Nosestretcher alert: sous vide safety in the home kitchen

Friend of the blog Don Schaffner of Rutgers University had some food safety concerns about a recent column broadcast by state-sponsored jazz radio station NPR about sous vide – or cooking under vacuum at a specific temperature.

schaffner.facebook.apr.14She (journalist T. Susan Chang) says:

Maybe you’ve heard the stories about city health department officials forcing chefs to pour bleach on their sous vide meats. It’s a story that always makes me want to cry, but for years public health has relied on a firm food safety rule: dangerous germs live at between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Even the pink interior of a medium-rare burger falls above this range, and most cooking techniques take place around or well above the boiling point of water (212 degrees F).

Schaffner says:

Some species of pathogenic bacteria can multiply between 40 and 140°F, and by multiply I mean increase in number. There are several species of pathogenic bacteria that can multiply slowly at temperatures less than 40°F. There are many, many pathogenic bacteria that can survive but not multiply at temperatures less than 40°F. All spore forming pathogenic bacteria can easily survive at temperatures more than 140°F. Some of these spores can survive boiling water, including the spores of Clostridium botulinum, which is of great concern because it can grow in vacuum packaged foods if the temperatures are in that 40 to 140° range for the right amount of time.

She says:

Aiming for that window — above 140 degrees for safety, below 150 degrees for texture — isn’t hard if you’re set up to control temperature within a degree or two. And you can pasteurize your protein by holding it there for long enough.

Schaffner says:

Taking food above 140°F does not make it safe. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service has a document which provides guidance to meat processors regarding safe cooking temperatures. That document is entitled “Appendix A Compliance Guidelines For Meeting Lethality Performance Standards For Certain Meat And Poultry Products”, and is available here: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OPPDE/rdad/FRPubs/95-033F/95-033F_Appendix_A.htm. According to this document a food at 140 °F needs 12 minutes to meet the USDA standards. That same guidance also indicates that a food can meet the standards by heating at 130°F too, just for a much longer time, and even at 150°F more than a minute is needed.

She says:

Salmon is a perfect protein on which to test your newfound control. Allow the salmon to sit in this brine in the refrigerator as you bring the water bath of your sous vide up to your target temperature (115 for rare, 120 for medium-rare).

When the water bath has reached the target temperature, remove any excess air from the zip-top bag by displacement if you’re not using a vacuum-sealed bag. Drop the salmon into the bath. It should take about 1/2 hour to come to temperature.

Schaffner says:

Not likely to result in any significant pathogen reduction.  Hitting the outside with a blowtorch will kill pathogens on the surface, but not any that are internalized.

She says:

Sous Vide Pork Belly, (when) cooked at 144 degrees for two days, the lean meat fibers sandwiched between the layers of fat stay plump and juicy.

Sous VideSchaffner says:

This will give significant pathogen reduction, but I worry about any process that takes two days.  If there is a temperature failure, that is a lot of time for risk to develop.

She says:

Sous Vide Basic Burger, bring the water bath up to 120 for rare, 125 for medium-rare. Drop the bagged frozen patties in the bath (displacing any air pockets first); the meat will take about 1 1/2 hours to get to its target temperature.

Schaffner says:

Quite risky from my perspective. Pathogens will be internalized in these burgers, and even 125°F for 1.5 hours will not give a significant reduction.

She says:

Sous Vide Herbed All-Purpose Chicken Breast, bring the sous vide water bath up to 140 degrees. … You’ll need 1 to 1 1/2 hours to cook the chicken to the target temperature.

Schaffner says:

Probably safe.

Food safety can be complicated.  While I share you passion for empowering people to innovate in the kitchen, I think it is important to get the science right, especially when it comes to food safety.

(Many thanks to Schaffner for continuing to share his infectious enthusiasm for all things microbiological – and getting it right).

Food terrorism poses eminent danger to US

Food terrorism poses an eminent danger to the United States, according to antiterrorism specialists. While the need for higher quantities of food is only increasing, the standards for food safety have been at a standstill or worse—nonexistent.

