clear: The right time to address food safety weaknesses is now. Waiting for food safety lapses to make customers sick is a recipe for disaster.

Linda Ronstadt’s version might be more popular, but the original, by songwriter Warren Zevon, is darker and more apt.

Except with the Springsteen bit. Never a fan.

Food safety competes with this? FoodPorn, circa 1600s and now, more about status than appetite

Tove Danovich of NPR writes that in the 1600s, when famous still life artist Jan Davidsz de Heem was eating, people showed off their meals with paintings.

food.porn.1600s.jul.16A new study by Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab found that capturing and showing off decadent and expensive meals is a decidedly old-fashioned practice. Brian Wansink, author of Slim by Design, and Andrew Weislogel, a curator at Cornell University’s Johnson Museum of Art, studied 140 paintings of “family meals” from 1500 to 2000 and found that the majority of foods depicted were not part of the average fare. Some of the most likely foods to appear were shellfish, ham and artichoke. For the common classes during the time these paintings were made, Wansink says, more likely items to eat would have been chicken, bread and the odd foraged fruit.

People don’t usually Instagram frozen foods they put in the microwave. Instead, the most successful #foodporn is often an item the photographer laboriously made in the kitchen or found in either an expensive or out-of-the-way restaurant. A recent top #foodporn on Instagram is a photo of seven elaborately decorated eclairs. In the caption the food blogger behind @dialaskitchen compares the Toronto-made pastries to some found a couple years ago, “while at L’atellier de l’éclair in Paris.” Wansink says that today’s social media food posts often attempts to convey that their creator is worldly, adventurous and has money to spare. “None of these things are about food,” he says.

In the paintings, some of the most popular foods are ones that had to be imported or were highly valuable. “It wasn’t Italian paintings that had olives,” Wansink says. “It was the countries that had to import them.” Olives, he points out, are somewhat useless nutritionally and aesthetically. “They look like black marbles,” he says. Even if they are delicious.

Orlando restaurant goes on the offensive after outbreak link

One of my close friends owns a restaurant and texts me regularly with questions about stuff that’s going on (like O121 in flour).

He’s the kind of business owner I like: he shares what he sees as deficiencies and we chat about ideas to get his folks to keep his product safe. He’s worried about his livelihood daily. He’s not complacent.

Later this month, while the restaurant is closed, I’ll talk to his employees and tell them stories from barfblog – about the people who got sick and the people that led to the illnesses.txt-lets_get_real

I’ll paraphrase him here, but he’s said lots of times that while he doesn’t think he’s been the source of any illnesses, it could happen tomorrow. And he’d lose his business.

That’s the kind of realism that makes me want to eat at his restaurant.

Sorta the opposite of what’s happening at Spice Modern Steakhouse in Orlando, according to WFTV.

Ben Elliott and Alyssa Mason planned a perfect wedding. Then came the rehearsal dinner at Spice Modern Steakhouse. Within hours, 38 people in the wedding group, and two others, became sick and some described violent food-poisoning symptoms to Florida Health Department investigators.

The couple’s parents said three people went to the hospital.

Documents Action 9 checked and revealed big problems inside the kitchen before and after the food poisoning. The restaurant flunked a routine state inspection just three days before the event. Critical violations included potentially hazardous food temperatures.

Investigators listed spoiled lettuce with slime, moldy strawberries and black algae in a sink. Plus they listed hand wash failures, some employees worked while sick and with poor training. Murphy said those last three issues have been linked to food poisoning outbreaks by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Restaurant owner Manny Tato told Action 9, in nine years, the restaurant served thousands of customers without incident. Tato said he fully expects state investigators to clear his restaurant of any wrongdoing. He also told Action 9 since the complaint, management has changed at the restaurant and all inspection problems have been corrected. Tato said he has hired an outside company to audit food safety issues on a regular basis.

Statement from Manny Tato / Spice Modern Steakhouse:

Contrary to what you have been told, I personally have been involved with communicating with the gentleman who started the complaint (leaving out his name to respect his privacy) since shortly after his first call to the restaurant. I think his phone records could prove this if requested. During my very first conversation with this gentleman, he himself mentioned that I should have insurance to take care of his expenses thus far—as his expenses were substantial—unless I wanted to settle personally. Since we have been fortunate enough not to ever have had any such claim or complaint from a guest in over 9 years at this location, serving thousands of guests weekly, I called our insurance agent. Under our agent’s advice we agreed and our insurance company was notified.

Once I was given the insurance adjuster’s contact information, I passed it along to the gentleman. A few phone calls were exchanged between the adjuster, the gentleman, and me. While being sympathetic to his claim, he was asked a couple of times to provide supporting documentation from doctors, other healthcare professionals, etcetera. He was also asked to pass along the adjuster’s information to all parties allegedly involved so they could discuss this. As of yesterday afternoon, the adjuster has not received any documents or heard from any other parties to the alleged incident. I suppose you could argue the reason for not providing these documents is probably a legal strategy—which shouldn’t even be a thought at this point since the insurance company is willing to resolve this—provided there is supporting evidence. Or it could be that there are no such documents to provide from a physician to support the claim.

