Food Safety Talk 71: Bungee Jumping vs. Skydiving

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.1422538910457

The fellows start the podcast by catching up on their travels, and Don talks about Brazil and Ben about Canada. Don also talked about his new podcast workflow using an app that converts webpages to PDF files and sends it directly to Dropbox.

Surprisingly, they immediately embark in a food safety conversation and Ben mentioned a recent C. perfringens outbreak in Maryland at a food safety conference where 266 people became ill presumably by eating Chicken Marsala. The actual food served was not sampled, however stool samples were positive for C. perfringens. This outbreak sparks a discussion of the work by food safety expert Frank Bryan. In response to an outbreak at a school, Frank performed an observation study, where he had the cafeteria staff redo everything identifying the risk associated with that outbreak.  The discussion turns to Denmark where three individuals died of Listeriosis after eating asparagus soup. Dr. Charles Haas tweeted the asparagus soup recipe has a dairy component and the soup may be served hot or cold which might be the risk associated with the outbreak.

Once again, they talk about cutting boards in response to Don’s Facebook post. There has been previous discussion about how many cutting boards a kitchen should have. Don who himself owns 10 cutting boards, raises a better question to how risk is managed, or when to throw away a used cutting boards. Dr. Cliver, a former professor at UC Davis, has done published on plastic and wooden cutting boards.  Ben recalled that Dr. Cliver compared raw milk and apple cider with bungee jumping and skydiving. While Don does not agree with this metaphor, he thinks that Dr. Cliver would have been a great podcast guest. Speaking of guests, the hosts updated their short list to include retired government scientists Jack Guzewich, and Carl Custer.  The show-noter for this episode also gives a shout out to Dr. Freeze who was not just an awesome podcast guest, but also an inspiration and role model for female food safety scientists.

Ben turns the talk to tech by mentioning an iTunes application that he uses to scan receipts and important notes, and Don counters with his PDF app of choice, which reminds him of his dislike of university reimbursement logistics. Don calms down to recommends music software that helps him focus.

The show wraps, up with discussion of a blog post by Doug Powell: “Who are you? Scientist, Writer, Whatever”, and Don adds that to be a good scientist, one must be a good writer, since one must write to publish, and doing experiments without publishing them is not science. Then they talk about how social media can be useful in helping in food safety, citing a restaurant in Alaska that was closed after a Facebook post led to health department inspection.

Shopping for safety: What is consumer food safety education?

Now that the annual orgy of food safety advice has subsided until the next holiday (that would be the Super Bowl, and all the bad puns), it’s time to ask: are any of these messages effective? they actually reduce the number of people who get sick? Does anyone test these messages in a scientifically credible way?

Cook-clean-chill-separate has become the mantra of food safety types but there is no evidence — regardless of repetition — these messages work.

Instead, people are picking up sound bites like venereal diseases; I thought we’d gotten past that.

Marty had no reason going to the first food safety educators conference in Washington, D.C. in 1997. He was working as a student life advisor or something but, I had gotten in the habit of taking Marty along on road trips from Guelph – got lost once in some New York mountains in the middle of the night and thought we were going to die – for fun and driving chores.

The 1996 Nissan Quest minivan still had the new car smell, and as a new prof with a carload of students, I decided driving all night was better than dishing out non-existent cash for an extra night of hotel rooms.

We arrived in Georgetown about 7:30 a.m., ate at a dive, and found the on-campus conference room. People looked at us like we had just rolled out of a vehicle and been driving all night.

We had.

pink.floyd.educationMost of us went and changed into fresh clothes, while Marty crashed somewhere until the room was available.

The conference started and we were pumped.

I may have fallen asleep.

There were descriptions of many food safety education programs but the evaluation components were either non-existent or sucked.

I remember going out to a Georgetown bar later that night, watching The Truth About Cats and Dogs in the hotel room while Marty farted, and commenting that student Janis looked like Janeane Garofalo. I remember the drive home.

I don’t remember much about the conference.

Which is why I haven’t gone back.

I’m all for providing food safety information in a compelling, creative and critically sound manner. However education is something people do themselves. Lewis Lapham wrote in Harper’s magazine in the mid-1980s about how individuals can choose to educate themselves about all sorts of interesting things, but the idea of educating someone is doomed to failure. And it’s sorta arrogant to state that shoppers need to be educated; to imply that if only you understood the world as I understand the world, we would agree and dissent would be minimized.