The Voice of Russia got to interview three antiterrorism food experts on the rising threats in American society. Not only did they mention the dairy sector of being in danger, but the US’ produce is also in a compromising position.

south.park.terrorist“Many foods can be potential contaminants, especially fresh produce,” Dr. Douglas Powell, a former professor of food safety and publisher of barfblog.com confessed to the Voice of Russia.

A terrorist attack geared toward the food industry is a very real threat to the US and devastating effects would be felt if the dairy section were tainted with an illicit chemical, as babies, children, teens, adults, and seniors all consume milk products on a day-to-day basis. “The entire food industry is vulnerable to the terrorist threat in equal measure to the dairy sector, ” Antiterrorism Consulting, an engineer company specializing in consultancy and assessment of terrorists threats for specific industries, told the Voice of Russia in its opinion.

“It is incumbent on the manufacturers to have validated processes in place; government is just there as an occasional check,” Dr. Powell stressed. Making the world an even more connected entity has more likely than not worsened the situation when it comes to food safety. Regulatory agencies exist however they are not omnipresent organizations, leaving crucial gaps within the system. Pitfalls of this magnitude just make it far easier for terrorists to taint the food supply.

Canada’s chicken farmers ban injections that trigger resistance

Canadian chicken farmers are putting an end to controversial egg injections, which provided the world with a “textbook” example of the perils of mass medication.

By injecting eggs at hatcheries with ceftiofur, a medically important antibiotic, the farmers triggered the rise of resistant microbes that showed up in both chickens and in Canadians creating a “major” public health concern.

double-facepalm1The case  – documented by federal and provincial sleuths who track microbes at farms, slaughterhouses and retail meat counters – is held up as powerful evidence of resistant superbugs moving from farm to fork.

“It is going to be in medical textbooks for as long as there are textbooks around,” says John Prescott, a professor with the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.

On May 15 injecting eggs with ceftiofur will be banned as part of a new antibiotics policy adopted by Chicken Farmers of Canada, representing the 2,700 poultry farmers across the country.

“The industry has gone ahead and done this voluntarily, but it is not a voluntary program,” says Steve Leech, the association’s national programs manager.  He says the ban is mandatory with penalties and fines for violators.

While the ban is better late than never, Prescott says government should have stopped the injections years ago.

Microbe trackers working with the Public Health Agency of Canada first reported in 2003 that they were picking up higher rates of ceftiofur resistance in Quebec.  In 2004, they reported resistance was just as high in Ontario “in both humans and chicken.”

A strain of bacteria called Salmonella Heidelberg, that can cause food poisoning, had armed itself with the biochemical machinery needed to resist ceftiofur. Ceftiofur belongs to a class of antibiotics known as cephalosporins, which are often used on hard-to-cure infections in people.

FunkyChickenHiThe scientists soon linked the rise of the resistant Salmonella to chicken hatcheries that were injecting  ceftiofur into eggs prophylactically to try prevent infections in chicks.

The way Canadian hatcheries were allowed to keep using ceftiofur highlights the “inability” of  Canadian health officials to stop inappropriate use of  antibiotics, says Prescott.

“There was clear evidence of an adverse effect on public health,” he says, but dealing with the issue fell between the “gaps” in federal and provincial regulations.

Ceftiofur was never approved by Health Canada for use in chickens or eggs but hatcheries used it “extra-label,” which falls under the provincial jurisdiction.

Hey kids, the snails are back: CDC releases 2013 FoodNet data

That’s the tagline from a Far Side cartoon and what immediately came to mind upon reading yet again that reductions in foodborne illness were stagnant for 2013.

There were successes, failures and shifting profiles of what foods lead to foodborne illness, because whatever Americans choose to eat, under whatever production system, some smart bug is going to figure out how to flourish.

And the FoodNet data remains the best and most publicly available surveillance data in the world; that’s right, best in the world.

The Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) monitors the incidence of laboratory-confirmed infections caused by nine pathogens transmitted commonly through food in 10 U.S. sites, covering approximately 15% of the U.S. population. This report summarizes preliminary 2013 data and describes trends since 2006. In 2013, a total of 19,056 infections, 4,200 hospitalizations, and 80 deaths were reported. For most infections, incidence was well above national Healthy People 2020 incidence targets and highest among children aged <5 years. Compared with 2010–2012, the estimated incidence of infection in 2013 was lower for Salmonella, higher for Vibrio, and unchanged overall. Since 2006–2008, the overall incidence has not changed significantly. More needs to be done.

Yes, more needs to be done. Part of that involves abandoning archaic communications and invoking current, compelling and credible food safety messages using a variety of media, at the places where people make food decisions – whether it’s the local market or the megalomart.

cdc.fbi.annual.13The complete report is available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6315a3.htm?s_cid=mm6315a3_e

Incidence and trends of infection with pathogens transmitted commonly through food — Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, 10 U.S. sites, 2006–2013.

CDC MMWR 63(15);328-332

Stacy M. Crim, Martha Iwamoto, Jennifer Y. Huang, Patricia M. Griffin, Debra Gilliss, Alicia B. Cronquist, Matthew Cartter, Melissa Tobin-D’Angelo, David Blythe, Kirk Smith, Sarah Lathrop, Shelley Zansky, Paul R. Cieslak, John Dunn, Kristin G. Holt, Susan Lance, Robert Tauxe, Olga L. Henao

cdc.foodnet.13

Antibacterial soaps can reduce risk of foodborne illness

Friend of the blog Don Schaffner has published some new research that shows  the use of antibacterial soaps can reduce the spread of harmful bacteria – that often leads to foodborne illness – more effectively than using non-antibacterial soaps.

The research, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Food Protection (Vol. 77, No. 4, 2014, pp. 574-582), used new laboratory data, together with simulation techniques, to compare the ability of non-antibacterial and antibacterial products to reduce the risk of the infectious disease shigellosis, which is often spread during food preparation.

antibacterial.soapLead researcher Donald Schaffner of Rutgers University’s Department of Food Science says the data show that the use of three antibacterial wash products result in a statistically significant reduction in the presence of Shigella (the bacterium that causes shigellosis) compared to the use of the non-antibacterial soaps.

“This exciting research blends quantitative microbial risk assessments with an impressive set of laboratory data to show that antibacterial treatments are more effective than non-antibacterial treatments in reducing disease,” said Dr. Schaffner.

In the study, 163 subjects were used to compare two non-antibacterial products and three antibacterial products, with a study design intended to simulate food handling. The participants’ hands were exposed to Shigella and then treated with one of the five products before handling food melon balls. The resulting levels of Shigella on the food were then measured.

The levels of Shigella were then used to predict the outcome from an event in which 100 people would be exposed to Shigella from melon balls that had been handled by food workers with Shigella on their hands.

The data show all three antibacterial treatments significantly lowered the concentration of Shigella compared to the non-antibacterial treatments. Based on this model, the paper predicted that by washing with the antibacterial treatments, the number of illnesses could be reduced tenfold.

“This research provides strong evidence that antibacterial soaps are significantly more effective than non-antibacterial soaps in reducing Shigella on the hands and its subsequent transfer to ready-to-eat foods,” the authors write.

The American Cleaning Institute (www.cleaninginstitute.org) and the Personal Care Products Council (www.personalcarecouncil.org) provided funding for the research as part of the groups’ ongoing commitment to product and scientific stewardship to affirm the safety and benefits of these products.

An abstract summarizing the paper, “Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment of Antibacterial Hand Hygiene Products on Risk of Shigellosis,” can be found online athttp://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iafp/jfp/2014/00000077/00000004/art00006#aff_3

Supermarket madness: shopping for food safety

powell_inside02

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.

