Supermarket madness: shopping for food safety

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From the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety:

Shopping is a competitive sport.

Especially for groceries.

People who would think nothing of laying out $200 for a fancy-pants dinner and atmosphere, will digitally or electronically clip coupons to save $0.10.

I watch people when I go shopping for food, about every second day, and maybe they watch the creepy guy watching them.

My questions may not be the same as other cooks or parents, but I have a lot.

Should that bagged salad be re-washed? Some bags have labels and instructions, some don’t. What about the salad out in bins that came from pre-washed bags? Should it be re-washed?

Is washing strawberries or cantaloupe going to make them safer?

Where did those frozen berries come from? Am I really supposed to cook them and can’t have them in my yogurt because of a hepatitis A risk?

Are raw sprouts risky?

How long is that deli-meat good for? Is it safer at the counter or pre-packaged?

Should I use a thermometer or is piping hot a sufficient standard for cooking meat and frozen potpies? Can I tell if meat is cooked by using my tender fingertips?

Is that steak or roast beef mechanically tenderized and maybe requires a longer cook time or higher temperature?

Are those frozen chicken thingies made from raw or cooked product? Is it labeled? Is labeling an effective communication mechanism?

These are the questions I have as a food safety type and as a parent who has shopped for five daughters for a long time in multiple countries. It has guided much of our research.

I see lots of things wandering through the grocery store, but I don’t see much information about food safety.

When there is an outbreak, retailers rely on a go-to soundbite: “Food safety is our top priority.”

As a food safety type I sometimes see that, but as a consumer, I don’t.

This sets up a mental incongruity: if food safety is your top priority, shouldn’t you show me?

The other common soundbite is, “We meet all government standards.” This is the Pinto defense – so named for the cars that met government standards but had a tendency to blow up when hit from behind – and is a neon sign to shop elsewhere.

Leaving brand protection to government inspectors or auditors is a bad idea.

For a while I started saying, rather than focus on training, which is never evaluated for effectiveness, change the food safety culture at supermarkets and elsewhere, and here’s how to do that.

But now the phrase, “We have a strong food safety culture,” is routinely rolled out but rarely understood, so I’m going back to my old line: show me what you do to keep people from barfing.

doug.ben.family.Food safety information needs to be rapid, reliable, relevant and repeated. I don’t see that at grocery stores.

The days of assuming that all food at retail is safe are over. Some farmers, some companies, are better at food safety. And they should be rewarded.

Most of us just want to hang out with our kids and get some decent food – food that won’t make us barf.

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

CFIA plays the 99 per cent numbers game

CFIA is getting into the 99 per cent game, usually reserved for hucksters on TV.

99.9 per cent sounds good, but that’s only a 3-log reduction. For food safety purposes, log-5 (99.999 per cent) to log-7 (99.99999 per cent) reductions in dangerous pathogens are often strived for.

Last week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced that 99.8 per cent of whole cantaloupe samples tested negative for the presence of Salmonella (they didn’t test for Listeria, but should have).

cantaloupe.salmonellaPlaying the 99 per cent game is also terrible risk communication: it doesn’t matter how small the percentage of positive samples were if you were one of the 23 people that dies from Listeria in Maple Leaf cold-cuts in 2008.

Data and sampling are a necessary evil and I’m glad CFIA is making the results public. But testing is limited and fraught with caveats. It’s expensive, and industry has lots of data, so why not make it public, in the context of an overall approach to food safety for a specific food.

CFIA reports  a total of 499 whole cantaloupe samples were collected and tested for Salmonella bacteria, which can cause a serious illness with long-lasting effects. One sample was found to be unsatisfactory due to the presence of Salmonella.

A week later, CFIA said more than 99.9 per cent of leafy green vegetable samples had no detectable levels of bacterial pathogens and were safe to consume.

As part of a five-year microbiological plan that began in 2008/2009, the CFIA analyzed a total of 4,250 domestic and imported, whole and fresh-cut fresh leafy vegetable samples available in the Canadian market for Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O157:NM and generic E. coli. The fresh-cut samples were also tested for Listeria monocytogenes.

The 2009/2010 study deemed 12 samples to be “unsatisfactory” due to the presence of Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and/or high levels of generic E. coli. None of the samples were found to be positive for E. coli O157:H7 or E. coli O157:NM.

