175 principals sick: Brisbane needs to up its food safety

An op-ed by me in this morning’s Brisbane Courier-Mail:

g20.brisbane.14If Brisbane wants to be the world-class city it aspires to be, put aside obsessions with TV cooking shows, with political inanities, with imports and focus on what makes people — such as 175 delegates at a school principals’ conference — sick.

After decades of food safety research, I can conclude anyone who serves, prepares or handles food, in a restaurant, nursing home, day care centre, supermarket or local market needs some basic food safety training. And the results of restaurant and other food service inspections must be made public and mandatory.

Here’s why. Parenting and preparing food are about the only two activities that no longer require some kind of certification in Western countries. To coach little kids ice hockey in Brisbane, which I do, required 16 hours of training. But anyone can serve food.

Cross-contamination, lack of handwashing and improper cooking or holding temperatures are all common themes in food-service related outbreaks — the very same infractions that restaurant operators and employees should be reminded of during training sessions and are judged on during inspections.

eat.safe.brisbaneThere should be mandatory food handler training, for say, three hours, that could happen in school, on the job, whatever. But training is only the start. Just because you tell someone to wash their hands after using the toilet before they prepare salad for 100 people doesn’t mean it is going to happen; weekly outbreaks of hepatitis A confirm this. There are incentives that can be used to create a culture that values safe food and a work environment that rewards hygienic behaviour.

Next is to verify that training is being translated into safe food handling practices through inspection, which should be public and mandatory.

Brisbane’s star system is voluntary, which means an owner can choose to not display results if they suck. The best cities — Toronto, Los Angeles, New York — have mandatory disclosure.

In the absence of regular media scrutiny, or a reality TV show where camera crews follow an inspector into a place unannounced, how do diners know which of their favourite restaurants are safe?

Cities, counties and states are using a blend of websites and letter or numerical grades on doors, and providing disclosure upon request.

In Denmark, smiley or sad faces are affixed to restaurant windows.

Publicly available grading systems rapidly communicate to diners the potential risk in dining at a particular establishment and restaurants given a lower grade may be more likely to comply with health regulations in the future to prevent lost business.

More importantly, such public displays of information help bolster overall awareness of food safety among staff and the public — people routinely talk about this stuff. The interested public can handle more, not less, information about food safety.

I volunteer at my daughter’s school tuck shop — no inspection, no training — and they’re serving meals to kids. Principals visiting Brisbane, unfortunately, learnt the importance of food safety.

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety at the University of Guelph in Canada and Kansas State University in the U.S., who is now based in Brisbane.


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Food Safety Talk 73: I Wish They’d Wash Their Hands More

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.Handwashing-Words-In-Shape-Of-Hand

This show starts with Don and Ben talking about the number-six item on their list of things to discuss for the episode:  Yosemite and how beautiful it is; Ben rates it at three thermometers, a rating system they invented.  Ben’s favorite thermometer is the Comark PDT300, even though someone sent him a ThermoWorks Thermapen which is Don’s favorite. Ben’s hockey team has been using thermometers when the grill sausages, this is what Ben’s contribution to the grill-outs.  Ben gets chirped for being the guy who brings the thermometer to the hockey grill. Ben is now supplying thermometers to other hockey guys.

Don talks about his lunch date with a podcast celebrity from the 5by5 network. Don tells the whole story about flying business class from Brazil to Texas then while in Texas, buying comic books and having lunch with Dan Benjamin.  Dan asked Don lots of food safety questions; they didn’t talk much about 5by5.  After this, Don attended the NoroCORE Food Virology meeting with Ben (the guys talked in real life, not just over Skype).

The conversation then turns to food safety culture and what that really means as it is in the literature.  Ben talks about a conversation he had about food safety culture with a person trying to develop a presentation on food safety culture for farmers. Don shares an email from Doug about food safety concerns at [insert big company name] that shared a Dropbox video of text and images displaying poor food safety. The guys then talk about the difficulties of creating a food safety culture when no one thinks it’s important. Ben talks about the many things that must be in place before a food safety culture can begin to be established.

Then conversation then transitions to how to talk about food safety risks. Ben suggests talking about risks frankly. The guys then discuss the uncertainties around risks and how to discuss them.  Discussing how quantitative risk assessments are performed and applied, and the issue of uncertainty messages, also come up in conversation.  Salmonella Hypetheticum then comes up in the conversation.

Don then brings up a book that he has been reviewing about food waste.  The same food waste topic has been featured on a television show that Don’s real life friend Randy Worobo was a guest on.  The issue of food waste and risk is discussed, with a focus on lower income persons and how to manage the need to save money against food safety risk decisions.  The use of fruits and vegetables that are past their optimum date to make infused vodka brings back memories of pruno-associated C. botulinum outbreaks.  Ben appreciates Don for working the math around food safety questions and the time and effort it takes to accurately answer without just ‘no don’t do that thing’.

