Food Safety Talk 65: All My Ports are Engaged

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.

Man who thinks he's European perplexed by maths.

Man who thinks he’s European perplexed by maths.

 

In this episode, Ben is absent, but Don is not alone. Mike Batz, Assistant Director of Food Safety Programs, Emerging Pathogen Institute at the University of Florida, is a guest on the show. He appeared not once, but twice on the podcast before.

Don and Mike start by talking a little about their travels, then, they quickly move to a discussion on the Chobani Yogurt recall. The news article leaves Mike unsure whether Mucor circinelloides was pathogenic to both animals and humans. A brief digression about podcast listening speed reveals that Batz listens at 1.5 speed while Don is more civilized. Returning to yogurt, they discuss the originalmBio article. Don concludes the study did not provide enough evidence to show M. circinelloides is truely pathogenic to humans.

Don asks Mike about a psychology experiment done by Facebook where they manipulated users feeds. Mike was disappointed by Facebook’s methodology since the study never requested an informed consent from the users. They then rambled about again about their various and sundry international travels. Mike resided close to the Rijks Museum (that’s in Amsterdam) for a while and Schaffner shared his experience in Finland (including reindeer tartare) and New Zealand (and beef tartare).

Next, they talked about a document from the FAO marketed as providing a list of the top 10 foodborne parasites ). To continue, they discussed seasonal food safety tips. While Mike confessed to not always follow his own food safety recommendations, Don revealed he is reluctant to eat a cut cantaloupe by a stranger.

Soon after, the discussion shifted to antibiotics in meat. Both agreed that the issue is quite complicated and there is not a straight forward answer.

They concluded the show with a discussion on cross contamination including cutting boardsartisanal cheese and the 5 second rule. Don recommended plastic cutting board for meat and wood cutting board for any other food types.

Foster Farms won’t come clean

I’m not a fan of antibiotic resistance stories, I’m not a fan of NRDC, but I am a fan of food that doesn’t make people barf, and companies who are accountable, rather than the just-cook-it approach.

Family guy barfIf Foster Farms wants to regain consumer confidence, market microbial food safety at retail.

After the NPR puff-piece on Foster Farms and its Salmonella-laden chicken which has sickened at least more than 600 people, the Los Angeles Times reports that after reopening its main plant in Central California after a cockroach infestation, federal inspectors were already writing-up new violations at the sprawling poultry-processing facility.

U.S. Department of Agricultural inspectors would cite the Livingston, Calif., plant more than 40 times over the next two months for violations such as mold, rust on equipment and several instances of fecal contamination.

The new details were released by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York environmental advocacy group that is campaigning to reduce antibiotic use in livestock over concerns that it is contributing to drug-resistant superbugs.

The issue has become so prominent in the industry that Perdue Farms announced last week that it was the first major poultry brand to eliminate antibiotic use in its hatcheries.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the NRDC received months’ worth of documented violations at Foster Farms from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

food.that.doesn't.make.you.barf.09The goal? To lift the veil at a company linked to an outbreak of salmonella that sickened at least 634 people from March 2013 to July. The outbreak was notable for its higher rates of hospitalizations and the presence of antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella.

“Throughout the salmonella crisis, Foster Farms repeatedly told us it was committed to leadership in food safety. But the reports show that when you look behind the curtain, it’s a company that can’t comply with its own food safety plan,” said Jonathan Kaplan, the council’s food and agriculture program director.

Thomas E. Elam, president of farming consulting company FarmEcon in Carmel, Ind., said the number of violations was unusually high, though he did not have comparative data for poultry firms of a similar size.

“Some of the issues are very minor, but there is a pattern of lack of employee training and sanitation issues with the plant infrastructure that are not so minor,” said Elam, who reviewed a copy of the violations. “I’m frankly surprised by the number of bird handling and contamination issues from improperly operating equipment…. These data are not going to put Foster in a positive light.”

The Food Safety and Inspection Service did not respond to a request to explain whether Foster Farms was receiving violations at higher rates than similarly sized competitors.

Packed lunch Twitter chats with @iftmedia on Sept. 8 and 11, #SafeLunch

Labor Day has come and gone, summer vacation is over and the start of the school year is here. To celebrate, I’m participating in a Twitter chat, hosted by The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) @iftmedia, about packed lunch safety. We’ve chosen two different dates and times to hold the chat, so feel free to jump in on the one that is most convenient.packed lunch

Monday, September 8, from 6:00pm-7:00pm ET

Thursday, September 11, from 1:00pm-2:00pm ET

Participate (or just follow the discussion) using the hashtag #SafeLunch. Topics for discussion include:

Lunch box/bag food safety dangers

Different kinds of lunch bags–which keep food the safest?

How to pack leftovers

How to keep cold foods cold, hot foods hot

Participants will receive an IFT lunch bag

Recent research on third-party audits

Ronald Doering, the first president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the only one I can remember, writes in his Food Law column:

ron.doeringUntil recently there has been little serious research on the most significant food safety advance in the last decade, a develop­ment that has been entirely outside the realm of public law — the extraordinary growth of third-party supplier audits. There are now over 500 food safety audit firms, many of which have global operations.

