Some talk, some do: Kansas just sucks

Three movies encapsulate and reverberate throughout my life: The World According to Garp, Wonder Boys, and American Beauty.

I’ve reached my American Beauty moment, and may I go on and have such a fruitful career as Kevin Spacey has since 1999.

I’m an unemployed former food safety professor of almost 20 years, who coaches little and big kids in hockey and goofs around.

I’ve enjoyed the last few months – despite the angst of moving into a house that may slide down the hill at any moment given the Brisbane rains – but with 80,000 direct subscribers and students and media still contacting me daily, I feel a connection.

I just gotta figure out how to get paid.

(If you see any adverts on barfblog.com, like Amy did this morning, it is not authorized. Chapman and I are quite happy to say what the fuck we want and call people on their food safety fairytales).

And I would like to publicly apologize to Amy for dragging me to Australia, and all the bitching I did about shitty Internet, and how I lost my career (at the mall).

It’s looking much better now.

Kansas State University took whatever opportunity they could to get rid of me, for the salary, for the controversy, for whatever. Wasn’t too long after that Kirk-2025-Schultz bailed for Washington state. The provost queen is still stuck there.

As full professor, Kansas had become boring and I hated doing admin shit.

And there was no ice.

When people in Australia ask me about President Trump (two words that never sound right together, like Dr. Oz – thanks, John Oliver) I say, look at Kansas, that is what will happen to America.

The N.Y. Times seems to agree.

In an editorial today, the Times wrote:

Kansas can only hope that reports are true that the Trump administration will let its governor, Sam Brownback, escape the disaster he created in Topeka for a quieter United Nations agricultural post in Rome. And global humanity can only hope for the best.

Mr. Brownback, a Republican first elected on the Tea Party crest of 2010, used his office as a laboratory for conservative budget experimentation. His insistence that tax cuts create, not diminish, revenues has left the state facing a ballooning deficit plus a ruling by the state Supreme Court that Kansas schoolchildren have been unconstitutionally shortchanged in state aid for years, with the poorest minority children most deprived.

The court ruled this month that they would shut the state’s schools if funding wasn’t made equitable by June 30. It found reading test scores of nearly half of African-American students and more than one-third of Hispanic students were deficient under aid formulas favoring more affluent school districts.

Mr. Brownback played no small role in the long-running school crisis by leading the Republican Legislature to limit school aid after enacting the largest tax cuts in state history, for upper-bracket business owners. Characteristically, the governor’s reaction to the court mandate was to further undermine schools by suggesting parents “be given the opportunity and resources to set their child up for success through other educational choices.”

If that’s the governor’s parting contribution to the school crisis before his flight to a Trump diplomatic appointment, Kansas parents and school administrators cannot be too surprised. They have been experiencing the deepening budget crisis firsthand in shortened school hours and resources as the state suffered two credit downgrades. Public protest led to a number of Brownback loyalists voted out last year, with legislative newcomers igniting a budget revolt against the governor. He barely survived a showdown last month, by vetoing a $1 billion tax increase.

The tax push seems likely to be renewed, since the state faces a two-year $1.2-billion deficit plus the school funding mandate. For that obligation, state education officials have estimated it might require $841 million over the next two years. The court fight was prompted by a slide in school aid that began in the recession under Mr. Brownback’s predecessor, Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat. But it spiraled once the Brownback tax cuts drained state coffers.

It seems unfair that Mr. Brownback might abandon the mess he created, especially since Mr. Trump never ceases to renounce life’s “losers.” But Kansans have learned the hard way that they need to be free from the benighted Brownback era, and maybe Mr. Brownback has, too.

I wish nothing but the best for my Kansas colleagues, and a slow, endless angst for administration assholes who put money above values.

There was a time I thought being a prof meant something.

But we don’t need no institution.

More to come.

Food fraud: Brazil bored bureaucrat mob-influenced version

Federal authorities announced Friday they’re investigating evidence that companies including JBS SA and BRF SA, the nation’s largest meat producers, bribed government officials to approve the sale and export of soiled meat. Federal police served hundreds of court orders, including more than 30 detention warrants, in what local media says is the largest police operation in the country’s history.

Police released transcripts of recorded conversations showing how agricultural inspectors were bribed, sometimes in the form of prime cuts of beef. It’s alleged that some of the meat, including sausages and cold cuts, was adulterated with ingredients including pig heads, and that suspect smells were masked by applying acid. Inspectors who refused to comply, it’s alleged, were reassigned elsewhere by the meat companies.