Ben then brings up the issue of thawing a turkey on the counter the risks associated with that action.  Doug Powell has a paper in the Canadian Journal of Dietetics Practice Research about the calculations around thawing a turkey at room temperature.  Actually, it is ok to thaw a turkey at room temperature if you are within certain parameters.  This topic follows along with the possible Food Safety Talk tag line:  and it’s messy.

Next, Ben wants to talk about communication, but Don talks about the decision to eat fresh produce in Brazil, and other’s decision not to eat the fresh produce while visiting.  While at meetings Ben seems to focus on following the news and typing up Barfblog posts (some people are ok with that and will resist complaining; Ben does type rather loudly).  When Ben gets really into what he is writing, he lets out really loud sighs others have noticed, but Ben hasn’t noticed his inappropriate sighing.

Transitioning back to communication, Ben brings up a hepatitis A outbreak reported in Cumberland County Maine, but without a retail location identified. The State of Maine is taking some flack (could we call this chirping, see above) for their handling of this incident; the State of Maine tried to explain that this is because of a lack of personnel with specific expertise.  Maine has been in the news for other public health issues… a nurse breached a quarantine for Ebola by going for a bike ride.  Don suggests the public health system in Maine may be broken, Ben suggests this may be due to their having just eleven health inspectors for the whole state.

In the After Dark session, Ben reveals the most popular Food Safety Talk episode.  The guys aren’t sure which episode they just completed, 74?, 75?, whatever it takes.  Speaking of documentaries, Don recommends Jodorowsky’s Dune a documentary about a movie that was never made.

UK restaurant gets hygiene award; practices shared with other restaurants

Some food safety coverage is incomplete, leaving the food safety nerds wanting more. According to The Star (the U.K. version, not the one the covers the Toronto Maple Leafs) a Sheffield Cafe is doing great things, stuff that others could learn from.

Steve Edmonds, manager of Beighton Village Trust, which runs the Beighton Lifestyle Centre café, said: “The food safety officer was very complimentary and even took away some of our practices to share with other such establishments.1079199562

“Our score is testimony to the pride our colleagues take in our café.”

What are the practices that the superstar cafe employs? If anyone knows, please share.



Winnipeg water system investigated following January boil water advisory

Pathogens being pumped throughout a city into cups, food and showers make water system outbreaks scary in scope and outcome. In 1993 an estimated 400,000+ people in Milwaukee had cryptosporidiosis after oocysts made it through the city’s water treatment filtration system. In 2000, seven deaths and 2,300 illnesses were linked to a negligently-managed water system in Walkerton, Ontario (that’s in Canada).Price of Water Set To Rise

Winnipeg, Manitoba (that’s also in Canada) had a boil water advisory for a couple of days last month that was blamed on a set of samples that falsely showed the water was positive for E. coli. Canadian food micro guru Rick Holley said a couple of weeks ago questioned the water folk’s explanation saying,

“I still had concerns at that time and still do that the false positives might not be scientifically discredited,” said Holley. “It’s all too easy to continue testing until you get the results you want and any results you don’t want you discard as being false. That’s inappropriate.”

Holley said the only way to be sure Winnipeg water is safe is to understand what caused the positive results earlier this week.

“Why were those six samples positive? There has to be a reason why and that has to be established,” said Holley.

According to Global News, it sounds like the Manitoba Government agrees with Rick.

The Manitoba government has ordered an investigation into the susceptibility of Winnipeg’s drinking water after a false E. coli result prompted a boil-water advisory last month for the capital’s 700,000 residents.

City staff say they are confident the water system was not contaminated with bacteria, but the waste and water director says the province has ordered a further assessment.

“It’s a vulnerability assessment,” Diane Sacher told a city council committee Wednesday. “It’s to look at whether our system is vulnerable to possible contamination.”

The report is due at the end of April, Sacher said. The city is also waiting on an independent audit of how water samples are taken and analyzed so as to be sure last month’s results were due to a lab or sampling error.

The province has also amended the city’s licence so water samples are no longer all collected on the same day, but rather spread over a week, she added. It has also requested the city come up with a better plan to notify potentially vulnerable people rather than relying on the media.

Facebook increasingly used to sell homemade food

There’s a new form of entertainment in our house – reading random posts from a closed Facebook page, Wake Forest Community Information. Between crazy requests (‘Is there such a device in case the power goes out, that you can heat your home’ which garnered ‘fire’ an answer) and crowdsourcing medical information (‘Any dentists on here? What is this?’ with a picture of an abscess) are food safety related posts.

