3 found guilty in Georgia Salmonella trial

In a decision that may finally hold U.S. food producers accountable, a federal jury convicted three people Friday in connection with an outbreak of Salmonella poisoning five years ago that sickened hundreds of people and was linked to a number of deaths.

2009_0115_ss_peanut_crackerFormer Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell was found guilty of conspiracy and other charges after a seven-week trial in Albany, Georgia.

Parnell, his brother, Michael Parnell, and quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson have been on trial since Aug. 1 on charges stemming from the 2008-2009 outbreak that sickened 714 people and was linked to nine deaths. Michael Parnell was found guilty of conspiracy. Wilkerson was found guilty of obstruction.

Conspiracy charges and the obstruction charges each carry up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing will take place at a later date.

Experts say it’s the first time corporate executives and plant workers have gone to trial in a food poisoning case.

Jury won’t consider deaths in Georgia Salmonella trial

A jury weighing criminal charges Thursday against the owner of a Georgia peanut plant blamed for a nationwide salmonella outbreak five years ago will decide the case without hearing one fact — that nine people died after eating the company’s tainted peanut butter.

peanutFormer Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell and two co-defendants have been on trial since Aug. 1 and the jury started deliberations last Friday. Parnell and his brother, food broker Michael Parnell, are charged with knowingly shipping contaminated peanut butter to customers and faking lab tests intended to screen for salmonella.

Prosecutor Patrick Hearn, in his closing argument Friday, said Parnell and his co-defendants were greedy enough “to toss food safety to the wind.” But he stopped short of describing the outbreak’s full consequences.

“They served up salmonella to people and they ate it,” Hearn said. “This needs to never happen again.”

Why not tell the jury of the deaths? The Parnell brothers aren’t charged with killing or sickening anybody.

Instead, prosecutors decided they could build a stronger case charging them with defrauding their customers — food producers including Kellogg’s — and selling them tainted goods, said U.S. Attorney Michael Moore of Georgia’s Middle District, whose office tried the case.

“We wanted to make sure we kept the jury focused on the conduct that led to these people’s sickness, but not let the case get into the medical history of every victim out there” with testimony on individual deaths, Moore said.

Shattered: UK FSA annual science report published

I saw the Rolling Stones in Buffalo in 1981. We stayed up all night, and drove from Guelph, crossing the border about 4:30 a.m. George Thorogood opened in the rain, and was awesome, followed by Journey, who sucked (hence the Journey effect) and then the Stones.

barfblog.Stick It InThe UK Food Standards Agency is the Journey of the food safety biz: they make other agencies look good.

Catherine Brown, the chief executive of the Food Standards Agency, writes in the annual science report that it demonstrates “science is at the heart of everything we do.”

It’s hard to take that seriously from a group that recommends piping hot, steaming hot, and cooked until the juices run clear.

There’s no mention of thermometers.

Brown also writes, “A fundamental principle in this process is to maintain a clear distinction between the independent, expert assessment of risk, and decisions on risk management.”

The U.S. got rid of that in 1997.

But Journey was popular back then.

What is collaboration?

My latest column for the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety:

Me and Chapman have been working together and writing for 15 years.

collaboration.powellWe ain’t the Beatles but we’ve had our moments. Lots of research, coaching girls’ hockey together, and he once bailed me out of jail.

He would be the calm and steady Paul (although he’d rather be George) to my erratic John.

Me and Amy have been writing and working together for nine years.

She also is the steady Paul. And there’s a couple of others that I repeatedly work with, who balance the yin-and-yang.

But what is it that makes a collaboration?

doug.ben.13As Joshua Wolf Shenk wrote in The Atlantic earlier this year, “Paul was the diplomat; John was the agitator. Paul was soft-spoken and almost unfailingly polite; John could be a right loudmouth and quite rude. …

“The ancient Greeks gave form to these two sides of human nature in Apollo, who stood for the rational and the self-disciplined, and Dionysus, who represented the spontaneous and the emotional.”

I keep reading how food safety is a collaborative effort, but, as Margaret Mead wrote, “Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All societal movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals.”

Food safety collaboration is over-rated, especially if it’s driven by a top-down organization.

Individuals create and innovate, and bring others to the table.

