Listeria found in homemade Macedonian sausage

I’m all over home preserving jams, pickles and salsa but I’ve not been able to get into home fermenting sausages. Not just the root word for botulism, European fermented sausages have been linked to Listeria issues in the past. According to FOCUS News Agency, an outbreak of Listeria in Macedonia may or may not be linked to homemade sausages (something might be lost in translation).

Listeria bacteria were found in two kinds of homemade sausages, a check of the Food and Veterinary Agency shows, the Macedonian online news edition NOVA reported.

Some 300 samples are expected to be additionally tested.

According to the Agency, the contaminated products cannot be linked to the people infected with Listeria.

The edition says there have so far been eight people suffering from listeriosis in Macedonia, four of whom have died.

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Costco calls customers to let them know of recalled fruit

While it might make data conspiracy folks antsy Costco continues to put purchase tracking to good use (sorta, as this Listeria/stone fruit situation may not be that much of a public health risk). According to bustle.com  Costco has been directly calling members who purchased recalled Wawona Packing Co. fruit based on a real-time database of purchases.Unknown-2

Craig Wilson, vice president of quality assurance and food safety at Costco, told HuffPo that the company keeps a log of every single item customers purchase.

We know every item that everybody purchases every day. If there’s an issue with an item — be it ground beef, peaches, socks or tires — we can contact the members that purchased the item, because we have a record of that purchase.

So, seems all that creepy data collecting can be put to good use once in a while. In fact, this isn’t the first time Costco has used its consumer data to help in cases related to foodborne illness: The company teamed up with the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention and local investigators to help track the source of a salmonella outbreak in 2010.

According to Wilson, Costco even mailed follow-up letters to consumers after the initial phone calls. If only our roommates could be this thorough when warning us the milk has gone bad.

Identifying and connecting with customers that have purchased recalled items is a good strategy. That’s the kind of action that demonstrates the food safety culture of a business. Telling customers how this incident changes Costco’s supplier specifications/verification (at all) and how internal decisions are made are a next step in pulling back the curtain on food safety for the public.

Visiting College Station for the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety Annual Meeting

Gary Acuff, Director, Texas A&M Center for Food Safety, is one of the coolest dudes to hang out with at meetings. He’s got great insights about food safety, productivity, Apple products and family stuff and is an all around fun guy. I’m heading out to College Station on August 12 to hang out with Gary for a day and give a talk.

Details are below:
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Join us for the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety 2014 Annual Meeting on Tuesday, August 12 at 11:00 AM at our Earl Rudder Freeway lab.

The annual meeting will begin with a special seminar presented by Dr. Ben Chapman entitled: “Food safety communication around beef isn’t well done (no pun intended),” followed directly by the Annual Meeting. Lunch will be provided.

Please RSVP to gacuff@tamu.edu if you plan to attend so we can get a headcount for lunch.

If you would like to invite a guest who might be interested in joining the Center, just let us know and we will add them to the headcount.

Download the flyer here.

Why China still sucks at food safety

Michael Moss and Neil Gough write in the New York Times that China has been scrambling to right its gargantuan processed-food ship ever since six infants died and thousands more were hospitalized with kidney damage in 2008 from milk adulterated with an industrial chemical.

schaffnerBut as the latest scandal involving spoiled meat in fast-food shows, the attempted transformation over the last six years has run up against the country’s centuries-old and sprawling food supply chain.

From factory inspections to product recalls, laboratory testing to prosecutions, China’s emergent food-quality apparatus has turned into reform on the fly, with ever-changing threats and setbacks. Now, the growing presence of big American brands means that the country’s oversight efforts — and its most glaring lapses — are playing out on a global stage.

Friend of the barblog Don Schaffner (right, pretty much as shown) a professor of food microbiology at Rutgers University and president of the International Association for Food Protection, said, “The way I keep explaining China to people is that it’s kind of like the U.S. in the time of Upton Sinclair and ‘The Jungle,’ ” referring to the 1906 novel that described unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking industry and inspired reform. “There is tremendous desire by the Chinese to get it right, but they have a long way to go.”