Weekly someone posts about getting sick at a local restaurant or getting some physical hazard in their food. And then there are I-make-food-at-home-and-want-to-sell-it posts.facebook-food-art

Facebook as a food sales vehicle is, according to friend of barfblog Linda Harris, not just a North Carolina phenomenon.

In October, KCRA 3 revealed how people were selling lumpia and cheesecakes from homes and street corners. There were even tamales being sold that had been cooked in a garage.

Three months later, there are more users than ever. The “916 Food Spot” group alone has doubled to more than 2,200 members.

They’ve added more entrees to their menus, including ham and cheese dishes.

“It’s like a fast-food restaurant and you go online,” said Linda Harris, at the UC Davis Food Safety Facility.

Harris said many of the offered items don’t fall under the state’s cottage food laws, which allow some nonperishable foods to be sold from home. 

Harris said selling foods on Facebook is a lot different than cooking for your husband and kids.

“When you’re cooking food in your home for your family, that’s one thing,” Harris told KCRA 3. “When you’re taking money in exchange for that food, I believe you have a much higher level of responsibility.”

KCRA 3 brought the Facebook food groups to the attention of the environmental health departments in Sacramento and San Joaquin counties.

San Joaquin County officials have asked their district attorney’s office to help them look into the cases — because they don’t have the staff to do it themselves.

Food inspectors said they still haven’t received a single complaint of a food-borne illness from someone who bought a dish through Facebook.

Baylen Linnekin is an activist who has been pushing to ensure people have freedom to eat the foods they want.

“They are not making a million dollars,” Linnekin said. “It’s not like they are suddenly becoming this baron of underground food in California. They are making a little bit here and a little bit there.”

But Harris said there are legitimate reasons the food safety laws were enacted in the first place.

“Almost every one of our food laws is a response to one or more outbreaks where there was public outcry — actual pushback on the regulators to say, ‘Why aren’t we doing more?'” Harris said.    


SNL, Who, lab?

Saturday Night Live is like The Who – a greatest hits group (I always preferred Townsend’s solo stuff).

So while the 40th anniversary of SNL provided a lot of laughs, it took 40 years to get to those gems.

And a lot of people had to be deemed not worthy, like running a lab.

But at least they got hand sanitizers.

Thanks to one of our Jersey food safety friends for the link.

Portland TV investigative report details food safety issues at Foster Farms in 2014

Kyle Iboshi, Senior Investigative Reporter at KGW TV reports that USDA inspection reports that were acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request (below, exactly as shown) detail multiple violations at a Kelso, WA Foster Farms processing plant in 2014. Foster Farms’ chicken was linked to over 630 cases of salmonellosis between 2011 and 2014.

The reports, dated from March to September 2014, show 40 separate violations of food safety rules at the Kelso plant during the six month period.foster-farms

“There were multiple times when food safety problems were identified and then not addressed,” said Christopher Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America in Washington D.C.

Reports show on July 9, 2014 an inspector found fecal material on a raw chicken.

“The fecal material was found on the inside left hip/thigh area consisting of dark green creamy material,” wrote the government inspector.

“You shouldn’t have fecal matter on chickens,” said Waldrop. “That presents a risk to consumers because they could get sick if they consume that chicken or other chickens that were processed at the same time.”

“Foster Farms is committed to the highest levels of food safety and regrets any illness that may have previously been associated with any of its products,” wrote the company in a statement to KGW. The company declined requests for an on-camera interview.

“We really need to know what is happening in these plants,” said Waldrop.

Foster Farms Inspection Reports

How researchers become widgets: UK Newcastle University in take-over bid of government food safety agency

Scientists in the North East will soon be responsible for the future of food safety after winning a joint bid to take-over the Government’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera).

newcastle.universityNewcastle University has been selected as the preferred bidder to form a joint venture with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to operate its food and environmental research arm in York.

For 30 years Fera has led the research on major food safety projects in the wake of food fraud scandals such as ‘horsegate’ and foot and mouth.

Now, outsourcing giant Capita has chosen Newcastle University as its science partner to run the research part of the new multimillion pound organisation.

Capita will make an initial investment of £20m for a 75% stake in the joint venture, with further investment, in cash, kind and dividends, during the following five years.

The joint venture will bring together around 40 researchers from Newcastle University.

Capita chief executive, Andy Parker, said: “The excellent science being carried out by staff at Fera has not yet been able to reach its full commercial potential because of obvious limits on investment, recruitment and marketing.

“Capita’s commercial know-how will complement the Fera team’s scientific expertise, helping it to grow the scientific capability it can offer existing and new customers. Working together, we will create a more efficient and improved organisation allowing scientists to focus on the science and its delivery.”