“It seems like magic realism,” Marcos Josegrei da Silva, the judge responsible for overseeing the so-called Weak Flesh investigation, said in a court order. “Unfortunately, it is not.”

In a statement, the Brazilian unit of Wal-Mart said it fully trusts its internal food safety procedures.

But should consumers?

The story trickled around the globe over the weekend and is now like a Brisbane downpour.

Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said Saturday Brazil fears that it may lose foreign markets for its agricultural products.

The minister confirmed earlier media reports that the United States, the European Union and China have already requested Brazilian authorities to launch an investigation against the unscrupulous meat producers. However, none of these countries has so far announced that it was closing its market for animal products from Brazil.

On Friday, Brazil’s federal police arrested members of a major criminal group involved in trade of tainted food, mostly meat. According to police, the operation involved almost 1,100 police officers and became the country’s largest ever. The operation targeted major Brazilian meat producers selling their products both domestically and internationally.

Investigators detained a number of meat industry employees, who are suspected of bribing agriculture watchdogs to receive quality certificates for low-quality goods without proper checks. Some of those money were reportedly used to finance political parties.

Police says that the suspects also used acid and other chemicals to make the rotten meat appear fresh.

The Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment has stated it is taking the issue seriously and will investigate if spoiled meat has been brought to Finland.

In Finland, Brazilian meat has been sold in stores belonging to S Group.

Don’t piss off parents: 3,300 Egyptian children hospitalized after food poisoning

Nour Youssef of the N.Y. Times reports that more than 3,300 children were hospitalized in Egypt on Tuesday after an outbreak of food poisoning at several state-run primary schools, state-owned news media said.

The mass poisoning, in the impoverished Upper Egypt province of Sohag, north of Luxor, was one of the biggest food-safety cases to hit the country in years.

Officials suspect that school lunches may have been contaminated, and they have opened an investigation. Samples from the lunches, consisting of processed cheese cubes, dry sesame paste bars and loaves of bread, were being analyzed, they added.

Children, most younger than 12, began vomiting within an hour of eating the lunches, Ahmed Nashaat, a Sohag lawmaker, said in a telephone interview. A total of 3,353 children became ill, and at least 50 ambulances were sent to the schools, state news media said. Since then, all but 17 of the students have recovered and been discharged. No deaths or serious complications were reported.

The ordeal revived complaints over the declining quality of Egypt’s public education and health systems. “It is ridiculous how this keeps on happening,” Mr. Nashaat said. “It is not hard to store biscuits and look at the expiration date.”

Apparently in an attempt to deflect some of the anger, the governor of Sohag, Ayman Abdel-Moneim, quickly suspended the distribution of government meals and demanded that changes be made to how they were stored and transported to schools.

Tuesday’s outbreak was one in a long series that have occurred in public schools and universities nationwide recently. Earlier this month, more than 214 students were found to have food poisoning caused by government meals at several schools in the provinces of Minya and Assiut.

Outrage over such instances of perceived government neglect was a main cause of the popular uprising in 2011 that toppled the government of President Hosni Mubarak. “It was not just the parents who were angry in Sohag,” Mr. Nashaat said. “Everyone believes that was the result of neglect. This is leading people to conclude that the people in charge don’t care about their kids.”

Auditors and public health: a request

I still can’t say no to students.

Beth Driscoll, MA, CPHI(C), CHA, PMP (I’m not sure what all those initials mean) and PhD Candidate, Policy Studies, at Ryerson University (that’s in Toronto, which is in Canada) writes:

My name is Beth Driscoll, and I am inviting you to participate in a brief, online survey.  This survey will take approximately 15 minutes to complete, and investigates the perceptions of Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) auditors’ role in public health.  This survey is being conducted for my doctoral research project at Ryerson University.

To participate in this project, you must:

•]be fully certified to conduct GFSI audits for at least one benchmarked scheme;

• have completed at least five GFSI audits of that scheme; and,

• be fluent in English.

The survey is not intended to investigate or assess the GFSI, a GFSI benchmarked Food Safety Scheme, Certification Body, Accreditation Body, government or other organization.  Should the responses to the survey questions contain information that would identify one of these organizations, the identifying information will be anonymized prior to use.

Conflict of interest declarations: I am a contract employee for NSF International.  This information is being collected solely for my researcher’s graduate degree, and is not being collected for any organization associated with the GFSI or NSF International, nor do I conduct GFSI audits. 