While I acknowledge the health department inspection seems lengthy, primarily due to “basic” items they had to note after performing a 6 hours inspection with 3 inspectors present, none of the listed items noted posed a threat to the public according to the inspection reports themselves. The restaurant remains in operation and corrective measures were taken right away. We have been proactive on our end by implementing new guidelines compliant with new health department codes (which change frequently). New management is in place, some aged equipment has been replaced, and we have engaged a third party company to perform regular safety and food handling audits.

We are not a big chain restaurant. We love our guests, staff, and our city. The last thing we want to do is hurt anyone, especially our faithful regular guests we’ve learned to call our friends.

I understand stories need to air or ratings will decrease due to lower viewing audiences. Even so, to prove a point, one may say there have been inspections with quite a few items listed (none that pose a threat, mind you), but I would stand on the mere fact that there has been no proof of any wrong doing on our part. To that end, do we say “guilty until proven innocent” or “innocent until proven guilty”? I think the latter is appropriate based simply on the fact that in all of our years in business, we have never had an incident or claim.

Yeah, we’ve been doing the same things for years and have never made anyone sick. Heard it. Lots of times. Pretty hard to say when inspectors report a bunch of risk factors (hand washing, working while ill) three days before a 30+ illnesses are linked to the business.

Flour power: Live Science edition

US Secretary of State for Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the defense department in 2002, ‘There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.’

Sorta like E. coli O121 and flour, I guess.

Stephanie Pappas of Live Science and I chatted last week about what’s up with FDA’s recommendation that folks don’t eat raw dough and why don’t they make the same warning about produce – after Slate posted something about the recommendation being oppressive.Kraft-designs-production-method-for-shelf-stable-whole-grain-flour

Friend and colleague Jenny Scott answered it better than I did.

“We just want to provide consumers with the best information to take steps to reduce their risk,” said Jenny Scott, a senior adviser in the office of food safety at the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “The same thing happens when we have a produce outbreak.”

But the ways that people traditionally use flour did influence both the timing and the content of the recommendation. Typically, Scott told Live Science, people don’t eat raw flour in large quantities.

“Because people donꞌt think of raw flour as being a concern, that’s one of the reasons we’re making the effort to get the information out,” she said. The risk of illness from raw flour is low, she said, but then, so is the risk from raw produce.

The current flour-related outbreak is the second of two such outbreaks in the past seven years. The earlier one was a 2009 outbreak of another strain of E. coli caused by Nestlé Toll House prepackaged cookie dough, which — surprise, surprise — people were eating raw. Exhibiting a clear-eyed realism about human nature, Nestlé opted to start heat-treating all of the flour in its raw cookie dough.

Known unknowns

Food safety experts are now aware of the flour risk, but are only beginning to understand it. Outbreaks related to produce have been studied intensively for two decades, starting with a massive outbreak of infection with the parasite Cyclospora in 1996 (it eventually was traced to raspberries imported from Guatemala). By comparison, there isn’t much data on the prevalence of pathogens in flour, said Ben Chapman, a professor of food safety at North Carolina State University.

“Over 20 years, we have a pretty good understanding, or a better understanding, of fresh produce consumption, but when it comes to flour, we don’t know,” Chapman told Live Science. “It’s hard to make risk-management decisions based on unknowns.”

No one really knows how General Mills’ flour became contaminated, or if contamination is a widespread problem among other brands. E. coli can spread through animal feces, so wildlife pooping in and around fields might be the culprit. But untreated irrigation water could spread the bacteria, too, Chapman said, or there could be some sort of cross-contamination during the milling process. No one knows how long E. coli or other pathogens persist in dry foods like flour, he said (literature points to it being a long time though if Salmonella is a model; thanks Larry Beuchat, Linda Harris and others -ben).

“It’s still relatively new for us to be looking at this as a community,” he said (there is this great 2007 JFP paper by Bill Sperber that has some info on flour -ben).

As for produce, which is currently responsible for far more outbreaks than raw flour, the FDA is making strides on safety. The agency recently released a new Produce Safety rule under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act that requires specific water quality guidelines and testing for irrigation water, rules for manure and compost use, and standards related to worker hygiene and equipment and tools. Raw sprouts, the culprit in 42 outbreaks between 1996 and 2014, get special attention under the new rule.

But with huge grain-consuming companies like Nestlé and General Mills linked to outbreaks, producers will be examining their supply chains and processing practices, Chapman said.

“It’s bad business, being linked to outbreaks,” he said.

Hipsters, you’re spending money at Chipotle to pay for an alleged cokehead’s habit

Stephanie Strom of the N.Y Times reports Chipotle Mexican Grill was dealt another blow on Thursday after the executive leading many of Chipotle’s efforts to recover from five food safety fuck-ups in six months was charged with drug possession and accused him of having a connection to a cocaine delivery service in New York.

johnny.deppThe company said it had placed Mark Crumpacker (right, not exactly as shown), its chief creative and development officer, on administrative leave. “We made this decision in order to remain focused on the operation of our business and to allow Mark to focus on these personal matters,” Chris Arnold, a Chipotle spokesman, said in an email.

