USDA overhauls decades-old poultry inspections

Inspections and audits are never enough, because most of us don’t have bacteria-sensing goggles. But, given the tax dollars shelled out for inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they can do better.

pinto.explosiveThe Obama administration is overhauling poultry plant inspections for the first time in more than 50 years, a move it says could result in 5,000 fewer foodborne illnesses each year.

Final rules announced Thursday would reduce the number of government poultry inspectors. But those who remain will focus more on food safety than on quality, requiring them to pull more birds off the line for closer inspections and encouraging more testing for pathogens. More inspectors would check the facilities to make sure they are clean.

The changes would be voluntary, but many of the country’s largest poultry companies are expected to opt in. The chicken and turkey industries swiftly praised the new rules, saying they would modernize their business.

Federal law requires that government inspectors be present in poultry processing plants. Right now, many USDA inspectors stand in one place on the production line and check for visual defects. This doesn’t do much to ensure the birds are safe to eat, since common poultry pathogens like salmonella and campylobacter are invisible.

The new rules would better train inspectors to find hazards in the plant and would require all companies — whether they opt in or not — to do additional testing for pathogens.

Food safety inspections and audits are never enough, in China and elsewhere

When inspectors visited Shanghai Husi Food Co Ltd earlier this summer, the production line at the plant now at the centre of an international food scandal appeared in good order, with fresh meat being handled by properly-attired workers and supervisors keeping a watchful eye over the process.

audit.checklistHowever, if they had arrived unannounced a day before, they would have found piles of blue plastic bags filled with out-of-date meat stacked around the factory floor, a worker at the facility told Reuters, adding the old meat was often added back into the mix to boost production and cut costs.

“The next day, that meat just disappeared – someone must have disposed of it. The manager said it was an inspection,” said the worker, who wasn’t authorised to talk to the media and so didn’t want to be named.

On July 20, following an undercover local TV report that alleged workers used expired meat and doctored food production dates, regulators closed the factory, which is part of OSI Group LLC, a U.S. food supplier. Police have detained five people including Shanghai Husi’s head and quality manager.

The scandal – which has hit mainly big foreign fast-food brands including McDonald’s Corp and Yum Brands Inc, which owns the KFC and Pizza Hut chains – underlines the challenges facing inspectors in China’s fast-growing and sprawling food industry. China is Yum’s biggest market and McDonald’s third largest by outlets.

Behind the thousands of brightly-lit restaurants offering what Chinese consumers see as better quality food lie supply chains that rely on an army of poorly regulated and inadequately audited processing plants. Yum has around 650 suppliers in China alone.

China’s government has struggled to restore confidence in its $1 trillion food processing industry since six infants died in 2008 after drinking adulterated milk. The head of China’s Food and Drug Administration told the China Daily this week that the food safety situation “remains severe” and the existing oversight system “is not effective.”

50 sickened with E. coli last year in Brisbane; state fair risks poorly managed

For some reason, this colony of convicts refers to its mayors as “The Lord Mayor.”

ekka.petting.zooIt’s almost that time of year again for one of the city’s most loved annual events to roll into town. The Ekka will light up the RNA Show grounds at Bowen Hills from 8-17 August. If you are heading along, don’t forget to drop by Brisbane City Council’s stand in the Woolworths Pavilion. Always fun and interactive, this year’s stand showcases the many roles Council plays in our community as well as some of the things we all love about Brisbane.”


Except last year at the Ekka, the equivalent of a U.S. state fair, at least 50 people were stricken with E. coli O157 from the animal contact in the petting zoo.

There has been no public follow up, no reference to what is being done to improve the situation this year, and no chance we’ll be attending.

Best practices for planning events encouraging human-animal interactions

Zoonoses and Public Health

G. Erdozain , K. KuKanich , B. Chapman  and D. Powell

Educational events encouraging human–animal interaction include the risk of zoonotic disease transmission. It is estimated that 14% of all disease in the US 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.

A table of petting zoo outbreaks is available at

Chipotle, repeat sanctimonious violator

I don’t tire of trashing Chipotle, because sanctimonious, self-centered assholes deserve to be called out.

chipotle_ad_2Erin Van der Bellen and Russ Ptacek report for WUSA that health inspectors temporarily closed: Chiptole, 13501 Connecticut Avenue, Aspen Hill, Md. and Karen’s Deli, 1700 Research Blvd., Rockville, Md.

They all passed re-inspection and are back in business.

In July 2013, health inspectors closed Chiptole on Connecticut Avenue in Aspen Hill after the agency got a complaint from a customer who stated “….there was a dead roach in food…” and “no hot water provided at all sinks.”

Chipotle is now sourcing beef from Australia; guess that’s sustainable.

Ruth Reichl writes in the New York Times that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fails on food, but that “an increasing number of major food companies, including Whole Foods, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Applegate and Panera Bread, have gotten on board, proof that as we vote with our wallets and our roasting pans, producers will rise to meet us.”