If you choose to participate, you will be asked to complete an online survey about your professional identity and your understanding of your role in public health through the audits you conduct to a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) benchmarked Food Safety Scheme.  The survey is confidential is using Opinio, Ryerson University’s Online Survey Program, and all data is stored at Ryerson University.  This study has undergone review through the Ryerson University Research Ethics Board and if you have questions about your rights as a research participant, you may contact the Ryerson Research Ethics Board at rebchair@ryerson.ca.  If you have any questions about the survey please contact the researcher, Beth Driscoll, at edriscol@ryerson.ca  or Dr. Richard Meldrum at  meldrum@ryerson.ca before continuing.

Please feel free to forward this email to anyone you feel may be qualified to participate.

To participate, please go to the following website: https://survey.ryerson.ca:443/s?s=6004

24 sick: E. coli O121 outbreak shows failures of food safety safety net

 

Chapman was always the kinder, gentler version of me, and he goes too easy on Canadian boffins who announced today there are now 24 people sick with E. coli O121 in British Columbia (12), Saskatchewan (4), Alberta (3) and Newfoundland and Labrador (5).

That the outbreak missed Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI should give epidemiologists solid clues, ones that the Public Health Agency of Canada is not ready to divulge.

The initial public announcement was Jan. 12, 2017.

A couple of months later, the case count has doubled, and the only advice PHAC has is wash your fucking hands.

The last two major North American outbreaks of E. coli O121 were in flour, last year, and in sprouts, a few years earlier (please, let it be sprouts, please).

Five months into the outbreak, I’m sure the dedicated Canadian public servants have had time to match the genetic fingerprint of the outbreak strain with the U.S.-based outbreaks, but don’t expect PHAC to answer such simple questions.

They could have done whole genome sequencing in the time it took to have miniions craft a press release that said … nothing.

“The Government of Canada is committed to food safety. The Public Health Agency of Canada leads multi-jurisdictional human health investigations of outbreaks and is in regular contact with its federal and provincial partners to monitor and take collaborative steps to address outbreaks.”

Eat me completely.

Beam me up Scotty: Health Canada approves radiation to treat fresh and frozen raw ground beef

Rob Mancini writes:

Food irradiation is the treatment of food with a type of radiation energy known as ionizing radiation used to kill microorganisms. In Canada, irradiation has been used on products such as potatoes, onions, wheat and spices.  Health Canada has now authorized the use of ionizing radiation to treat fresh and frozen raw ground beef and permit the sale of these products in Canada.

A number of concerns regarding the use of irradiation were brought forth to the attention of Health Canada including the formation of hydrogen peroxide and alkylcyclobutanones. Health Canada states that hydrogen peroxide is relatively unstable and any residues that may remain on the meat after irradiation are expected to break down to water and oxygen during post-irradiation storage. Alkylcyclobutanones are products referred to as “Unique Radiolytic Products” (URPs) that are derived from fat when irradiated and therefore their presence is directly related to the fat content of the food. These URPs are found in extremely small quantities in irradiated foods, in the order of parts per billion. The overall weight of evidence indicates that the very low levels of these compounds found in irradiated beef do not pose a risk to human health.

I currently live in Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada) and have been asked a number of times what I’m doing here, cause of the ridiculous cold and short summers. Family is everything to me and they all live in Winnipeg. My parents have kindly suggested that if I take away their grandkids, nothing good will come from that scenario. Winnipeg is also home to food microbiologist guru Dr. Rick Holley whom I have had the pleasure of working with in the past on the CFIA modernization project ranking biological hazards with food commodities. Here is Dr. Holley speaking on food irradiation:

Going public: Why FDA doesn’t share retail outlet information (but should) edition

Earlier this month Doug and I had a paper published in the Journal of Environmental Health about the need for public health folks (especially at the local and state levels) who are dealing with an outbreak to have a plan on when to go public. The plan should include what info the release; how they release it; and, what triggers release.

There are a bunch of great folks in these agencies who are often understaffed, overworked and dealing with political pressures – but often don’t look to the risk communication world for tips on this stuff.

Caitlin Dewey at the Washington Post wrote about why FDA doesn’t practice sharing outlets/retailers where recalled products are sold, even those linked to illnesses.

The FDA does not specify, however, which stores, centers or schools — because that would violate its interpretation of an obscure trade secret rule.