He made $4.3 million last year.

Mr. Arnold said other executives had already been assigned to take on Mr. Crumpacker’s work during his absence.

The company’s same-store sales, or sales in stores open at least a year, have fallen dramatically after food safety crises involving contamination by E. coli and norovirus. More than 500 people became sick after eating at a Chipotle in the second half of last year.

cocaine.blow.meThe company has adopted a number of more stringent food safety protocols and spent millions of dollars on marketing to win back customers, efforts led by Mr. Crumpacker. Just this week the company announced Chiptopia, a new loyalty program that rewards frequent customers with free food. Buy four burritos, for instance, and get a fifth one free.

On Thursday, Mr. Crumpacker was named in an indictment from Manhattan prosecutors as one of 18 repeat buyers of cocaine from a business that delivered drugs to customers.

Mr. Crumpacker could not immediately be reached for comment.

The district attorney said the drug ring delivered more than $75,000 worth of cocaine over a year. Three men were charged with running the operation, which prosecutors said was based on the Lower East Side.

The indictment described meetings between the traffickers and buyers in Duane Reade drugstores, Chinese food restaurants and hotels.

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What’s the risk of bloody with cheese?

When I was eleven my parents took me to Disney World in Florida. I don’t remember much about the trip other than we rode space mountain, went to Epcot, and did the backlot tram tour at what was then called MGM Studios.

And I remember the burger I had one night at a restaurant on International Drive.

It was the juiciest, tastiest burger I had ever had.images-1

It was really undercooked, I ordered it medium rare.

I don’t think ordering burgers undercooked was an option in Ontario. I had never been offered a choice before.

No one told me or my parents that there was increased risk of illness eating undercooked meat. Maybe there was a consumer advisory on the menu. But probably not, I don’t remember seeing it. This was 1989, before Jack-in-the-Box. After McDonalds in 1982.

While golfing at IAFP in 2005, Doug and I were in line for burgers in-between the front and back nine. The cook asked the group in front of us how they wanted their burgers. One guy responded, “Bloody … with cheese.”

No one said anything about the risks.

Over the next nine holes we talked about servers as risk communicators, figuring out what they knew, what they said and how to get better information to patrons.

Years later, as part of a USDA CAP grant Ellen Thomas would lead the first part of this work and found that servers aren’t great at helping folks makes informed decisions (more on that when the paper comes out).

Sometimes managers and owners try to get their customers information by signing a disclaimer; I wonder what kind of risk information is in the documents.

The Kingswood Arms in Waterhouse Lane was downgraded from a 5 to a 1 following a visit in February, a decision that has left landlord Tony Slayford furious.

He told the Mirror: “That is the only reason why we went to number 1, which I am absolutely disgusted about. They were happy with all the cleanliness. Everything is spot on.”

The pub has been offering burgers cooked medium-to-rare for more than five years, but has always asked customers to sign a disclaimer beforehand.

‘We found Salmonella in some of the cooked food from the restaurant, as well as in some raw food.’ That’s not good

In North Carolina folks vacation at the beach or in the mountains. The idea is to get a bunch of people together in a house and cook/eat/drink and recharge. In Ontario (that’s in Canada) people relax and party in cottages that line the hundreds of lakes north of Toronto.

I spent this past weekend in cottage country, as it’s known, celebrating my parents anniversary with a bunch of family and friends.IMG_0978

One of the popular Southern Ontario-to-the-cottage roads travels through Bradford. Home of a marsh, Chicago Blackhawk Brandon Mashinter, and over 20 confirmed cases of salmonellosis linked to St. Louis Bar and Grill.

According to 104.5 CHUM FM, the restaurant has been closed twice in the past three weeks due to illnesses.

22 cases have been confirmed by lab testing and another 18 people have symptoms that are consistent with Salmonella.

Dr. Colin Lee with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit says the restaurant had to be closed on May 31st and then again on June 15th-16th to allow for food samples to be taken and proper disinfection.

“We found Salmonella in some of the cooked food from the restaurant, as well as in some raw food.”

In a statement provided to NEWSTALK 1010, St. Louis Bar & Grill says the safety and well-being of its customers and staff are its highest priorities. The company underlined that it has been working closely with the local health unit and that its Bradford location is open as normal.

“On two occasions (May 31 and June 15), we cooperated fully with the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit to close the restaurant for inspection, sanitization and disinfection. On both occasions, the Health Unit was satisfied that there was no risk to public safety and cleared us to re-open within a few hours (May 31) and the next day (June 15).”

There is always a risk to public safety when food is involved. It’s up to restaurant operators to reduce the risks. Salmonella in raw and cooked food isn’t an indicator of good risk management.