My first university job was at an Ontario Center of Excellence (that’s in Canada) in 1990, involving four universities big in the information technology biz.

After a couple of years of handing out money – and ridiculous amounts of process – a leading artificial intelligence researcher told me, why don’t you just give us researchers an extra $10,000 a year, and get rid of the BS.

He had a point.

So much so that I quit my cushy job shortly after that to go get a PhD and throw my own ideas into the world – not some government-mandated spin.

But what I observed in those couple of years was that individuals made connections, and produced great stuff. And that committees generally produced crap.

That continued on into 15 years of academia, where I observed good people trying to contort themselves for funding agencies.

amy.the.look.2007Several department chairs have said I didn’t play well with others, yet my collaborative publication record is strong; I just have a low tolerance for BS.

And when people throw around phrases like global teamwork for a safer food supply, or international regulatory harmonization, I roll my eyes and wonder, what is this money being spent on? What is the real goal?

I love working with the people I work with, and we share ideas, but there’s a lot more people I won’t work with.

Maybe it’s an age thing.

The steady and focused need someone to take them out of their comfort zone, as much as the erratic need a steadying support.

That is the challenge of any collaboration, bringing those elements together, and being better than the individual.

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

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University. 

Food Safety Talk 65: All My Ports are Engaged

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.

Man who thinks he's European perplexed by maths.

Man who thinks he’s European perplexed by maths.

 

In this episode, Ben is absent, but Don is not alone. Mike Batz, Assistant Director of Food Safety Programs, Emerging Pathogen Institute at the University of Florida, is a guest on the show. He appeared not once, but twice on the podcast before.

Don and Mike start by talking a little about their travels, then, they quickly move to a discussion on the Chobani Yogurt recall. The news article leaves Mike unsure whether Mucor circinelloides was pathogenic to both animals and humans. A brief digression about podcast listening speed reveals that Batz listens at 1.5 speed while Don is more civilized. Returning to yogurt, they discuss the originalmBio article. Don concludes the study did not provide enough evidence to show M. circinelloides is truely pathogenic to humans.

Don asks Mike about a psychology experiment done by Facebook where they manipulated users feeds. Mike was disappointed by Facebook’s methodology since the study never requested an informed consent from the users. They then rambled about again about their various and sundry international travels. Mike resided close to the Rijks Museum (that’s in Amsterdam) for a while and Schaffner shared his experience in Finland (including reindeer tartare) and New Zealand (and beef tartare).

Next, they talked about a document from the FAO marketed as providing a list of the top 10 foodborne parasites ). To continue, they discussed seasonal food safety tips. While Mike confessed to not always follow his own food safety recommendations, Don revealed he is reluctant to eat a cut cantaloupe by a stranger.

Soon after, the discussion shifted to antibiotics in meat. Both agreed that the issue is quite complicated and there is not a straight forward answer.

They concluded the show with a discussion on cross contamination including cutting boardsartisanal cheese and the 5 second rule. Don recommended plastic cutting board for meat and wood cutting board for any other food types.

What’s lurking in your kids’ lunch bags?

Following Chapman, which I seem to be doing more frequently lately (and that is preferred) I had my own thoughts, published in Canada, on school lunches.

simpsons.lunch.lady.09According to Doug Powell, former professor of food safety at the University of Guelph, reusable lunch bags make attractive breeding grounds for germs. “The risk of illness is low, but it’s difficult to quantify,” he says. “Most foodborne illness goes unreported. What you want to do is get ahead of it and be preventative. That means cleaning thoroughly every day.”

Since most schools don’t offer refrigeration for kids’ lunches, an insulated lunch bag with an ice pack inside (or in a pinch, a frozen water bottle) can help keep foods cool until lunchtime.

“Any food can have a risk, but some foods are riskier than others,” says Powell. Types of foods that Powell says are more likely to carry bacteria include cantaloupe (its soft, porous skin can be a breeding ground for germs), raw sprouts (they can easily become contaminated with E. coli and salmonella in the high-moisture environment they grow in) and meats from the deli counter (deli slicers are hard to clean, so listeria can build up over time).

lunch.box.jan.14While kids might be fine with skipping the cantaloupe and sprouts, they might not be quite as happy about giving up their lunch meats. If you’d rather not avoid the deli counter altogether, Powell recommends being extra careful about keeping deli meats refrigerated and not storing them for more than two to three days.