Homemade goods: most Hawaiian lawmakers not in compliance with food safety regulations

State legislators and their staff have been busy whipping up homemade goods for the annual Hawaii Food Bank fundraiser. The effort to raise cash lasts from January to early May and features a variety of fares, from Filipino food to brownies ala mode.   

“Any legislator good with fundraisers often has baked goods from their constituents, so that’s what we find here,” said Rep. Tom Brower.

Hawaii Food Bank fundraiserHowever, unbeknownst to many of the men and women who craft Hawaii’s laws, almost any food sold outside a restaurant or certified kitchen requires a permit.  
“These are short-term events or sales that are going to distribute food to the general public,” explains State Environmental Health Program Manager Peter Oshiro. “Anybody that has or wants to do those types of sales is required to get a temporary food establishment permit from the Health Department.”

Lawmakers organizing the annual drive for the food bank were caught off guard when approached by KITV4 about the need for a Department of Health permit.
“We make the laws here and it wouldn’t be prudent if we didn’t follow the laws that we make, and so it’s all about compliance,” said Vice-Speaker John Mizuno. “I’ll make sure that whenever we send memos at the kickoff of the Hawaii Food Bank fundraising effort, that we attach forms so that offices will know how to be in compliance.”

About 500 temporary food establishment permits are issued by the Health Department every month. Oshiro says the department just wants to make sure that all food is safe.  

Tricorder for food safety?

While the original Star Trek television series was heavy on cheese, I enjoyed the more complex morality tales of Star Trek: The Next Generation (as complex as early 1990s TV could get).

And who doesn’t love them some Patrick Stewart.

patrick.stewartIn the fictional Star Trek universe, a tricorder is a multifunction hand-held device used for sensor scanning, data analysis, and recording data.

A UK based company has unveiled PERES, a handheld device and mobile app which provides information about the freshness and quality of meat, poultry, and fish and protects against food poisoning.

According to the promoters, this portable e-nose and its iOS/Android mobile app enables users to determine the quality, freshness of meat, poultry, and fish and whether it has gone bad and could potentially cause food poisoning.

Users point the PERES at meat and click a button. It works by analysing a sample of the gases for volatile organic compounds and ammonia. Within a few seconds, users receive information on their smartphone or tablet about the food’s freshness, whether it’s been left unrefrigerated and whether there may be a risk of food poisoning.

108 sickened; court rules no negligence in E. coli outbreak at NC state fair

The North Carolina State Fair is not, according to Courthouse News Service, liable after more than 100 people became sick after an E. coli outbreak at its petting zoo in 2004, the state appeals court ruled.

The state’s health department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced the infection of 108 people to the petting zoo at the state fair in 2004. Jeff Rolan and dozens of others then sued the fair’s sponsor, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

amy_s_lamb_aug_121-300x225The North Carolina Industrial Commission ruled in favor of the state, noting that veterinarians prepared for the fair by checking the animals’ health and removing those that were sick. Also, a veterinarian posted additional signs warning patients to wash their hands and also added hand sanitizers to the petting zoo area.


In light of these facts, the commission determined that the state had taken precautions to protect the health of the patrons.
 The plaintiffs argued on appeal that the state should have taken additional cautionary measures, such as providing better supervision, erecting a fence between the children and the animals, and providing information on the risk of E. coli infection. A three-judge panel with the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the commission’s ruling on April 1.
”While it was certainly possible for defendant to take the additional precautions suggested by plaintiffs, we agree with the Commission’s conclusion that Defendant did not fail to act with due care in October of 2004 to minimize the risk of exposure to E. coli,” Judge Linda Stephens wrote for the court. “Sources cited by the Commission note that it is impossible to eliminate the risk of enteric pathogens, like E. coli, in human-to-animal contact settings without eliminating petting zoos altogether.” 

Then maybe they should be eliminated, or at least much better controlled.

Best practices for planning events encouraging human-animal interactions

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.