These may be subtle semantics – to communicate with rather than to; to inform rather than educate – but they set an important tone.

With outbreaks in pizza, pot pies, pet food, peanut butter, bagged spinach, lettuce, sprouts, carrot juice, lettuce, tomatoes, canned chili sauce, hot peppers, cookie dough, chia seeds, tuna back scrape, and white pepper, I’m not sure what consumers have to do with it.

This is not to discount the role of consumers in protecting or enhancing the safety of the food they eat. Rather, consumers should be engaged as partners in the management of the farm-to-fork food continuum, and not unduly blamed for failing to recognize and correct errors that other players in this continuum have made.

Forget the blame; focus on shared responsibility; share information. Help people make better decisions. Tell them why what they do is important (if not yourself, try not to make your kids or friends barf).

The World Health Organization recognized this back in 2001 and included a fifth key to safer food: use safe water and raw materials, or, source food from safe sources (

I’m not sure what consumers are supposed to do about Listeria in caramel apples, but that’s another story.

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.

I’m all for food hubs but food safety needs to be on the menu

As Ashley Chaifetz, public policy student at UNC-Chapel Hill wraps up her research on food pantries her data shows really passionate individuals (largely volunteer) who work within a food distribution system that’s not all that systematic or formal when it comes to food safety training. Kind of like the emerging world of food hubs.

The hippie, punk rock, F the man part of me loves the idea of grassroots, community-led food hubs – but my public health conscience leads me to believe that microbial food safety has to be part of the passion or hubs are doomed to fail at the first outbreak.03-25-10-food-hub

Laurie Davis, of Cornell Cooperative extension explains what food hubs are in the Press Republican:

Just what is a food hub?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines it as “a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.” This is a broad definition because a food hub can assume many different forms.

It might just be a building where local food is delivered, temporarily stored, then shipped back out, or longer term storage may be needed in the form of various temperature and humidity controlled coolers, freezers, etc.

There may be a commercial kitchen associated with the facility so that value-added products can be produced either by the farmers or by the food hub staff.

A storefront might be added so that the public can access food right at the hub instead of having all the food shipped out to other businesses.

It can act as a community supported agriculture (CSA) location or it might just focus on supplying restaurants, schools and institutions such as hospitals and prisons.

Another idea would be to include space for education, training producers and consumers in efficient methods of local food production and delivery. Its shape will be defined by the needs of the surrounding community.

Cornell Cooperative Extension recently received a grant to gather some preliminary information hopefully leading to the establishment of several food hubs in the Adirondack region. Or maybe not. The point of the study is to see how many farmers are interested and willing to sell to a food hub, what products they have and what their production capacity is.

While many think a food hub would be a great idea, few appear ready to participate. Many of our local farmers are struggling to make ends meet with full retail dollars and are understandably reluctant to shift toward wholesale pricing structures or even something in between. For a food hub to work, producers and consumers all need to be on board.

And food safety, from suppliers through distribution has to be valued.

Fine dive

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

As a food policy doctoral student, I pay special attention to articles on food waste and its prevention—which includes dumpster diving. This activity is at the intersection of policies on food insecurity, waste, safety, and liability—and comes with a lot of uncertainties.   This week, Tove Danovich wrote about dumpster diving for Civil Eats:

Dumpster divers of the world, unite. Last week, food waste activist Rob Greenfield offered to pay the fines and bring some media attention to anyone who gets arrested or ticketed for taking and eating tossed food.Image 2

Greenfield has been drawing attention to food waste by traveling the country, engaging local communities, and photographing the enormous quantities of wasted food he finds. Now he hopes more Americans will begin looking at the problem directly by trying it themselves by taking people’s fear of arrest and fines out of the equation.

“From what I can tell the main reason that people don’t dumpster dive is the fear of getting arrested or ticketed,” wrote Greenfield recently on his website.

Rob Greenfield makes an effort to remind people about the problem of food waste. At a loss rate of approximately 40%, Americans are tossing almost as much food as they consume. But, Greenfield’s suggestion that people do not dumpster dive due to fines seems ludicrous; it is probably due to the products.

The issue with dumpster diving that is often forgotten is food safety. Neither Greenfield nor any other dumpster diver can tell via taste or smell if the food was tossed due to pathogen contamination. Even when if food is thrown away due to cosmetic reasons, the dumpsters themselves are not clean and sanitized like a food contact surface. If a product contaminated with a pathogen was discarded into the dumpster, the products pulled by the dumpster divers may be contaminated as well.