The meat episode that started garnering widespread attention on Sunday ensnared a roster of American fast-food giants. It stemmed from a hidden-camera broadcast by Shanghai-based Dragon TV showing processing plant workers using out-of-date chicken and beef to make burger patties and chicken products. Meat that had dropped onto the floor was scooped up and tossed back into the processing machine, the news report showed.

Government investigators have since found that workers at the plant, Shanghai Husi Food, used expired or rotten meat to make Chicken McNuggets, beef patties and other food products totaling more than 5,000 boxes, the official news agency Xinhua reported. One hundred tons of meat products were seized, and on Wednesday police detained five people as part of their inquiry. The factory supplied McDonald’s, KFC and other fast-food restaurants in China, and is a subsidiary of the OSI Group, based in Aurora, Ill.

Along with McDonald’s and KFC, the restaurants that have stopped obtaining supplies from Shanghai Husi include Burger King, Starbucks and the Papa John’s pizza chain. The factory had customers in Japan as well, including McDonald’s Holdings Japan, which said it had sourced about a fifth of its Chicken McNuggets from Shanghai Husi and stopped selling the product on Monday.

schaffner.facebook.apr.14“Company management was appalled by the report and is dealing with the issue directly and quickly” through internal inquiry and cooperation with government investigators, OSI said in a statement. A company spokeswoman declined to answer questions.

The varied and often-stomach-turning episodes in China, along with the growing number of American food companies operating there, have made it a focus of world attention and expert support in the efforts to build its food-quality protections. Events like the government-sponsored China International Food Safety and Quality Conference, which began eight years ago, have been drawing top American experts, from regulators to litigators, who say the challenge China faces is staggering.

“Although China is by outward appearance an incredibly modern and vibrant society, it just doesn’t have a long history of regulatory control, of checks and balances, where somebody is making the decision, ‘If the meat falls on the floor, should I put it back in?’ ” said Bill Marler, a Seattle-based consumer lawyer who has attended the food safety conferences.

Mr. Marler, a leading filer of food-borne illness lawsuits in the United States, cites the lack of a vigorous civil torts system in China as a major hindrance to its food-safety overhaul, arguing that big-dollar cases cause companies to change their ways. But the failings in China’s system range widely, observers said, and persist despite the 2009 update of its Food Hygiene Act with the far-more vigorous Food Safety Law.

There may prove to be a benefit as more American food companies enter the Chinese market. While they are raising public alarm about episodes like this week’s meat scandal, they may also come bearing the expertise to help set things right, Professor Schaffner said.

“They’re not perfect,” he said. “But when companies like McDonald’s and Yum Brands come in, they are bringing high food-safety standards to China, which is good for Chinese suppliers.”

Maybe use better tests? Fonterra cuts blamed on botulism scare

After a crappy botulism test sparked falling demand for New Zealand-based Fonterra dairy products, the company is now going to axe about 110 jobs at a Hamilton packing site, a union official says.

fonterra.aug_.13-300x253The Dairy Workers Union official told Fairfax Media Fonterra was slashing the jobs at Canpac, in Foreman Rd, by about a third after last year’s botulism scare.

The dairy co-operative called a snap meeting of all Canpac staff this morning to tell them it was cutting back the operation to a 24-hour day, five days a week after a drop in sales volume on products packaged there.

It had been a 24 hours, seven days a week operation since expanding in 2007 on the back of the commodities boom.

Dairy Workers Union national secretary Chris Flatt said a Fonterra presentation had admitted food-safety scares played a part in Canpac losing work.

Culture change isn’t about training, education and environment

Over the past decade lots of folks have been throwing around the term food safety culture to describe how a business operates. Education, training, equipment, tools, the environment, investment and support from higher-ups all influence how well an organization addresses risk, there’s something else that binds it together.

The culture, or value system, can be difference between having an outbreak or not. The values dictate decisions from the front-line staff to the CEO.

