Surveys still suck: US consumers definition of food safety expanded, so provide them info

Health and wellness, safety, social impact, experience, and transparency are all factors 51 percent of consumers weigh when determining which food items to purchase, according to a joint study from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), Food Marketing Institute (FMI), and consulting firm Deloitte.

survey-saysThe study, “Capitalizing on the Shifting Consumer Food Value Equation,” [PDF] found these new factors influence purchasing decisions in addition to traditional drivers like taste, price, and convenience.

There’s a shift in the way people think about food safety. “Americans no longer define the concept of food safety based on near-term risks to their health,” a joint news release said.

According to the survey, 75 percent of consumers include health, wellness, and transparency in their definition of food safety. Other factors consumers included in their definition of food safety: free from harmful ingredients (62 percent); clear and accurate labeling (51 percent); and fewer ingredients, processing, and no artificial ingredients (42 percent).

“Today’s consumers have a higher thirst for knowledge than previous generations and they are putting the assessment of that information into their value equation,” said GMA Operations and Industry Collaboration Senior Executive Vice President Jim Flannery. “Brands that win with consumers will likely be those that provide the information they seek, well beyond what is on the label.”

South Africa doesn’t have capacity to forecast, track a foodborne disease

A University of Pretoria (UP) food safety expert warns South Africa does not have adequate capacity to forecast and track a foodborne disease.

140818supermarket-jpgProfessor Lise Korsten has told a parliamentary workshop food safety is compromised due to a lack of integrated regulation.

Korsten says providing quality produce to poor communities remains the biggest challenge to food security.

She adds that the lack of an independent regulatory body to ensure food safety further compounds concern around the level of toxins in some food.

Korsten says while several policies have been drafted, no integrated system exists to curb foodborne diseases.

She adds industry and government need to be transparent and accountable regarding food certification.

Chipotle closed for wankfest

That was a boring super bowl, full of gimmicks and a quarterback pushing Bud Light as his soundbite, but it won’t be as boring as Chipotle’s two-hour wankfest when they close their almost 2,000 outlets for a food safety pep talk.

kenny.diarrheaIt’s not food safety, it’s a marketing gimmick (which is how Chipotle has been getting money all along).

Chipotle is closed for the next couple of hours.

And they’re going to show how much they know about food safety risk communication.

Or how bad their PR consultants are.

The meeting will go over an improved farm-to-fork food safety program, which the chain implemented in January. It includes paid sick leave to make sure employees will stay home when they’re sick, DNA-based testing of ingredients before they’re shipped to restaurants and some changes in food preparation protocols.

Why didn’t they do this before?

Because there’s money to be made in marketing hucksterism.

Ask Dr. Oz.

About 500 people got sick last year from outbreaks due to Norovirus, E. coli O26 and Salmonella,, including an entire basketball team at Boston College. Some of the sickened diners have sued Chipotle. Profits plunged 44% in the fourth quarter compared to the year before. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the company for possible criminal activity.

Oh, they’ll also be launching a new website today, according to the aptly named Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle’s chief creative and development officer.

“The creative for this campaign, with one small exception, does not mention food safety or the recent incidents,” he said. “Instead, it reinforces our commitment to high-quality ingredients and great-tasting food.”

Market food safety. High-quality ingredients don’t mean shit (literally and metaphorically).

Beating up on Chipotle and hucksterism gets tiring. So let John Oliver do it.

Utah food freedom politician says market will take care of food safety

“I saw Wyoming do this last year, and I thought ‘Hey, that’s a cool bill. That’s a cool idea,’”

Food-FreedomThis might not be the best way to make food safety rules.

Folks who want to make food in their home or garage and sell it are part of a growing business segment. By many accounts, the cottage food industry is growing in North America. Twenty U.S. states allow certain foods to be processed in the home and sold for consumption – but it’s a patchwork of regulatory approaches.

According to City Weekly, Utah politician Rep. Marc Roberts wants to exempt food producers who sell direct to the public from regulations. Including some high-risk products like dairy and poultry.

Government regulations set the bar of the lowest acceptable level of risk reduction.

No regulation = no bar. Rep. Roberts says no problem, the market will take care of it.

While Roberts says that under his bill, consumers would be encouraged to talk with the producers to find out how the poultry or dairy is produced, he does concede that if his bill were to become law and the safety inspections were removed, there’s nothing that would prevent a producer from lying to customers about their process. “That’s where the market is a beautiful thing in my opinion,” says Roberts, “why would a producer sell [tainted] food because his interest is to make sure his customers are healthy. So yes, you could get sick. There’s always going to be bad players in the market—in any market. But by-and-large, [producers’] incentive is to make sure their customers are healthy and happy.”

Yeah, unless the producer doesn’t know what hazards they should be controlling, or how to control them. Or doesn’t care.