Heard it all before. Best wishes.

Food Safety Talk 72: It’s a cup that you fill full of poutine w/ Manan Sharma

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.MananSharma

In this episode Manan Sharma from USDA ARS fills in for Don who is away in Brazil. Manan grew up in Alabama and studied Microbiology as an undergraduate at the University of Florida. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. in Food Science from the University of Georgia where he focused on food safety microbiology.

Manan and Ben talked about formative experiences in their careers including Manan’s high school internship at Research Genetics where he had great mentors who helped him appreciate molecular and microbiology. Research Genetics was later bought out by Invitrogen).  Manan gave a shout out to his great mentors Bob Zahorchak, his first laboratory mentor, and Jim Hudson the president and CEO of Research Genetics. Manan also talked about his advisor at the University of Georgia, the great Dr. Larry Beuchat who encouraged him to take chances with his ideas and explore.

Manan talked about his first project at USDA ARS: blowing up meat using hydrodynamic pressure processing (HDP) – different from hydrostatic pressure processing. HDP, where an explosion in a vessel of water is used to create a highly energetic wave is featured in an episode of MythBusters. Manan had to obtain a license from the ATF to use the explosives needed for this technology. Manan reported that while HDP was effective at blowing the roof off of his test facility it wasn’t great at inactivating of food pathogens.

Manan and Ben talked about food safety for leafy greens, particularly on the persistence of pathogens in manure and biological amendments. The guys talked about two a 2006 E. coli O157:H7/leafy green outbreaks, one connected to spinach and another linked to shredded lettuce leading to a research focus and the creation of the Center for Produce Safety, the Leafy Green Marketing Agreement. The conversation went to further impacts of big events including a 2012 Salmonella Outbreak linked to peanut butter manufactured by Sunland Farms in New Mexico which continues to impact growers. Manan talked about a paper, Bacterial Occurrence on Kitchen Hand Towels and extra-intestinal pathogenic E.coli (ExPEC).

The guys wrap up the show with a new feature of 5 seconds, which included gems like:

What is the riskiest food you eat?

Nirvana, Pearl Jam or Soundgarden?

Best project idea you wished you were part of?

Most important sports moment?

Text me, don’t e-mail me, to influence food safety behavior

I hate texting.

I learned how to do it so I could chat with my kids, but I much prefer e-mail.

imagesChapman says I’m old, and the whole e-mail thing just passed by these kids.

The hardest lesson to teach any student working in my lab over the past 15 years was, check your e-mail.

When I went to Disney with food safety Frank in 2008, I was most impressed that he had all his chefs in the 20-something resorts checking their Blackberries every couple of minutes.

That’s the way I ran my lab.

But, I have kids, and they slowly drag the old man along to the new technology, and texting.

A Curtin University-led study (that’s in Australia) shows young adults are more apt to develop automatic, regular and long-lasting food-safety behaviors if a habit is formed.

However, this formation doesn’t have to be linked to education or motivation, but simply created with regular cues that prompt action.

Curtin University Associate Professor Barbara Mullan says the work flips the usual habit paradigm.

“There is a lot of research into how we break bad habits, particularly in clinical psychology, in areas such as obsessive-compulsion disorder,” Mullan says.

“But there’s very little about how humans establish good habits.

“Previous studies that do have largely involved people with a motivation to change, such as losing weight or exercising more, but we felt there was a lot of noise in that data.

“We wanted to strip the question of back to the purest level of ‘how long do people have to repeat an action for it to become automatic?'”

To answer that question, they drew on recent research which found microwaving a dishcloth—a major source of kitchen cross-contamination—for one minute was an effective method of sterilisation.

They enlisted 45 undergraduate students and divided them into three groups, two which received a reminder poster and text-message prompts every three and five days respectively to microwave their dishcloth, and a control group who received no reminders.

The test period lasted for three weeks, with a follow-up done three weeks after completion.

This follow-up revealed that a significant number of those given cues to act were still performing the habit, while those in the control group were not.

“The results are particularly important as they demonstrate that a relatively simple intervention was sufficient to change and maintain behavior,” A/Prof Mullan says.

“This suggests focusing on habit formation is a better strategy than attempting to change or improve behaviors through education or instruction, which have been shown to be largely ineffective.

“And they remove the need for motivation. While a person’s intentions may be good, intention does not always lead to behavior change.”

Mullan says they chose students as participants due to young adults being a population at a higher risk of experiencing foodborne illness, which affects a quarter of Australians each year.

The researchers are now looking at cue sensitivity and if sequences of habits can be built, including checking expiry dates and fridge temperatures.