Market food safety at retail, rather than nonsense.

Oprah redux still; BPI sues others for pink slime defamation

During the April 16, 1996 Oprah Winfrey show, the host stated she would stop eating hamburgers because of fears over BSE or mad cow disease and that she was shocked after a guest said meat and bone meal made from cattle was routinely fed to other cattle to boost their meat and milk production.

pink.slime_.daily_.show_-300x165The camera showed members of the studio audience gasping in surprise as vegetarian activist Howard Lyman explained how cattle parts and downer cattle (downer is the generic term used to describe cattle who can simply no longer stand) were rendered and fed to other cattle.

News of the popular show’s content swept through the cattle futures markets, contributing to major declines in beef contracts as traders feared it would turn Americans away from beef. Yet, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its ban on ruminant protein in ruminant feed, the move was widely praised as prudent given the severity of the consequences should BSE be discovered in North America.

Even the U.S. rendering industry, which in the early days of public attention after the March 20, 1996 announcement linking BSE to human deaths in the U.K. argued that negative public perception of the industry was simply a function of inflammatory language (one industry official, during a panel discussion in July 1996, said that part of the problem was that the word downer was a negative term; instead, industry was urging producers and others to describe such animals as non-ambulatory), eventually supported the measures, with the U.S. National Renderers Association quoted as saying the ban on mammalian protein in ruminant feed put “a protective blanket around the cattle industry.”

Shortly thereafter, Oprah, along with her production company and vegetarian activist Howard Lyman, were named in a $10.3 million lawsuit brought by Texas cattle ranchers.

Beyond the media circus in Amarillo, Texas, where the savvy Oprah taped her show during the trial in a star-studded appeal to public sentiment, the trial was the first legal test of food defamation laws, then on the books in 13 U.S. states.

Oprah won, not only in court, but in the court of public opinion.

In a if-you-don’t-know-history-you’re failed-to-repeat, Beef Products Inc. has not only filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC News seeking $1.2 billion in damages for misleading consumers about lean finely textured beef, more commonly known as pink slime, but has also demanded others turn over all e-mails about pink slime.

As reported by ABC, several food writers, including a New York Times reporter, have been subpoenaed by a meat producer as part of its $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit against ABC in regards to the network’s coverage of a beef product dubbed “pink slime” by critics.

hamburger.oprah_.961-300x230The subpoenas were issued to five writers — three reporters for the online Food Safety News, Times reporter Michael Moss and food writer Michele Simon — asking each to supply copies of any communications they had with ABC in 2012.

Beef Products Inc. sued the network in 2012 seeking $1.2 billion in damages for the coverage of the meat product the industry calls “lean, finely textured beef,” which critics dubbed “pink slime.” BPI said ABC’s coverage misled consumers into believing the product was unsafe and led to the closure of three plants and roughly 700 layoffs.

ABC’s attorneys say that in each of its broadcasts about the product, the network stated that the U.S. Department of Agriculture deemed the product safe to eat. They say BPI might not like the phrase pink slime, but like all ground beef, it’s pink and has a slimy texture.

Attorney Bruce Johnson in Seattle is representing the editor of Food Safety News, Dan Flynn, reporter James Andrews, and former reporter Gretchen Goetz. Johnson on Tuesday said the subpoenas were “overreaching” and that the publication would fight the requests.

BPI attorney Erik Connolly said the subpoenas are “appropriate and would be enforced.”

A spokeswoman for the New York Times said Moss’s subpoena had been stayed.

Simon said she has responded to the request, but did not provide any documents because she doesn’t keep emails dating back to 2012.

“BPI’s lawyers are engaging in a fishing expedition by spreading the subpoenas so far to every journalist and food blogger that has ever said anything about pink slime,” Simon said.

The plaintiffs have also sought subpoenas for two food-safety research labs and a blogger who has written about the meat filler.

In addition to ABC, the lawsuit names ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer, correspondents Jim Avila and David Kerley; Gerald Zirnstein, the U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist who named the product pink slime; former federal food scientist Carl Custer; and Kit Foshee, a former BPI quality assurance manager who was interviewed by ABC.

PCA e-mails tell the tale in peanut poisoning trial

E-mails amongst executives of Peanut Corporation of America are shedding fresh light on an often assumed problem: profit is more important than safety, until you get caught.

peanutIn 2009, over 700 people were sickened and nine died from Salmonella Typhimurium linked to peanut paste and butter produced by the Peanut Corporation of America.

An auditor with the Manhattan, Kansas, based American Institute of Baking was responsible for evaluating the safety of products produced by PCA. The peanut company knew in advance when the auditors were arriving. “The overall food safety level of this facility was considered to be: SUPERIOR,” the auditor concluded in his March 27, 2008, report for AIB. State inspectors also found only minor problems.