I prefer prevention rather than relying on market corrections post-illness, long term sequelae or death.

Risk reduction is better than zero tolerance: USDA finalizes new food safety measures to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry

While you’re scarfing down wings and that beverage Americans call beer during the Super Bowl, be content to know that the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has framed new rules with an aim to lessen salmonella and campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products. The FSIS has updated its microbial testing schedule at poultry facilities and will start the provision of online updates of individual companies’ food safety performance.

buffalo.wild.wingsThe new rulings demand that the companies have to reduce the frequency of contaminated chicken parts to 15% or less. The new standard has also levied limits for turkey and ground meat products. Alfred Almanza, the USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety, was of the view that after a year of testing, the USDA will start posing the test results from every poultries.

“[This] is not a good thing for them, if they’re failing. So those are pretty significant deterrents, or incentives for them to meet or exceed our standard”, affirmed Almanza. But as per some, there is a lot of guesswork required in the calculation.

As part of this move to make chicken and turkey items that Americans frequently purchase safer to eat, FSIS has also updated its microbial testing schedule at poultry facilities and will soon begin posting more information online about individual companies’ food safety performance.

5 things to know about foodborne illness

Julie Jargon of The Wall Street Journal reports that roughly one in six Americans, or 48 million people, get sick each year from foodborne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

happy-vomit1Approximately 128,000 of them are hospitalized and 3,000 die from the illnesses. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. CEO Steve Ells is making an all-out effort to revive his chain’s fortunes after contaminated ingredients caused a spate of such illnesses, as The Wall Street Journal reports in a Page One article.

Here are five things to know about foodborne illnesses, according to the CDC:

  1. Which food items account for the most illnesses?

Produce is the most common contributor to foodborne illnesses, accounting for 46% of them between 1998 and 2008, followed by meat and poultry, dairy and eggs and fish and shellfish.

  1. Which pathogens are most responsible?

Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S., followed by salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter spp. and Staphylococcus aureus. The bacteria behind the Chipotle outbreak are called Shiga toxin-producing E.coli 026.

  1. How dangerous is E. coli 026?

This strain of E. coli can cause diarrhea and vomiting and sometimes lead to kidney failure. No one who contracted this kind of E. coli infection in the Chipotle outbreak died or was diagnosed with kidney failure, though 21 of the 55 ill people were hospitalized. A smaller E. coli outbreak sickened five more. Kidney failure and death is more often associated with the E. coli 0157 strain, which was the pathogen in the 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak that resulted in the deaths of four children.

  1. Is the rate of foodborne disease outbreaks growing?

Infections of E. coli O157 in 2014 decreased 32% when compared with 2006-2008. There has been no change in the number of overall Salmonella cases in 2014 versus 2006-2008. Campylobacter infections increased 13% during that time.

  1. How can I prevent getting a foodborne illness?

Frequent hand washing and washing of surfaces where food is prepared is critical. Cooking food thoroughly is another key way to prevent contamination. A food thermometer should be used to determine when an item is done. Steaks, for example, should be cooked until they reach an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Food should be kept at a temperature of 140 degrees after cooking because bacteria can grow as food begins to cool. Microwaved food should reach 165 degrees or higher. Perishable items should be refrigerated promptly. And raw meat and eggs should always be prepared separately from other foods.



‘Verging on the ridiculous’ and I won’t eat there, but I’ve said that since 2007: Chipotle still sucks

Nice to see my microbiological friends Linda Harris and Trevor Suslow, both of the University of California, Davis, mentioned in this National Geographic piece.

diarrhea burrito’Rachel Becker writes that Chipotle Mexican Grill has had a rough couple of months.

First, a series of foodborne outbreaks radiating from Chipotle restaurants across the country sickened hundreds. Then, the U.S. Attorney’s Office served the fast-casual restaurant chain with subpoenas in an investigation into an August outbreak of norovirus—the virus infamous for causing explosive diarrhea—at a California Chipotle location.

In early December, Chipotle declared that it would revamp its food handling practices to become an industry leader in food safety. It even took the unprecedented step of announcing it would close more than 2,000 locations for four hours on February 8 so employees could attend a company-wide meeting broadcast from Denver to discuss the company’s new food safety procedures.

But the bad press just keeps coming. In a country where foodborne illnesses sicken 48 million people, hospitalize 128,000, and kill 3,000 each year, does Chipotle deserve the scrutiny it’s been getting? Or is the company that makes its money selling “Food with Integrity,” shunning the standard fast food supply chain in favor of “responsible” food, just getting picked on for trying to stand out?

linda.harris.storyLinda Harris, a food safety microbiologist at the University of California, Davis (left, exactly as shown, and she was on my PhD advisory committee), thinks that the scrutiny is fair, adding that the number of outbreaks Chipotle has had this year is “verging on the ridiculous.”

