Talking food safety: It don’t mean shit

I’ve stepped aside for two weeks and this has become painfully apparent: Most of everything I did in my 20-year academic career don’t mean shit.

it-dont-mean-a-thing-swingIt’s the food safety version of the liberal bubble.

I’ve been praised and criticized along the way for using new messages, new media and new ways of gauging food safety behaviour.

But it don’t mean shit.

We microbiologially-inclined folks look on with dismay as mere plebes engage in all kinds of risky food stuff, and then lament amongst ourselves at the uneducated public (I don’t, but many others do).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), long considered the holy tome for all things food safety, has just published its 10 Most Talked About MMWR Reports of 2016:

CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain — United States, 2016

Interim Guidelines for Pregnant Women During a Zika Virus Outbreak — United States, 2016

Prevalence of Healthy Sleep Duration among Adults — United States, 2014

Possible Association Between Zika Virus Infection and Microcephaly — Brazil, 2015

Interim Guidelines for the Evaluation and Testing of Infants with Possible Congenital Zika Virus Infection — United States, 2016

Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — United States, 2016–17 Influenza Season

Possible Zika Virus Infection Among Pregnant Women — United States and Territories, May 2016

Sleep Duration and Injury-Related Risk Behaviors Among High School Students — United States, 2007–2013

Interim Guidelines for Prevention of Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus — United States, 2016

Neisseria gonorrhoeae Antimicrobial Susceptibility Surveillance — The Gonococcal Isolate Surveillance Project, 27 Sites, United States, 2014

For all the outbreaks, deaths, tragedies, and criminal behaviour, microbial food safety doesn’t even make the top-10 at CDC.

Food safety fairy tales would probably rate higher.

Producer groups, government, industry, your food safety communications budgets are ripe for hacking.

Because it don’t mean shit.

Be the bug: Toast edition

Guest barfblogger Rebecca Fischer writes:

toast-rebecca-ja-17I wanted toast.

 I watched from the diner counter as my server bare handedly took bread from the storage drawer, toasted it, cut it, and put it on a plate. The manager who had been answering phones and rubbing his face while adjusting his glasses also made toast and wiped his hands on a kitchen towel that then disappeared to wipe something else down.

No imagination needed to see how something like E. coli or Norovirus could be spread as I watched each bit of contact affect all the bread, knives and surfaces.

Am I neurotic? I tried not to have a stomachache.

 I just want toast.

Rebecca Fischer (laughingkat2@gmail.com) says she’s in the middle of a career change, following my passion for food by studying nutrition. Food handling has become a fascination, another excuse for people-watching, to see how experience and education affect awareness in kitchen behavior.

And I may be on hiatus but I’m a sucker for helping students who want to learn and kids –little or big — who want to play hockey.

All the news just repeats itself: Restaurant disclosure proposed for France

France’s Contrôle Sanitaire writes the publication of the results of health checks in the food sector (restaurants, canteens, slaughterhouses, etc.) is a legitimate expectation of citizens that contributes to the improvement of consumer confidence. Foreseen in the Future for Agriculture, Food and Forest Act of 13 October 2014, this measure is part of a move towards greater transparency of State action.

alimconfiance2To which a Brit tweeted @foodgov have been doing this for years, France is now copying the successful “Food Hygiene Rating” scheme.

Oh fuck it.

This is a good point to pause.

Restaurant inspection disclosure goes back to 1924, at which time letter grades were introduced to classify milk in the United States.

Toronto has been doing it since 2000.

So for a Brit to brag to a French about stuff that happened decades ago seems a bit silly, and time for barfblog.com to take a pause.

We don’t want to become recall.net and most of you 100K+ subscribers can figure out how to aggregate news on your own.

Chapman and I started barfblog on a plane trip to Prince George, B.C, where Chapman thought he would be eaten by bears and we saw advertisements for a college student jello thing, but decided we were too old to go.

We went to Vancouver to see our hockey goon friend Kevin Allen, and then to Seattle to see Marler.

Eventually we made our way to Manhattan, Kansas, where I was running away from an ex-wife, a stalking girlfriend and a whole lot of history.

I met a girl and Kansas State University hired me.

barf-o-meter_-dec_-12-216x300-216x3001-216x300-1-216x300-216x300-216x300This is all the messy stuff in how science gets done but not really reported.