Maybe it’s the hippie in me but it’s sort of like the vibe of the organization that can be gauged by asking does anyone really care?

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And if they do, do they know what they should be caring about?

The health care world struggles with the same issues, with similar consequences. According to Yahoo News the Vanderbilt University Hospital dealt with a culture change around infection control. And it’s taken six years to turn things around.

Dr. Gerald Hickson had two primary concerns after his wife’s double-knee replacement operation at Vanderbilt University Hospital in July 2008: making sure she received appropriate pain control and getting her moving as quickly as possible to avoid blood clots. But as he sat with her during her recovery, Hickson made a disturbing discovery. Most of the nurses, doctors and other hospital workers filing in and out of the room to care for his wife, who was at risk of contracting an infection after surgery, were not washing their hands.

A compulsive person by nature, Hickson started counting. He found 92 instances when staff members should have soaped up or used antiseptic foam. The total number of times they actually did? 32. Hickson did not want to humiliate anyone, but he was also fiercely committed to protecting his wife. With polite Southern collegiality, he calmly pointed out the 60 opportunities when staffers could have provided safer care but didn’t. Some staffers were immediately embarrassed. Several wondered if he was kidding, got defensive and offered explanations for their lapses. 

Hickson reported his findings to Dr. Tom Talbot, VUMC’s chief epidemiologist, and Talbot ran with it, spearheading an ambitious clean hands initiative that was launched in July 2009. Since then, hand-washing rates at Vanderbilt have jumped from 58 percent to 97 percent; at the same time, the number of several stubborn infections has dropped, one of them by as much as 80 percent. “We get into bad habits, all of us do, and sometimes we need somebody to remind us to get back on the right pathway,” says Hickson. “That’s the key to transforming health care.”

Talbot orchestrated a number of practical changes right away, including installing additional hand sanitizer dispensers at the entrance and exit of every patient’s room or bay and within easy reach inside. Staffers were instructed to clean their hands before and after every encounter with patients, even if all they planned to do was have a conversation. Even the smallest details were addressed. Clinicians who complained that their skin had become irritated by excess antiseptic gel were told to cut back to a dime-size portion, and moisturizing lotion dispensers were added throughout the hospital.

That was the easy part. Talbot knew that it would take an all-out culture shift to see dramatic improvement. A prior hand-washing program, which focused largely on education and random surveillance, had done little to boost rates. This time, Talbot drilled down on what he believed would be the keys to success: training, communication and shared accountability up and down the staff hierarchy.

Because the hospital’s top leadership would be the ultimate enforcers, Hickson and Talbot knew they needed buy-in before the program was officially launched. The old days of giving high-performing doctors a pass on unprofessional conduct — “Oh, that’s just Dr. So and So, that’s how he is” — would be over. Every hospital worker, no matter his or her rank, would be held to the same high standards. “We had to have support from leadership, so if we had pushback, we would elevate that up and they wouldn’t blink,” says Talbot. “Instead, they would say, ‘That’s not the kind of behavior we expect here.’”

Competition is a big motivator at Vanderbilt, too. Hand-washing scores for individual units and departments are tallied up from highest to lowest, and results are posted every month in break rooms and other staff areas so that everyone can see how his or her team compares with the one down the hall. “You want to look better than other services when that scorecard comes out,” says Johnson. “You don’t want to be at the bottom. That’s just human nature.”

Today, after more than 200,000 hand-washing observations, Vanderbilt’s overall hand-washing compliance rate has almost doubled. At the same time, three major types of infections linked to the insertion of tubes and catheters have been reduced considerably, according to Talbot. Urinary tract infections related to catheters in intensive care units have dropped by 33 percent; pneumonia linked to ventilators by 61 percent; and bloodstream infections associated with central lines — the tubing that delivers fluids and medications to patients — by 80 percent in ICUs.

Culture change is not about mission statements and core values written on a poster. It’s about fostering feelings within the organization from top-to-bottom that this stuff matters.