“I think if other restaurants have had problems over that time frame and in those states, it would have been reported as much as it was for Chipotle,” she says.

In July, five people in Seattle came down with E. coli O157:H7 infections after eating at a local Chipotle. Then in August, norovirus struck a southern California Chipotle, sickening a final count of 234 people including 18 employees according to Ventura County environmental health spokesperson Doug Beach.

Around the same time, tomatoes contaminated with Salmonella Newport found their way into 22 Chipotle locations in Minnesota, infecting 64 people. Between October and December two strains of another type of E. coli, E. coli O26, infected 60 people in total who had eaten at Chipotle. To cap off a series of unfortunate events, in December 136 people were infected with norovirus in Boston after eating at the fast-casual restaurant—the outbreak was traced back to a sick employee.

Fortunately, there have been no deaths. But there has been a lot of diarrhea.

Chipotle has taken steps to address the problems. It’s moved tomato, lettuce, and cheese preparation to a central kitchen, implemented more testing for dangerous microbes, added a blanching step for some of the produce, changed marinating procedures, and added financial incentives for restaurant managers that are contingent on high food safety audit scores.

But it wasn’t enough to stop the financial bleeding. The restaurant announced on February 2 that revenue went down the toilet in the fourth quarter of 2015 with a 44% decrease in profit.

Doug Powell, a former professor of food safety at Kansas State University and founder of the appropriately named food safety blog,, says that he anticipated these outbreaks at Chipotle years ago.

“I’ve pointed this out since 2007,” he says. “They were more concerned about GMO-free, sustainable, natural, antibiotic-free—and in my experience when you do that, you tend to lose your focus on the things that actually make people sick.”

(Chipotle, to some extent, also anticipated these problems; their 2014 Annual Report listed food borne illness as a potential consequence of their emphasis on using fresh produce in their restaurants.)

Chris Arnold, a Chipotle spokesperson, disagrees that Chipotle’s priorities were misplaced. “I don’t think there is any validity at all to that,” he says. “We have always maintained food safety programs that are consistent with industry standards. These incidents have shown us that we need to do better, and that is what we are doing.”

Trevor Suslow, who specializes in food safety of produce at University of California, Davis, says that assessing whether Chipotle’s new food handling strategies will be effective requires that Chipotle make more details available. He expressed concerns that blanching—dipping foods into boiling water for a matter of seconds—might not kill certain kinds of bacteria embedded in produce or coating food items in a biofilm.

And Suslow, Harris, and Powell also note that there are limits to how much food testing can protect a food supply chain. “Product testing is a very last icing on the cake, if you will, of food safety management. It’s a verification activity only. It should not be the basis of your food safety management program,” Harris says.

Chipotle spokesperson Arnold responds that testing is an important part of their new plans, but not the only part. It’s “the layering of all of these program components that contribute to the strength of the whole food safety program,” he says in an email.

Instead, Harris and Powell say, the key to avoiding repeated outbreaks is a systemic culture of food safety.

“I think it really goes back to Chipotles’ attitude,” Powell says. “They want to put all of their money into sustainable, GMO-free, organic, whatever. That’s great. I don’t really care about how it’s grown. I care if it’s going to make people barf.”

Duck blood? 13 food products fail safety checks in Taiwan

The Health Bureau of Taichung City Government implemented food safety checks recently and found 13 out of 322 products to be violating regulations.

Jellied-Duck-BloodAhead of Chinese New Year, the city’s health authorities have stepped up inspections on traditional holiday food products.

The Health Bureau announced that it found 13 products – including duck blood, noodles and snow fungus – that violated food safety regulations.

Health officials also found pepper powder made from non-food grade magnesium carbonate; tea leaves that contained pesticide residue; and steamed spring roll that contained rongalite, a banned bleaching agent.

All products were either taken off the shelf right away or destroyed, according to the local health bureau.

Fairytales from China: President Xi Jinping urges “strictest” food safety measures

President Xi Jinping has underscored the need to implement the “strictest” measures to ensure food safety., who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, made the remarks in an instruction published Thursday.

Noting the impact that food safety has on people’s livelihoods and public confidence in the government, Xi called on all authorities to perform their due duty with the people at the forefront of all work.

The reputation of food safety in China is grave, Xi said, adding that there needs to be a more unified, authoritative supervision system as well as supporting regulations.

He said the strongest measures were needed, featuring rigorous standards, strict supervision, serious punishments and an authoritative accountability system.

In a separate instruction, Premier Li Keqiang pledged “zero tolerance” to food safety violations, promising timely and harsh punishment for guilty parties.

Calling food safety work a “sacred political duty” for the CPC and the government, the vice premier called for better supervision to ensure this work is properly done, so those guilty of dereliction of duty are held accountable.

He also underlined food safety particularly during the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year holiday.

Vice Premier Wang Yang also attended Thursday’s meeting.