French court fines former owner, director of Marcel Baey for 2010-2011 Listeria cover-up

A French court condemned the former director of salmon smoker Marcel Baey on April 8 in relation to an investigation into unreported listeria occurrences and misleading marketing material at the company in 2010 and 2011, reported La Voix du Nord.

smoked-salmon2-265x268The court also imposed a fine of €50,000 on the company’s former owners. However, that money is unlikely to ever be paid considering Marcel Baey’s assets were taken over by from receivership Poland’s Suempol in July 2013.

“This case relates to events between 2010 and 2011,” Marcel Baey’s current production manager Romain Marce told Undercurrent News following the court ruling. “It does not concern Suempol but the entity Marcel Baey. It is therefore the liquidator who is concerned.”

The authorities which uncovered the malpractices at Marcel Baey from 2010 to 2011 stressed that these were in the past, and that the company and its owners Suempol are fully compliant with regulations.

According to La Voix du Nord, the court heard that Marcel Baey had dissimulated a sanitary crisis in 2010 and 2011. The Boulogne-sur-mer-based company was also found guilty of misleading promotion on its products.

The findings were uncovered by the French agency Direction departementale de la protection des populations (DPPP), which started investigating the company following hear-say from competitors.

Evans of CFIA gets honorary degree

Dr. Brian Evans, former chief vet at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the point-man on the first mad cow disease outbreak in 2003, is the first recipient of an honorary degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Calgary.

Evans is the retired executive vice-president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and was the country’s chief veterinary officer for 15 years.

Brian EvansHe graduated from the University of Guelph with a bachelor of science in agriculture in 1974 and a doctor of veterinary medicine in 1978.

While at CFIA, he was also Canada’s delegate to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) for 13 years. He was elected secretary general for the OIE regional commission for the Americas and to four consecutive three-year terms as the representative of the member countries of the Americas Region on the OIE’s executive council.

Most recently, he was appointed the international body’s deputy director general responsible for animal health, veterinary public health and international standards.

He is married to Laurianne and has four children.

And is a genuinely thoughtful dude.

Potential outbreak at Muskegon sports bar

Muskegon, MI birthplace of the Detroit Red Wings’ Justin Abdelkader and punk rocker Iggy Pop is also home to what looks like a foodborne illness outbreak. According to Mlive, patrons of Bonicki’s Bistro reported illnesses to owner Norm Spyke as well as the local health authorities.395394_237923292949867_1801694089_n

Officials at Public Health – Muskegon County are asking recent patrons of a Muskegon Township sports bar to fill out a survey to gather data for a foodborne illness investigation.

Jill Montgomery Keast, the health education supervisor at Public Health – Muskegon County, said the agency is in the early stages of determining the type and cause of an outbreak that occurred at Bonicki’s Sports Bistro, 1891 East Apple Ave.
Keast said the department received at least six calls from local customers who fell ill between April 3 and April 6. 
“We were in full compliance as far as I know. They are looking into the matter,” Spyke said.

Bonicki’s achieved compliance with the Michigan Food Law on Jan. 8, according to the latest inspection data available online at www.swordsolutions.com. The records show that sanitarians cited the restaurant for priority violations related to ice and food storage that were eventually corrected.

On the Bonicki’s Sports Bistro Facebook page is a message from the ownership:

Contrary to some news organizations poor reporting skills
WE ARE STILL OPEN!
The Muskegon County Health Department has been here and has checked us on everything, they found nothing wrong with how we store, prepare, cook, or serve our food.
During this time please remember the people that work here, for many of them this is their only job, bad press effects everybody. 
#shoplocal #lovemuskegon

Getting sick from food sucks too.

No one wants their kid to get sick from animals: best practices paper published

From North Carolina, U.S. to Brisbane, Australia, outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella and other pathogens related to petting zoos or animal exhibits have been devastating to the families involved.

We wanted to provide a checklist for parents, and the teachers who book these events.

Two veterinarians from Kansas State University – Gonzalo Erdozain who completed his Masters of Public Heath with me and is about to graduate as a vet, and Kate KuKanich, an assistant prof with whom I’ve had the pleasure gonzalo.pic_.may13-300x300of writing several papers with – joined with me and my BFF Chapman (until we have a fight over hockey) and we tried to produce some guidelines.

The uniting factor was – we all have kids.

We’ve all seen microbiologically terrible practices, and read about them from around the world, and thought, maybe we should try and provide some guidance.

And now it’s been published.

Gonzalo did the bulk of the work for his MPH, but we all contributed our experiences.

For me, it was going to the Ekka in Brisbane, something like the Texas State Fair. The petting zoo was absolute madness, and after living in Brisbane and hanging out with micro-types who told me, don’t go to the Ekka, you’ll get sick, we didn’t go last year.