The Food Safety Service Providers, an industry association representing nine leading private food safety audit firms, asserts that its members alone conduct more than 200,000 audits and inspections in more than 100 countries each year. It has been estimated that in the U.S. the scale of private food law auditing activity is now 10 times larger than that of the federal government, more than all federal and state efforts combined. Two recently published academic studies provide inter­esting insights into several aspects of this important new area of food law.

Audits and Inspections Are Never Enough: A Critique to Enhance Food Safety (Food Control, vol. 30, issue 2) by Douglas Powell et al. identifies the many limitations of third-party audits and doc­uments several cases of major foodborne illness outbreaks linked to food proces­sors that have passed third-party audits. Audits need to be supplemented by other measures such as microbial testing, and companies must have in-house capacity to meaningfully assess the audit results. Third-party audits are part of “a shift in food safety governance away from government regulation and inspection towards the development of private food safety standards.” This study represents a cogent caution to the audit industry that they must improve their systems, and a warning to the food industry that audits are never enough.

doug.ron.2.jan.13In the latest Wisconsin Law Review American law professors Timothy D. Lytton and Lesley K. McAllister (Oversight in Private Food Safety Auditing: Addressing Auditor Conflict of Interest, 2014) provide the first comprehensive analysis of one of the most serious problems with private food safety auditing — auditor conflict of interest. Auditors are paid by the company being audited. Suppliers have an interest in finding the cheapest and least intrusive audit that will provide a certificate, and auditors have a financial incentive to reduce the cost and rigour of audits to get business in a very competitive environment. This study analyzes several oversight mechanisms that have been developed to mitigate the conflict problem, but concludes that at this time there are still too few financial incentives to assure more rigorous auditing.

Considering how few inspections are actually carried out by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) relative to the number of businesses it is responsible for, it is ironic that the U.S. has been so reluctant to embrace more fully the advantages that third-party audits represent. Perhaps this is because President Obama is so beholden to consumer activist groups that do not trust the in­dustry, believe that only FDA inspectors can stop big bad food companies from poisoning consumers, and who refuse to recognize that it is private audits that are increasingly the drivers of enhanced food safety. Obama has declared that it is the state that has the primary responsibility for food safety, and the former FDA com­missioner dismissed audit schemes as being merely “a business strategy, not a public health strategy.”

In Canada we have always recognized that while it is a shared effort, practically and legally it is food producers that have the primary responsibility for food safety. Industry recognized some years ago that they couldn’t meet this responsibility adequately just by complying with gov­ernment regulations — that they could protect their brand from recalls, minimize foodborne illness law suits, source ingredi­ents widely and trade internationally only if, among other things, they insisted on warranty agreements from suppliers and that these were backed up by independent third-party audits. There are many legal and other problems with these relatively new instruments at this still early stage in their development, but they’ve come a long way in the last 10 years.

Finding ways to better integrate public law-based food safety regulations with private law-based certification systems may prove to be one of our more inter­esting challenges in the decade ahead.

Fonterra boosting food safety after last year’s recall

Fonterra Co-operative Group, the world’s biggest dairy exporter, is on track in lifting the quality of its food safety processes, nine months after an independent review into its handling of last year’s false alarm food scare.

UnknownThe Auckland-based company has completed audits of 75 per cent of its plants globally and has embarked on necessary improvements and maintenance where needed, put in place protocols to engage external scientific and diagnostic resources and written food and safety quality into all senior management employment contracts, it said in a statement. It’s also set up an incident management team, created a food safety and quality council, and appointed Greg McCullough as head of food safety and quality.

Always after an outbreak instead of before: McDonald’s to increase oversight of Chinese suppliers

McDonald’s said it would monitor its suppliers in China more closely after a food safety scandal in the country hurt the chain’s sales and reputation.

mcdonalds.chinaThe company plans to increase audits and video monitoring at its suppliers and send more employees to meat production facilities to ensure its food is prepared safely. It also named a new food safety officer and created a hotline where employees can report poor food safety practices, McDonald’s said in a statement on Tuesday.

The changes come after a TV report in July showed workers at the McDonald’s supplier Shanghai Husi Food Company repacking meat past its expiration date. McDonald’s stopped using the Shanghai plant and many restaurants were unable to provide some products, including Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets.

McDonald’s, based in Oak Brook, Ill., reported a 7.3 percent drop in July sales at its restaurants in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Other fast-food companies have been hurt by food safety concerns in China. Husi, owned by OSI Group, based in Aurora, Ill., was also accused of selling old meat to KFC. KFC also stopped using meat from the plant.

UNC Public health school serves raw milk cheese at welcome reception

Although North Carolina is largely seen as a basketball-first state, college football is definitely king during the fall months. Despite a current top-25 ranking for Carolina, and a less-than-stellar start of the season for N.C. State (a last minute one-point win over Georgia Southern) the two schools are gearing up for the all-important rivalry game in November. The rivalry often spills over into other areas; including public health and food safety.