After 45 years of working continuously – I started as a golf caddy at nine-years-old, and the movie Caddyshack is historically accurate — I’m going to give it a break

No retirement, no pension, just want to see what else is out there, and see what other ideas I can come up with for others to claim as their own.

Rock, or the barfblog, will never die.

But we need to get back ahead of the curve.

Indulge me some appropriate rock.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009. The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information. Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants is fragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2011. Designing a national restaurant inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Journal of Food Protection 74(11): 1869-1874
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The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from contaminated food or water each year, and up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food service facilities. The aim of restaurant inspections is to reduce foodborne outbreaks and enhance consumer confidence in food service. Inspection disclosure systems have been developed as tools for consumers and incentives for food service operators. Disclosure systems are common in developed countries but are inconsistently used, possibly because previous research has not determined the best format for disclosing inspection results. This study was conducted to develop a consistent, compelling, and trusted inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Existing international and national disclosure systems were evaluated. Two cards, a letter grade (A, B, C, or F) and a gauge (speedometer style), were designed to represent a restaurant’s inspection result and were provided to 371 premises in six districts for 3 months. Operators (n = 269) and consumers (n = 991) were interviewed to determine which card design best communicated inspection results. Less than half of the consumers noticed cards before entering the premises; these data indicated that the letter attracted more initial attention (78%) than the gauge (45%). Fifty-eight percent (38) of the operators with the gauge preferred the letter; and 79% (47) of the operators with letter preferred the letter. Eighty-eight percent (133) of the consumers in gauge districts preferred the letter, and 72% (161) of those in letter districts preferring the letter. Based on these data, the letter method was recommended for a national disclosure system for New Zealand.

Everyone’s got a camera: Mice run around Melbourne McDonald’s edition

Sophie Smith of the Herald Sun reports two videos showing rodents flitting freely around a busy McDonald’s restaurant in Melbourne’s inner-north have emerged.

mice1A disgusted customer, Firoozeh, claims she and friends saw several mice around a McCafe service area of the Collingwood restaurant at midnight on Boxing Day.

Footage uploaded to social media appears to show at least two vermin scampering along the floor between a service counter and a back bench with sink. Another shows one ducking in and out near a stool.

In another video, uploaded to Facebook by Todd Gilbey on December 2, mice scatter along the floor — and one even grabs a chip.

Firoozeh said there were “lots” of mice.

“It wasn’t like three or four mice,” Firoozeh said.

“We watched them for a while; they were coming in and out.

“There were so many and the guy was just coming and scaring them and telling us that, ‘You cannot take video’, because I asked to see the duty manager.”

Firoozeh, who asked the Herald Sun not to publish her surname, said the duty manager at the 24-hour eatery on the corner of Smith St and Victoria Parade became angered when she and her friends raised their concerns.

“He was aggressively stopping me from taking pictures and photos,” she said.

“I’ve never seen such a dirty McDonald’s.

“No-one is cleaning it and it’s supposed to be open for 24 hours. What’s going on?

“I don’t think it’s healthy at all. They were running around and no-one was doing anything.

“Children eat food there.”

Observing is better than asking

Ten years ago, as a bunch of University of Guelph students were barfing in their residence bathrooms with noro, Brae Surgeoner, Doug and I hatched plot to observe hand hygiene practices in situ. We wanted test whether students in the midst of an outbreak would report they were really good at washing their hands or using sanitizer. We guessed that what they said, and what we would see, would be drastically different.

It wasn’t our first foray into observational research. A couple years before we did a bunch of secret shopping at Ontario grocery stores and interacted with associates to see what they share about food safety with patrons (us). We heard a whole bunch of nonsense. Ellen Thomas advanced this style of research by training a cadre of secret shoppers throughout the U.S. to order undercooked burgers at restaurants.

As Doug wrote a while back, ‘I view the grocery store and the restaurant as my laboratory. I watch and ask questions of people, especially front-line staff. The head of food safety back at corporate HQ may know the correct food safety answer, but are they providing support to front-line staff, the people customers are most likely to interact with?’

That lab also includes the home (or simulated home) kitchen.