Individuals concerned with food safety can take other actions to lessen food waste: consuming all of the food purchased, choosing the “reduced for quick sale” items, shopping in salvage grocery stores, or even encouraging large grocery chains to donate those items to food pantries and food banks (many which already do).

Bakery owner: It’s easy to follow the rules; good food safety is about staff who care

Employing good food safety at retail is a combination of folks identifying risks and putting in mitigation steps to address them. The rub is that you need to cultivate a good staff who values the stuff that keeps patrons from getting sick. The science and guidance is relatively easy compared to the people stuff.

Mad Eliza’s Cakes and Confections, a pastry and bakery shop in Topeka, KS sorta has the people stuff figured out, according to

“It doesn’t matter what it is,” said co-owner Mark Murnahan, “I’m going to see it if it’s dirty.”

Murnahan said he has pretty high standards for his kitchen staff of four and constantly monitors everything to make sure they are in compliance. The KDA food guidelines, he said, are never farther than his laptop.

“I don’t want to serve anything I wouldn’t serve to my 98-year-old grandma or my 1-year-old son or anyone in between,” he said.

To accomplish that, Murnahan said, “training is critical” — and so is having a staff that cares about what it is serving.

“You have to know someone will take direction and have pride in what they serve,” he said. “Anyone who really wants to learn, the first thing they need to learn is food safety.”

“Anybody can have a good inspection,” Murnahan said. “It’s not hard to follow the rules. There are a lot, but once you know them, they’re really not hard to follow.”

Jail and fines as UAE gets serious against food safety (and religious) offenders

A tough new draft law will ramp up penalties for those found to be endangering food safety across the UAE, according to legislation to be debated by the Federal National Council in the next session on February 3.

uae.foodThe bill suggests a jail term of up to three years and a Dh2 million fine for those found endangering food safety.

The legislation, passed by the Cabinet in March last year, sets out key requirements to establish a system of effective regulatory and oversight services to ensure the protection of public health and consumers.

Under the draft law, no food may be imported into the country for the first time without approval of the Ministry of Environment and Water.

The draft law provides for a prison term of not less than a month and a fine of up to Dh500,000 for those who deal in food or products that contain pork or alcohol or any of their by-products without permission.

Misleading consumers by publishing a false description of food or using incorrect labels will attract a fine ranging from between Dh10,000 and Dh100,000, according to the draft law, which will need to be passed by the House and get a final endorsement by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan before it becomes law.

Food safety in Lebanon: Moral deterrent doesn’t exist among some traders

Public Health Minister, Wael Abu Faour, visited on Wednesday Justice Minister, Ashraf Rifi, at the Ministry of Justice in presence of General Prosecutor, Judge Samir Hammoud.

UnknownAbu Faour said that the meeting majorly focused on the ongoing communications and efforts between the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, and the judicial body, over the best means to fight corruption.

“It’s true that we have launched an anti-corruption campaign, but we must also fight corruption across all the Lebanese state. Anti-corruption means reform, and reform cannot be without the existence of an active judicial body because it is the biggest deterrent. With every food safety campaign, there was an active response from the judiciary. Perhaps things took some time to launch the campaign at the judicial level, but it was finally activated and we are dealing with the major files seriously,” Abou Faour 

Bill Gates and Jimmy Fallon face off in a poop water taste test on ‘The Tonight Show’

On a recent episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, host Jimmy Fallon was challenged to a poop water taste test by philanthropist Bill Gates. In a scene reminiscent of The Princess Bride, Gates presented Fallon with two glasses of water, one containing bottled water, and the other containing water processed from sewage by the Janicki Omniprocessor.

As we’ve written previously, the Janicki Omniprocessor was developed as a way to cheaply and cleanly process sewage in developing nations while also providing power and clean drinking water. Earlier this year, a video released by Gates featured a demonstration of the Janicki Omniprocessor which included Gates sampling the water.

CAFP Symposium January 22, 2015 at NC State: Linda Harris headlines

If you will be in the N.C. State University/Raleigh area tomorrow (January 22) come on out to a 2hr afternoon Carolina Association for Food Protection sponsored symposium – with friend of barfblog Linda Harris as the headliner. Event Title: Carolina Association for Food Protection symposium.