Sandwich artist says Subway manager made her work while ill

Norovirus is the perfect human pathogen. With its low median infectious dose and stability, norovirus is built to be transferred. Beyond its durability, billions of particles can be shed in every gram of feces and vomit from an infected individual and can be transferred well via fomites, food and water.

Sort of a nightmare for a restaurant if one of their kitchen staff shows up to work ill.

And a worse situation is when a manager says to an ill food handler that she can’t go home until after the lunch rush.images

Which is apparently what happened at a Freeport, Texas Subway. According to Emily Thomas at the Huffington Post, former sandwich artist Elizabeth Taff was eventually fired for wanting to go home because she had vomited.

A Subway worker in Freeport, Texas, claims she was forced to continue working her shift while suffering from a stomach bug, then was fired the same day.

Elizabeth Taff, 24, says she was so sick she could barely stand up straight and vomited several times during her shift on July 11, but her manager refused to let her leave unless she found someone to cover her shift.

“About 40 minutes into my shift I felt nauseous. My mouth started watering, and I knew I was about to vomit. I ran into the restroom and vomited repeatedly,” Taff told The Huffington Post. “I went and let my manager know, [but] she told me to find my own replacement after lunch rush.”

Taff says she then summoned enough strength to get through the lunch rush, hoping to track down another employee to fill in for her. But no one else was available, she said.

She noticed vomit on her work clothes and, rather than take a pay cut for a new work shirt, phoned home for someone to bring her a clean outfit, she said. She also maintains she didn’t leave work for fear of getting fired and losing her paycheck.

Speaking to local news outlet KPRC, Taff expressed concern for the impact her sickness could have had on customers.

“I was touching everybody’s sandwiches,” she said. “I’m like, ‘This ain’t right.’ I had gloves on but that doesn’t matter.”

Ultimately, though, she was fired that day. Subway asserts the decision was due to her “poor performance and insubordination,” reports KPRC.

“I was on my knees [on the grass outside the restaurant], while [the manager] berated me with remarks such as ‘you’re so stupid, if you cant handle working while feeling ill you don’t need to work here, all you had to do was switch shirts and finish your shift,’” Taff told HuffPost. “She told me I was fired since I was unable to talk, due to vomiting all over the place.”

Food safety fairy tales: how industry, government and academia collaborate to fail

That was the title of the chat I had with the Canadian Institute for Public Health Inspectors in Newfoundland last night.

I was in Brisbane.

The slides are available at http://barfblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/powell.ciphi_.jul_.14.public.health-copy.ppt

And the video is below and at http://youtu.be/deejYx8HQDo

Comments welcome.

Food Safety Talk 63: The Great One

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.1405348895819

Don and Ben have Skype issues but this time it was actually Don. Don announced that there will be help for people like Ben who aren’t so good at managing their time and attention at IAFP 2014, with Merlin Mann presenting on Wednesday in a special lunch session. The guys estimate about 0.1% of IAFP annual meeting attendees will be excited to see him – including Ben and Don, and probably Batz. Ben mentions his excitement that Professor Dr. Donald Schaffner, PhD was name checked on Back to Work Episode 173.

The first mention of The Wire comes at 12 minutes in when the guys give a shout out to Baltimore resident Manan Sharma who says that this is his favorite part of the show.

In follow-up from Episode 61, friend of the show MDD says that there are not rats in Alberta  Ben and Don remark while there may not be any snakes in New Zealand and Ireland (although Ben thinks that Don is thinking of potatoes) there are rats in small pockets in Alberta. While Alberta has had a rat eradication program since the 1950s, a colony of Norwegian rats, of Roanoke Island proportion, was found in Medicine Hat (that’s in Canada) in 2012 and 2014. Ben tells Don that he wears big pockets to avoid rats, and that and on a pilgrimage to Edmonton to see a statue of The Great One, his pockets were not checked.

The guys then talk about a question from IAFP’s Dina (not Dinah). Dina asked the guys to discuss their thoughts on a recent JFP paper about non-intact steak cooking using temperature, flipping/turning and different cooking methods. The practical, take-home message (as dictated using Dragon Dictate) was that that flipping and covering with a lid (which allows cooking to occur both through conduction and convection heat) and using a thermometer for all cuts of meat helps reduce risk.