Fourty-nine people got sick from E. coli O157.

North Carolina has had repeated and terrible outbreaks.

As a father of five daughters, I’ve had many requests over 20 years to go on a school trip to see the animals. As a food safety type, I’ve been kate.jackroutinely concerned about best practices. The other parents may dislike microbiology, but I’m concerned with the health and safety of the children involved.

I am extremely proud of this paper, with the hope that maybe there will be fewer sick kids. I’m also extremely proud to be associated with my co-authors.

Best practices for planning events encouraging human-animal interactions

03.Apr.14

Zoonoses and Public Health DOI: 10.1111/zph.12117

doug.ben.familyG. Erdozain , K. KuKanich , B. Chapman  and D. Powell

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/zph.12117/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

03.Apr.14

Zoonoses and Public Health

G. Erdozain , K. KuKanich , B. Chapman  and D. Powell

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/zph.12117/abstract?deniedAccess

Educational events encouraging human–animal interaction include the risk of zoonotic disease transmission. ‘It is estimated that 14% of all disease in the USA caused by Campylobacter spp., Cryptosporidium spp., Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157, non-O157 STECs, Listeria monocytogenes, nontyphoidal Salmonella enterica and Yersinia enterocolitica were attributable to animal contact. This article reviews best practices for organizing events where human–animal interactions are encouraged, with the objective of lowering the risk of zoonotic disease transmission.

(And it was Amy that noticed the thing had been published; always ahead by a century.)

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Does food safety risk analysis have a public hope? How politics make us stupid

I have no time for scientists who bitch behind closed doors about how they’re misunderstood by the public.

As Thomas Jefferson famously stated, which I always use to introduce my risk analysis course, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion by education.”

communicationI’m not a fan of education, but I am a fan of compelling, current, credible information.

Ezra Klein writes about the More Information Hypothesis: the belief that many of our most bitter political battles are mere misunderstandings. The cause of these misunderstandings? Too little information — be it about climate change, or taxes, or Iraq, or the budget deficit. If only the citizenry were more informed, theb thinking goes, then there wouldn’t be all this fighting.

But the More Information Hypothesis isn’t just wrong. It’s backwards. Cutting-edge research shows that the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become.

This isn’t cutting-edge. This has been known for at least 50 years.

I heard the same thing about genetically engineered foods in the early 1990s (I’m old) and tried to tell the corporations, facts are not your answer: it’s compassion, stories.

That worked out well (that’s sarcasm).

Klein writes that in April and May of 2013, Yale Law professor Dan Kahan — working with co-authors Ellen Peters, Erica Cantrell Dawson, and Paul Slovic — set out to test a question that continuously puzzles scientists: why isn’t good evidence more effective in resolving political debates? For instance, why doesn’t the mounting proof that climate change is a real threat persuade more skeptics?

The leading theory, Kahan and his coauthors wrote, is the Science Comprehension Thesis, which says the problem is that the public doesn’t know enough about science to judge the debate. It’s a version of the More Information Hypothesis: a smarter, better educated citizenry wouldn’t have all these problems reading the science and accepting its clear conclusion on climate change.

That’s a new-fangled version of the needle theory – a willing public waiting to ingest science.

Doesn’t work like that.

Kahan goes on to say that the science community has a crappy communications team. Actually, scratch that: Kahan doesn’t think they have any communications team at all.”

Easy to throw darts from the outside. My team can tell you what you need to know about food safety science communication.

 

 

The consequences of unsafe home canning are scary

With the first ramps making their way to New York restaurants, the North Carolina spring is here.

As the top two-thirds of North America thaws out, the bottom third is gearing up for the home canning season. If done incorrectly (without acid or pressure as a control step) things can get scary.canned-tomatoes

According to ASIA-plus, 33 residents of a Tajikistan village have contracted botulism from a risky batch of home canned tomatoes, tragically leading to a 10-year-old’s death.

The boy was one of 33 residents of the Qahramon village in Sughd’s Asht district who have contracted botulism poisoning by eating home-canned tomatoes. According to the Sughd Center for Sanitary and Epidemiological Supervision, four of them were in the intensive care unit.

“On March 21, some 95 residents of the village of Qahramon gathered to celebrate the Navrouz holiday and 33 of them contracted botulism poisoning by eating home-canned tomatoes,” said the source.  “On March 23, they were taken to the Asht central district hospital, where they were vaccinated (I think they mean treated with antitoxin -ben) against botulism.”
It’s unclear from the report whether the product was just straight tomatoes or had other low acid foods (like peppers or onions added). Modern varieties of tomatoes are lower acid than some of their predecessors - making them a borderline low-acid food. Canned tomatoes require some added acid (lemon juice or vinegar are most common) to keep the Clostridium botulinum spores from germination, outgrowth which can then lead to bot toxin formation.