Asking people what they know or do is a start. But it’s never enough. People lie, forget or don’t care. Employing other methods to confirm what they say they do is necessary to confirm actions.

So we’re working with RTI International and USDA FSIS to conduct observation research on consumer food handling behavior. FSIS announced the plans in the Federal Register for comment.

To test new consumer messaging and tailor existing messaging, FSIS can help ensure that it is effectively communicating with the public
and working to improve consumer food safety practices. This behavioral
research will provide insight into the effect FSIS consumer outreach
campaigns have on consumers’ food safety behaviors. The results of this
research will be used to enhance messaging and accompanying materials
to improve their food safety behavior. Additionally, this research will
provide useful information for tracking progress toward the goals
outlined in the FSIS Fiscal Years 2017-2021 Strategic Plan.
To inform the development of food safety communication products and
to evaluate public health education and communication activities, FSIS
is requesting approval for a new information collection to conduct
observational studies using an experimental design. Previous research
suggests that self-reported data (e.g., surveys) on consumers’ food
safety practices are unreliable, thus observational studies are a
preferred approach for collecting information on consumers’ actual food
safety practices. These observational studies will help FSIS assess
adherence to the four recommended food safety behaviors of clean,
separate, cook, and chill, and to determine whether food safety
messaging focused on those behaviors affects consumer food safety
handling behaviors and whether consumers introduce cross-contamination
during food preparation. For this 3-year study, FSIS plans to conduct
an observational study each year and to focus on a different behavior,
food and food preparation task, and food safety communication product
each year. The initial study will examine participants’ use of a food
thermometer to determine if meat and poultry products are cooked to the
proper temperatures. FSIS may decide to continue to conduct these
studies annually, and if so, will request a renewal to extend the
expiration date for the information collection request.

Possum, donkey, horse meat could be on the menu as South Australia considers national code

Mmmm. Camel meat.

Possum, donkey and horse could be on the menu in South Australia if the definition of game meat is expanded under proposed amendments to food regulations by SA Health.

possum-baby-nov-11Goat, rabbit, hare, kangaroo, wallaby and bird are currently listed as game in the state, provided the animals have not been confined or farmed in any way.

The proposed new definition would see the list grow to include buffalo, camel, deer, donkey, hare, horse, pig and possum — bringing SA in line with an updated section of the Australian and New Zealand Food Standard Code.

Some of these less common game meats are already allowed interstate and an abattoir at Peterborough in SA’s Mid North has been exporting camel meat for several years.

The changes would include strict conditions so that animals would have to be slaughtered in the wild; protected native species could only be hunted with special permits; and bird eggs, foetuses or pouched young, would remain excluded.

Adelaide game meat specialist Richard Gunner said “in general” there were some good things about the proposal.

“I don’t see any particular market for donkey meat, possum meat and horse meat, but camel meat, yes,” he said.

Nothin’ new here: China reports 500,000 food safety violations in 9 months

The Bangkok Post reports China, rocked in recent years by a series of food safety scandals, uncovered as many as half a million illegal food safety violations in the first three quarters of the year, an official has told lawmakers.

Chinese officials have unearthed a series of recent scandals, including rice contaminated with heavy metals, the use of recycled “gutter oil” in restaurants, as well as the sale of baby formula containing lethal amounts of the industrial chemical melamine in 2008.

Bi Jingquan, the head of the China Food and Drug Administration, told the Standing Committee of National People’s Congress on Friday that while significant progress had been made in the food sector, “deep-seated” problems remained.

Food fraud ‘Plastic rice’ seized in Nigeria

Martin Patience of BBC News reports Nigeria has confiscated 2.5 tonnes of “plastic rice” smuggled into the country by unscrupulous businessmen, the customs service says.

plastic-riceLagos customs chief Haruna Mamudu said the fake rice was intended to be sold in markets during the festive season.

He said the rice was very sticky after it was boiled and “only God knows what would have happened” if people ate it.

It is not clear where the seized sacks came from but rice made from plastic pellets was found in China last year.

Rice is the most popular staple food in Nigeria.

The BBC’s Peter Okwoche says it is the only foodstuff that crosses cultural and ethnic lines across the country.

Whoever made this fake rice did an exceptionally good job – on first impression it would have fooled me. When I ran the grains through my fingers nothing felt out of the ordinary.