Keynote by Dr. Linda Harris (UC Davis): Food Safety Considerations for Nuts Produced in the United StatesIMG_0521

Location: Schaub G40 (driving directions below)

Event Date & Time:

Thursday January 22


Event Description:

The Carolina Association for Food Protection hosts a symposium highlighting food safety issues for the food safety community and partners. The event includes four speakers:

2:30- 2:45 Matt Moore (PhD candidate, NCSU, FBNS): Use of a Nucleic Acid Aptamer-based Method to Study Thermal Inactivation of Human Norovirus

2:45- 3:00 Chip Manuel (PhD candidate, NCSU, FBNS): Rapid Destruction of Human Norovirus Capsid and Genome Occurs during Exposure to Copper-containing Surfaces

3:00-3:30 Brett Weed (State Liaison, Food and Drug Administration): Careers in food safety regulation

3:30-4:30 Linda Harris  (Cooperative Extension Specialist in Microbial Food Safety, UC Davis; Vice-President IAFP): Food Safety Considerations for Nuts Produced in the United States.

The first two talks are from students who won 1st place awards in the International Association for Food Protection’s (IAFP) 2014 Developing Scientist Competition.

Refreshments and snacks will be provided


Ben Chapman
919 515 8099

Let me know if you are planning on making it (for parking instructions).

From Durham, Chapel Hill and points west
    • Take I-40 east to Raleigh.
    • Take Exit 289 – Wade Avenue.
    • Continue on this freeway a few miles, pass underneath the beltline (I-440), and go through two stoplights.
    • Turn right at the third stoplight, onto Faircloth Street.
    •  Haircloth turns into Gorman St.
    • Turn left at the second stoplight, Sullivan Drive. 
    • Continue ~ a mile Schaub is on the right hand side.
    • Park off of Sullivan drive in the West Lot or West Deck

From Clayton, Benson and points east
    • Take I-40 West to Raleigh.
    • Take Exit 295 – Gorman Street.
    • Turn right at the foot of the exit onto Gorman Street.
    • Continue a couple of miles and cross Western Boulevard; the campus will be on your right.
    • Turn right at Sullivan Drive. 
    • Continue ~ a mile Schaub is on the right hand side.
    • Park off of Sullivan drive in the West Lot or West Deck

Recall horror: Planning makes it better

When my group started working with the greenhouse vegetable growers in Ontario almost 20 years ago, the general manager explained why he reached out to me.

xray. total.recall“I have this recurring dream, where a supermarket manager is on the phone from Florida, and he’s got a customer that says she’s sick, and it was our tomatoes.”

They’ve never had an outbreak largely due to preventative planning.

Kathy Hardee, co-chair of the Food & Agriculture Industry Group at Polsinelli, PC, which is composed of a team of attorneys from every legal practice area and who each have a focused background in the food industry, writes in Food Safety Magazine  that there may be no word that strikes greater fear in the hearts of individuals in the food industry than “recall.”

Mere consideration of the term may mean that someone has been made ill or possibly died from consumption of or exposure to a food product. The response must be inordinately fast. You will be coordinating with government agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state governmental agencies as well as other companies who sit both upstream and downstream of your position in the distribution chain of the food product at issue. The aftermath can leave injured consumers and damaged or destroyed reputations. The monetary costs may include lost profits, recall expenses, civil damages and potential criminal action. Despite excellent quality control, you may find yourself swept into a recall. Advance planning for recalls can save lives and can make the difference in the survival of your company.

Recalls may be conducted on a company’s own initiative, by FDA request or by FDA order under statutory authority. Recalls are utilized to protect consumers (both human and animal) from products which pose a risk of injury or gross deception or are otherwise defective. In the most serious of circumstances, manufacturers are required to report to the FDA’s reportable food registry within 24 hours of learning that a food presents a reasonable probability that the use of, or exposure to, such article of food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals (Class I Recall). Where the probability becomes more remote and/or the potential impact less severe, the required response time may be somewhat longer, moving from hours to days (Class II Recall).  

FDARecall-121014While a written recall plan has long been a regulatory requirement, planning for a recall should include much more than a template form in a file. Recall planning should include record-keeping steps to be taken well in advance of any concerns but which will make any recall effort more effective. A team of advisors who will serve in various roles in the planning, execution and post-recall process is as necessity. And the requirements of a detailed written recall plan are being further clarified under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).