This interpretation differs from that of other agencies in the federal food safety system, an overlapping and often illogical network of regulatory fiefdoms. The system, which is responsible for keeping food free of bacteria and other pathogens, frequently has to weigh the very real interests of private food companies against potential risks to the public. In the case of releasing retailer lists during major outbreaks, the FDA has historically sided with business, ruling that such lists constitute “confidential commercial information” and thus should not be available for public consumption.

Critics say that the agency’s unwillingness to share this information poses a clear danger to public health, particularly in cases like the current E. coli outbreak, where parents may not know if their child consumed the recalled product. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 of the 16 people who have fallen ill were children.

It could also prove relevant in incidents like last year’s multistate hepatitis A outbreak, which was traced to frozen strawberries imported from Egypt and sold at several Tropical Smoothie Cafes. The FDA did not specifically reveal which locations, however — a measure that some experts say would have gotten the news to ill consumers faster. That’s important in the case of an illness like hepatitis A, which can be treated with a vaccine for a limited period after exposure.

Doug and I argue that public health agencies (like FDA) should be in the business of sharing the info they have, the info they don’t have and all the uncertainties. This includes distribution data. There are lots of ways that folks get food safety and recall information. Sometimes it’s directly from their retailer of choice; or maybe it comes from a local media source. Or someone shared something on Facebook.

Bill Hallman and colleagues at Rutgers conducted a survey of consumers and their self-reported behaviors following 2008’s Salmonella saintpaul in tomatoes, er, peppers outbreak and found that lots of people (81%) say they they share recall info when they see it. 38% believe that the food they purchase is less likely to be recalled than their neighbors. And less than 60% report checking their fridges and pantries for the food.

Releasing retailer/distribution information might increase the chance individuals will say to themselves ‘I’ve bought some soynut butter recently, and I got it at that grocery store’ and they go check.

But I could just be optimistic.

A food safety Facebook friend posted a couple of days ago about a Listeria monocytogenes-linked recall. It was so important to him that he posted the info twice once on Feb 17 and again March 11, ‘I want to again stress that you should check any production codes immediately and if you have any of these products, either throw them away or return them to your grocery store. I just checked my cheese stash and had the pepperjack slices that are included.’

But, like Hallman and colleagues found, while he shared the info, he wasn’t motivated to actually go to his fridge to look for it the first time he posted. Maybe the distribution information would have triggered a behavioral response.

Going public: have a plan

‘Food safety recalls are always either too early or too late. If you’re right, it’s always too late. If you’re wrong, it’s always too early.’
That’s what Paul Mead was quoted as saying in response to when to go public with outbreak information over a decade ago. 
During foodborne illness outbreaks and incidents information is evolving – what people know, and when the share it can impact public health, and buyer decisions. Go public too late and stuff remains on the market. Go public too early risks making a wrong decision
Doug, Sol Erdozian and I wrote a paper a while back that finally got published this week in the Journal of Environmental Health where we look at the going public situation. There’s no magic answer; just have a plan and a set of criteria to look at when making the decision of what to share when. Talk about uncertainty. And don’t make it up on the fly.
Here’s NC State’s press release about our paper:

There’s an ongoing debate among public health officials about how quickly they should notify the public about foodborne illness outbreaks, and how much information should be shared. Is it better to tell people as early as possible, or could that create panic that is counterproductive?

Food safety researchers are now calling on public health agencies to develop clear guidelines on when to inform the public about foodborne illness outbreaks – something which is often handled on an ad hoc basis at the local, state and federal levels.

To learn more about how health agencies are currently addressing these questions, researchers evaluated 11 case studies of large outbreaks, dating back to 1996.

Not only is there no clear consensus on how to respond, they discovered, but there is no system in place to help officials decide when to tell the public about a foodborne illness outbreak.

“We found that pressure from social media, or from companies, has sometimes influenced when health officials release information, which is problematic,” says Ben Chapman, lead author of a paper on the work and an associate professor of agricultural and human sciences at North Carolina State University.

“Officials need to have clearly defined processes for determining when information should be made public, and those processes don’t appear to exist right now,” Chapman says.

Instead, researchers found that public health agencies – from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to state and local agencies – make decisions about sharing information on a case-by-case basis.

“There are advantages and risks to both sharing and withholding information,” Chapman says.

Sharing information early in an outbreak can allow consumers to make informed decisions about their food choices that limit risk. But there can also be a lot of uncertainty about that information.

“For example, officials may be investigating a particular restaurant or type of food, but the investigation could ultimately find that the culprit was actually a different source altogether,” Chapman says.