Liz Rogawski, a student at UNC Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Public Health writes in a letter to The Daily Tarheel,

raw-milk-cheese-940x626Students, faculty, and staff in the School of Public Health today were welcomed to the fall semester with a large selection of local delicacies as part of the welcome-back social. The spread included raw milk cheese — cheese that is made from unpasteurized milk. The irony of serving raw milk cheese in a school of public health is hard to miss. Pasteurization, which kills harmful bacteria, is one of public health’s finest achievements in disease prevention.

Raw milk is “150 times more likely to cause foodborne illness and results in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses involving pasteurized dairy products,” according to the Food and Drug Administration website (this is from a CDC-authored paper -ben).

The serving of raw milk cheese puts our students and staff at unnecessary risk of diseases that have been prevented by pasteurization since the mid-19th century. Luckily, we have plenty of epidemiologists around to investigate any disease outbreaks if needed.

The CDC-authored paper that Rogawski cites reports that between 1993-2006, “of the 65 outbreaks involving cheese, 27 (42%) involved cheese made from nonpasteurized milk. Of the 56 outbreaks involving fluid milk, an even higher percentage (82%) involved nonpasteurized milk.”

The raw data shows more outbreaks related to pasteurized-milk cheeses compared to unpasteurized-milk the relative risk tells a different story.

The authors go on to say:

Because consumption of nonpasteurized dairy products is uncommon in the United States, the high incidence of outbreaks and outbreak-associated illness involving nonpasteurized dairy products is remarkable and greatly disproportionate to the incidence involving dairy products that were marketed, labeled, or otherwise presented as pasteurized.

A 2013  joint FDA/Health Canada risk assessment detailed the relative risks.

While there are foodborne illness risk differences between soft and hard unpasteuized cheeses due to the influence of water activity, raw milk cheeses, regardless of aging carry increased risk (see this 2013 outbreak and others as well as D’Amico and colleagues, 60-day aging requirement does not ensure safety of surface-mold-ripened soft cheeses manufactured from raw or pasteurized milk when Listeria monocytogenes is introduced as a post processing contaminant).

Communicating the risk to the eaters is important, I’m all about informed choice.

Cyclospora redux: Cilantro linked to 21 illnesses in Texas

We eat a lot of cilantro in my house; whether in fresh salsa, guacamole or as an ingredient in tacos it’s a favorite.

I’m rethinking my love of the herb as it’s entering the raw sprouts realm.

After notable recalls in 2009, 2011 and a 2013 Cyclospora outbreak where the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that fresh cilantro grown in Puebla, Mexico was the source, cilantro is at it again.cilantro.slugs_.powell.10-300x225

According to NBCDFW a current outbreak of Cyclospora has been linked yet again to the fresh herb.

The Texas Department of State Health Services said Thursday the its investigation has linked the cases in four restaurants clusters to fresh cilantro from Puebla, Mexico.

Texas DSHS says a total of 21 people got sick and all of them reported eating food containing cilantro within two weeks of becoming ill.

The FDA and DSHS traced the cilantro from all four restaurants to Puebla, Mexico. While investigators could not find cilantro contaminated with cyclospora they say there’s a strong enough “epidemiological link” between the illnesses and the cilantro to draw the conclusion.

In October 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also linked a cyclospora outbreak to cilantro from Puebla, Mexico.

The Texas DSHS reported a total of 166 confirmed cyclospora cases in the state, but only 126 cases were considered part of the outbreak.

Dallas County reported the majority of this year’s cases with 38, 19 cases were confirmed in Tarrant County and 12 in Collin County.

 

Food Safety Talk 64: The One With Doug

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.doug.powell.church

In a special episode recorded back before Ben went on summer hiatus, the guys invite Doug Powell on for a chat.  According to Wikipedia (which is never wrong), Dr. Douglas Powell was raised in Brantford, Ontario (that’s in Canada). Doug describes himself as a former professor of food safety and the publisher of barfblog.com. He is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey.

These days Doug is been thinking a lot about soul, and given the Venn diagram of their intersecting musical tastes this leads to a discussion of Mr. Soul and a place where even Richard Nixon has got soul. Any discussion of music and soul leads to a mention of the classic Soul Man, which Don knows from the Blues Brothers movie, and Doug knows from the original version by Sam and Dave. Doug is thinking about soul because of his monthly writing gig for the Texas A&M Center for food safety. The piece he was ruminating on during the call led to a post called “It’s Gotta Have Soul” where his central thesis is that most people talking about food safety lack relevance; they lack soul, and fail to resonate.

After the guys bid Doug good night, the discussion turns to managing graduate students, task tracking software like OmniFocus, distracting diversions like Flappy Bird, managing references using Sente or Mendeley and a brief look forward to this special events which are coming, or rather were coming, at the IAFP annual meeting.