But when I smelt a handful of the “rice” there was a faint chemical odour. Customs officials say when they cooked up the rice it was too sticky – and it was then abundantly clear this was no ordinary batch.

They’ve sent a sample to the laboratories to determine exactly what the “rice” is made of.

They are also warning the public not to consume the mystery foodstuff as it could be dangerous.

Fake food scandals are thankfully rare in Nigeria when you compare it to countries such as China.

The big scandal here is fake pharmaceutical drugs that kill a huge number of people every year.

A total of 102 sacks, each containing 25kg (55lb), was seized.

Mr Mamudu did not explain how the plastic rice was made but said it had been branded as “Best Tomato Rice.”

Another victory for anti-science: Mandatory labelling of GE food

Ron Doering writes in his latest Food Law column that the U.S. has just adopted another policy that has important implications for Canada.

ronald-doeringOn July 29, 2016 President Obama signed Bill 764 requiring labelling on all foods to indicate whether or not the food contains GMO ingredients. ­ e federal law will override individual state laws such as the one passed in Vermont, which is considered to be more onerous. Under the bill the U.S. Department of Agriculture has two years to draft implementing regulations.

While Canada has had a voluntary labelling standard for some years, Canadian regulators have resisted calls for mandatory labelling. While some proponents argue mandatory labelling provides informed choice to consumers, others argue that mandatory labelling doesn’t inform, it misleads the consumer by implying that GE foods are inferior or unsafe. After all, why else would government make labelling mandatory? Of course, some have taken the position that the push to have mandatory labelling never had anything to do with safety. ­

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the World Health Association, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Science, the British Royal Society and, to quote the AAAS, “every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”

Scienti­fic American now explicitly supports GMOs and opposes mandatory labelling as not being science or evidence-based. Even the EU recently concluded, based on more than 130 studies covering 25 years of research involving at least 500 independent research groups, that GE technologies “are not more risky than… conventional plant breeding technologies.” ­

This summer 107 Nobel laureates urged Greenpeace to end its opposition to GMOs saying that Greenpeace “deliberately went out of their way to scare people…to raise money for their cause.” ­

There is an argument that advocates of mandatory labelling have never really wanted to inform or protect consumers. ­ They want to use consumers to bring pressure on food companies to segregate and highlight GMOs and on legislators to bring in laws requiring mandatory labelling so that consumers would be scared into thinking that GE must be unsafe. ­

Their real goal is to stigmatize GE food. Waging a war on science, a very small vocal minority of GE food safety deniers have outmanoeuvred a remarkably complacent food and biotech industry that seems to have forgotten that appeasement is rarely an effective policy. ­

This has important implications for Canada. Given the 6,000 truckloads of food crossing the Canada-U.S. border everyday, we will have little choice but to follow the U.S. even though many argue the change is misguided, not good public policy, and it could be quite hurtful to Canadian farmers.

In any event, Canada will have to engage directly with American regulators in the development of the regulations because there are many important outstanding issues: Will labelling be required if the GE material has been removed from the ingredient through processing (for example, beet sugar and soybean oil)? How will they treat food derived from some of the new gene-editing technologies? Will bar codes be sufficient? ­

There are still those who both question the science and sincerely want to ensure that consumers have a right to choose. To those who no longer question the science, this policy can undermine the extraordinary promise of GE and even the credibility of our science-based regulatory system.

For them, the recent Scienti­fic American editorial eloquently captures the serious longer-term danger: “…what it hurts most is the cause of science and reason. Our choices should be based on understanding tradeofs and trusting the best possible science… If choices are instead driven by herd mentality, a pathological adherence to the Precautionary Principle and a reliance on false moral outrage, then we are not only harming the fate of real human beings around the world but are also impinging on open mindedness and critical thinking, an attitude that can only squelch rational inquiry.”

CSPI petitions undetectable limit of Vibrio vulnificus in molluscan shellfish, FDA says no

The almost tweet-length version is that CSPI is looking for the shellfish industry to be held to a performance standard zero tolerance of V. vulnificus in stuff like oysters, highlighting the public health risks. unknown-1FDA writes a well referenced and reasoned response denying the request citing lots of evidence that the states and industry have been successful in reducing risks.

You can read the response here.