New disclosures from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reveal that with a shipping deadline fast approaching, an employee at the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely, Ga., wanted to know what should be done with an order that hadn’t been tested for Salmonella. The email response from the company’s president was succinct.

“(Expletive), just ship it,” Stewart Parnell wrote. “I can’t afford to lose another customer.”

A month later, the same employee had a similar query. This time, Parnell was even more direct.

“SHIP,” he wrote.

Parnell’s words, written seven years ago, will take on new life in an Albany courtroom in the coming weeks as federal prosecutors try to use them and other email messages to send the former peanut executive to prison.

In a trial that started with jury selection Monday and is expected to last two months, the government will argue that Parnell willfully directed his company to sell products that killed nine people and sickened more than 700.

“Seldom does a plant owner or manager knowingly sell a contaminated product,” said Michael Doyle, who directs the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety. “And so I think (Peanut Corp.) is being used as a poster child, you might say, letting producers and processors know they can’t do that sort of thing and expect to get away with it, not only in this country but internationally.” famously refused to answer questions in front of a congressional subcommittee, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination even when one committee member held up a jar of products made from the company’s peanuts wrapped in yellow crime tape and asked the disgraced executive if he would eat them.

As the publicity grew, Peanut Corp. filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations.

“Peanut butter is a high-risk product, consumed by elderly people and kids,” Doyle said. “When salmonella gets in a product like that, many people can become seriously ill.”

Bill Marler, a Seattle food safety attorney who represented victims and families affected by the Peanut Corp. products, said he believes the case against Stewart Parnell and his colleagues can be different.

“What makes this case powerful is the company, if you believe the emails and the testing results, made a decision to ship products into interstate commerce knowing that it tested positive for salmonella,” he said. “They would get a positive sample and a negative sample, choose to believe the negative sample and ship it.”

Emails in government court filings — many of them undisclosed previously — depict Parnell and others as willing to gamble with public health to keep sales moving.

Campy chaos at UK chicken plants?

The chicken factories at the centre of revelations over food poisoning contamination were checked by UK Food Standards Agency inspectors on Friday, as sources reported that Tesco auditors had found failings during a surprise middle-of-the-night inspection at an abattoir in Wales.

chicken-0011This week’s Guardian investigation prompted emergency reviews by three of the UK’s leading supermarkets, and the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, intervened on Thursday to demand that the FSA investigate more thoroughly, just hours after the agency had said it was content that correct procedures had been followed.

Labour accused the government of presiding over a food scandal made possible because David Cameron had split responsibility for food policy between the FSA, the Department of Health, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and called on him to review the changes.

Undercover footage, photographic evidence and information from whistleblowers revealed how strict industry hygiene standards to prevent the contamination of chicken with the potentially deadly campylobacter bacterium can be flouted on the factory floor and in farms. Two-thirds of fresh chicken on sale in supermarkets is contaminated with the bug and 280,000 people a year are made sick by it.

The Guardian understands that Tesco auditors arrived unannounced at 4.30am last Friday at the Llangefni chicken processing site in Wales owned by the 2 Sisters group, after the Guardian had approached the retailer with a series of allegations about hygiene failings at this and another factory. The site supplies several leading supermarkets and fast food chains.

The alleged failings included repeated breakdowns that had led to feathers, guts and offal – high-risk material for the spread of campylobacter – piling up on the factory floor for hours while production continued. Sources also said water in scald tanks, through which birds pass before plucking, was not cleaned for three days. Whistleblowers and an undercover reporter said carcasses that had fallen on the floor at this site and another owned by the same company in Scunthorpe were sometimes recycled back on to the production line.

The company denied this, saying all carcasses from the floor were disposed of as waste. It also said it did not stop the slaughter line when the evisceration and defeathering blockages occurred because it had to consider the welfare of chickens waiting for slaughter. It said that the scald tank incident was isolated, had only lasted one day, and tests have confirmed that bacteria counts were acceptable.

Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer confirmed they were customers of the Welsh factory and had carried out inspections, with M&S auditors arriving unannounced last Wednesday. The Guardian understands the Scunthorpe factory has also been audited by retailers, and government inspectors arrived there on Friday.

Listeria found in homemade Macedonian sausage

I’m all over home preserving jams, pickles and salsa but I’ve not been able to get into home fermenting sausages. Not just the root word for botulism, European fermented sausages have been linked to Listeria issues in the past. According to FOCUS News Agency, an outbreak of Listeria in Macedonia may or may not be linked to homemade sausages (something might be lost in translation).

Listeria bacteria were found in two kinds of homemade sausages, a check of the Food and Veterinary Agency shows, the Macedonian online news edition NOVA reported.

Some 300 samples are expected to be additionally tested.

According to the Agency, the contaminated products cannot be linked to the people infected with Listeria.

The edition says there have so far been eight people suffering from listeriosis in Macedonia, four of whom have died.