Ben talked a bit about some future work that his group is doing looking at mechanically tenderized beef messaging, perception and behavior – including cubed steak.  Cube steak is sometimes made by slapping two pieces of meat together and running through a cuber – although not according to Wikipedia, which is never wrong. The discussion moved to steak eating preferences as detailed by FiveThirtyEight Nate Silver’s cadre of numbers nerds who dissect a lot of pop culture and sports questions.

The guys then both talked about message variability projects they have going on. Ben’s group is looking at  cook book recipes (and how the messages and instructions in the culinary world often are not evidence-based). And Don’s group is looking at messaging on handwashing signs, something that his second favorite graduate student Dane, is undertaking.

In outbreak flashback the guys talked about 1854’s Broad St. Pump  cholera outbreak. Using a map and analyzing cases of human disease, John Snow, largely recognized as one of the founders of epidemiology, created a blueprint for the next generation of disease hunters. Removing the handle on the pump is commonly thought to have ended the outbreak except that modern epi-curve analysis suggests that the outbreak was already on the decline. Ben’s favorite part was what one of his undergraduate professors, Anthony Clarke talked about in class 15 years ago: the monks in a local monastery did not get sick because they didn’t drink the water, just home brewed beer.

The guys then ended the show talking about an outbreak linked to food service hamburgers made by Wolverine Packing. Or is that Wolverine Packing with it’s adamantium slicers and grinders? In either case, It’s unclear whether illnesses are linked to undercooked burgers or cross contamination – although anecdotally undercooked burgers have been reported. One of Ben’s graduate student’s Ellen Thomas has been working on a project related directly to this type of product, where secret shoppers have been speaking with servers at burger-serving family style restaurants throughout the U.S. The results of the project will be shared at IAFP in Indianapolis.

In after dark the guys chuckle and guffaw about Ben’s Beatles references, time and attention management, and Tony Robbins who Ben thinks is in prison. But he’s not. He was thinking of James Arthur Ray. Don mentions that the author Kurt Vonnegut (who explains the universal shapes of storytelling) has a memorial library in Indianapolis.

Festival vendors need food safety too

Back before kids, Dani and I lived in Kansas for a few months and spent every weekend traveling around the state looking for quirky stuff to do and see.

And fried chicken.

The quest for festivals and attractions took us to Leavenworth and Garden City as well as lesser known spots like Cawker City and Lucas.Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 8.37.03 AM

Our boys are now old enough (and manageable enough) for day trips and we’re going to hit a few events here in North Carolina this summer – and some will have food trucks and concession stands.

Festival food vendors have have been linked to multiple outbreaks in the past including over 800 cases of salmonellosis at the Taste of Chicago and 37 cases of E. coli O157 linked to Folklorama  which led to this research on training temporary event vendors).

According to Greensboro NC’s WFMY, festival vendors aren’t exactly the same as the restaurants when it comes to inspection.

90 percent of food vendors at festivals don’t get inspected by the health department. Here’s why. They serve baked, sweet or frozen items. Bakeries, ice cream parlors and popcorn places aren’t considered restaurants. The department of agriculture regulates them instead. But the health department does inspect mobile food trucks and even push carts. 

James Howell’s hot dog push cart has a perfect 100 sanitation score. “Safety is probably number one and then the product that you use is number two in a business like this.”

Health inspector Paula Cox says just because the food business is on wheels doesn’t mean vendors get to roll on by un-noticed. “It’s a very condensed, mini-inspection – but it still follows the same process that we look for when we’re looking at a larger place. It’s just a smaller menu.”

Push carts are inspected twice a year. But the only day that really matters is the day you eat from one. Paula says watch how the cart operator works:

  • Do they wear gloves when handling food?
  • Do they use utensils to dish out or serve food?
  • Do they have a way to sanitize their hands between food and money handling?

All good stuff for a patron to look for.