Food Safety Talk 58: Where’s my wallet?

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.1396369706543

In Episode 58 the guys started the show admiring Ben’s new computer, and his House of Clay beer, before talking about Don and Victoria Backham’s treadmill desksRicky Gervais bathtub photosdressing up like a realtor, and confidence intervals.

Don and Ben then welcomed Bill Marler to the show. Bill’s notoriety started with the Jack-in-the-Box outbreak (documented in the book Poisoned). The discussion moved to the Jensen farm legal case, in particular, the criminal aspects of unknowingly shipping contaminated food and the involvement of service providers, i.e. auditors. The guys also discussed the impact on apportioning liability as a result of the recent North Carolina limiting farmers liability law. The conversation then turned to Salmonella and Foster Farm’s chicken and no one could understand why there hadn’t been a recall.

The guys then discussed Listeria and cantaloupes, including CDC’s recommendations and Don’s paper on “Modeling the growth of Listeria monocytogenes on cut cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon.”

After a short detour via the AVN Awards, Bill got the chance to explain why he generally doesn’t take on norovirus cases and the lengths he goes to before taking on a case, using the Townsend Farm Hepatitis A outbreak as an example. The conversation then turned to auditors and what the impact of the Jensen Farm litigation case might be.

After saying farewell to Bill, Don and Ben talked about podcasting, including Lex Friedman, and Libsyn’s Rob Walch.

In the after dark the guys chatted about House of CardsTrue Detective, Ben’s quirky Aussie accent, Malaysia Airlines flight 370 andLost.

University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown identifies norovirus outbreak, takes steps to limit virus exposure

A few years ago fellow graduate student Brae Surgeoner had a fun idea to collect behavior data in the midst of an outbreak. The University of Guelph was dealing with a bunch of illnesses that seemed to be linked to residence halls and the symptoms looked like norovirus. The local health folks worked with the universities housing group and placed alcohol-based sanitizer at the entrance to one of the cafeterias (which was thought to be ground zero). Looking back, the hand sanitizer step wasn’t the greatest public health intervention (not with commercially available products), but what we wanted to know was whether students heeded the warnings and advice. student-cafeteria-02

By using ethnography, we found that only 17 per cent of the observed students followed the hand hygiene recommendations, but self-reported surveys of the same population showed that 83 per cent of students said that they had been following the guidance (we published the results in the Journal of Environmental Health, abstract below).

Health officials often put up posters and signs and rely on self-reporting to determine whether interventions are effective. People may say they are washing their hands more, but our study showed that the behavior and reports don’t always match up.

Faced with a bunch of students ill with norovirus, the decision-makers running the show at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, according to Global Dispatch, made a good disease management call by canceling all events and closing the cafeteria to limit virus transfer.

Several University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown students have reported an illness–with the symptoms of  fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and general abdominal discomfort, to campus Health Services during the past 48 hours prompting the university to cancel all in-door social events for the weekend. In addition, the decision has been made to suspend cafeteria services at all dining facilities on campus. Instead, prepackaged meals will be available in the Student Union for pick-up.

In an effort to respond to students who feel that they need medical attention, the Office of Health and Counseling will be open on both Saturday and Sunday, 8:30 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.

University Students’ Hand Hygiene Practice During a Gastrointestinal Outbreak in Residence: What They Say They DO and What They Actually Do

Journal of Environmental Health, 72(2):24-28

Brae V. Surgeoner, M.S., Benjamin J. Chapman, Ph.D., Douglas A. Powell, Ph.D.

Abstract

Published research on outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness has focused primarily on the results of epidemiological and clinical data collected postoutbreak; little research has been done on actual preventative practices during an outbreak. In this study, the authors observed student compliance with hand hygiene recommendations at the height of a suspected norovirus outbreak in a university residence in Ontario, Canada. Data on observed practices was compared to postoutbreak self-report surveys administered to students to examine their beliefs and perceptions about hand hygiene. Observed compliance with prescribed hand hygiene recommendations occurred 17.4% of the time. Despite knowledge of hand hygiene protocols and low compliance, 83.0% of students indicated that they practiced correct hand hygiene during the outbreak. To proactively prepare for future outbreaks, a current and thorough crisis communications and management strategy, targeted at a university student audience and supplemented with proper hand washing tools, should be enacted by residence administration.