I use a frozen water bottle along with an ice pack.

Foster Farms won’t come clean

I’m not a fan of antibiotic resistance stories, I’m not a fan of NRDC, but I am a fan of food that doesn’t make people barf, and companies who are accountable, rather than the just-cook-it approach.

Family guy barfIf Foster Farms wants to regain consumer confidence, market microbial food safety at retail.

After the NPR puff-piece on Foster Farms and its Salmonella-laden chicken which has sickened at least more than 600 people, the Los Angeles Times reports that after reopening its main plant in Central California after a cockroach infestation, federal inspectors were already writing-up new violations at the sprawling poultry-processing facility.

U.S. Department of Agricultural inspectors would cite the Livingston, Calif., plant more than 40 times over the next two months for violations such as mold, rust on equipment and several instances of fecal contamination.

The new details were released by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York environmental advocacy group that is campaigning to reduce antibiotic use in livestock over concerns that it is contributing to drug-resistant superbugs.

The issue has become so prominent in the industry that Perdue Farms announced last week that it was the first major poultry brand to eliminate antibiotic use in its hatcheries.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the NRDC received months’ worth of documented violations at Foster Farms from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

food.that.doesn't.make.you.barf.09The goal? To lift the veil at a company linked to an outbreak of salmonella that sickened at least 634 people from March 2013 to July. The outbreak was notable for its higher rates of hospitalizations and the presence of antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella.

“Throughout the salmonella crisis, Foster Farms repeatedly told us it was committed to leadership in food safety. But the reports show that when you look behind the curtain, it’s a company that can’t comply with its own food safety plan,” said Jonathan Kaplan, the council’s food and agriculture program director.

Thomas E. Elam, president of farming consulting company FarmEcon in Carmel, Ind., said the number of violations was unusually high, though he did not have comparative data for poultry firms of a similar size.

“Some of the issues are very minor, but there is a pattern of lack of employee training and sanitation issues with the plant infrastructure that are not so minor,” said Elam, who reviewed a copy of the violations. “I’m frankly surprised by the number of bird handling and contamination issues from improperly operating equipment…. These data are not going to put Foster in a positive light.”

The Food Safety and Inspection Service did not respond to a request to explain whether Foster Farms was receiving violations at higher rates than similarly sized competitors.

Prosecutor says Georgia peanut plant owner OK’d sales of salmonella-tainted food ‘whatever the risk’

Prosecutors are wrapping up their case against the owner of a Georgia peanut plant linked to a deadly salmonella outbreak, saying he knowingly approved shipments of tainted food “whatever the risk.”

peanutJurors began hearing closing arguments Thursday in the five-week federal trial of former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell and two others charged with covering up lab tests that found salmonella in peanuts and peanut butter. The company’s products are blamed for killing nine Americans and making 714 others sick in 2008 and 2009.

Defense attorneys took barely an hour Wednesday to rest their cases after more than a month of prosecution testimony.

FDA alleges food safety violations at New Bedford scallop plant

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found “serious” food safety violations at a seafood processing facility operated by Massachusetts-based M&B Sea Products, the FDA said in a warning letter to the company.

raw.scallops.dillions.aug.09Refrigerated, reduced-oxygen packaged raw scallops at the facility have been “prepared, packed or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health,” the FDA said in the Aug. 26 letter.

John Murray, president of the New Bedford-based company, did not respond to requests for comment from Undercurrent News on Tuesday. Mutahar Shamsi, director of the FDA’s New England district, declined to comment on an open case.

Australia increases importer’s fine to encourage food safety

Following a major food safety breach by Queensland food import company B&E Packaging, it has been announced that the fine for any breaches of the Imported Food Control Act 1992 will rise from $7,000 to $20,000.

prawn.vietnamThe hope is that this boosted fine will serve as an effective deterrent to food importers who may consider ignoring Australia’s strict food safety regulations. B&E Packaging has already been slapped with the increased fine, after they admitted to selling 1,500kg of cooked prawns obtained from Vietnam, without performing the required food safety tests.