By the same token, withholding information until there is less uncertainty may increase public health risks because the source of the illness may remain accessible to unwitting consumers.

“The best case is to share what you know, and what you don’t know, in an open and transparent way,” Chapman says. “Talking about uncertainty may be uncomfortable for officials, but they need to have a plan for how to do so.”

The paper, “Going Public: Early Disclosure of Food Risks for the Benefit of Public Health,” is published in the Journal of Environmental Health. The paper was co-authored by Maria Sol Erdozaim, a former undergraduate at Kansas State University, and Douglas Powell of Powell Food Safety.

-shipman-

Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“Going Public: Early Disclosure of Food Risks for the Benefit of Public Health”

Authors: Benjamin Chapman, North Carolina State University; Maria Sol Erdozaim, Kansas State University; Douglas Powell, Powell Food Safety

Published: March 2017, Journal of Environmental Health

Abstract: Often during an outbreak of foodborne illness, there are health officials who have data indicating that there is a risk prior to notifying the public. During the lag period between the first public health signal and some release of public information, there are decision makers who are weighing evidence with the impacts of going public. Multiple agencies and analysts have lamented that there is not a common playbook or decision tree for how public health agencies determine what information to release and when. Regularly, health authorities suggest that how and when public information is released is evaluated on a case-by-case basis without sharing the steps and criteria used to make decisions. Information provision on its own is not enough. Risk communication, to be effective and grounded in behavior theory, should provide control measure options for risk management decisions. There is no indication in the literature that consumers benefit from paternalistic protection decisions to guard against information overload. A review of the risk communication literature related to outbreaks, as well as case studies of actual incidents, are explored and a blueprint for health authorities to follow is provided.

Going public real time: Hepatitis A in my daughter’s Brisbane school, this time it’s personal

At 4:23 p.m. AET on Friday, March 3, 8-year-old Sorenne’s school issued a notice to some parents that said:

“Hepatitis A has been reported at school. Hepatitis A is a viral disease that affects the liver. Anyone can be infected with hepatitis A if they come into direct contact with food, drunks, or objects contaminated by faeces of an infected person.”

I’m not sure they meant drunks, but that’s what it said.

Amy got the e-mail.

I got notification of the e-mail at 5:30 p.m. AET

I immediately called the school.

No answer.

I e-mailed all the school contacts to say, “Hepatitis A is a serious disease for those who are unvaccinated. It passes fecal-oral, and can be acquired by drinks with straws, but usually not drunks (as your note says).”

Standard procedure in the U.S is vaccination clinics for anyone who has the potential to be exposed, but is only useful if done within a few days.:

So then I called Queensland Health, the state health agency.

Being after 5 p.m. on a Friday, there wasn’t no one around, except for a nice man who said he would investigate.

I e-mailed my questions:

“What is standard vaccination clinic procedure in the event of a positive case?

“What is the vaccination policy for hep A in Australia? Queensland?

“What was the timeline for detection and public notification?”

He said he would do the best he could and call me back.

He didn’t.

This is apparently normal.

On Feb. 23, 2017, I e-mailed media relations at Queensland Health to ask, “Can Queensland Health confirm or deny there was an outbreak of Salmonella in Sunnybank (Brisbane) around the Chinese New Year possibly involving deep-fried ice cream?
“thank you”

No answer.

Going public is about protecting people from public health threats.

Brisbane sucks at it.
Going public: Early disclosure of food risks for the benefit of public health

NEHA, Volume 79.7, Pages 8-14

Benjamin Chapman, Maria Sol Erdozaim, Douglas Powell

http://www.neha.org/node/58904

Often during an outbreak of foodborne illness, there are health officials who have data indicating that there is a risk prior to notifying the public. During the lag period between the first public health signal and some release of public information, there are decision makers who are weighing evidence with the impacts of going public. Multiple agencies and analysts have lamented that there is not a common playbook or decision tree for how public health agencies determine what information to release and when. Regularly, health authorities suggest that how and when public information is released is evaluated on a case-by-case basis without sharing the steps and criteria used to make decisions. Information provision on its own is not enough. Risk communication, to be effective and grounded in behavior theory, should provide control measure options for risk management decisions. There is no indication in the literature that consumers benefit from paternalistic protection decisions to guard against information overload. A review of the risk communication literature related to outbreaks, as well as case studies of actual incidents, are explored and a blueprint for health authorities to follow is provided.