Talking turkey with Butterball’s hotline

This is the first American Thanksgiving I’ll be away from Amy, but it’s not such a big deal because it’s too damn hot in Brisbane at this time of year.

turkey.headWe used to run the food safety hotline in Canada, and had all the inquiries you could imagine.

So do the staff at Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line.

What started in 1981 as a group of six home economists answering calls has grown into a staff of more than 50 food and nutrition experts answering questions via phone, email, online chats and social media.

The hotline is open from early November to the day before Christmas and receives more than 100,000 questions per year. But, not surprisingly, the volume of questions peaks on Thanksgiving day, when the group answers more than 12,000 calls, Sue Smith, co-director of Butterball’s Turkey Talk-line, told USA TODAY Network.

Some of the questions:

• A mother returned home from work to find her husband thawing a frozen turkey in the bathtub while simultaneously washing up the kids. “The kids were like, ‘The water’s cold!’ because, you know, it’s a frozen turkey,” Smith said.

• A woman called the Talk-Line whispering her questions. When asked to speak up, the newlywed explained she was hiding in the closet from her mother-in-law, whom she was trying to impress.

• A young man hosting his first Thanksgiving called the Talk-Line while in a grocery store. A turkey expert stayed on the phone as he walked the aisle, advising him of all the items he’d need to buy.

• A landlord called panicked because his oven was too small to cook a turkey. He eventually was able to “rent” one from a tenant for $25. He thought he’d have to interrupt them every 10 minutes to baste it, but called the Talk-Line to learn that Butterball turkeys come pre-basted.

butterball• A woman lost power one hour into cooking her turkey and called the Talk-Line. The hotline talked her through transferring her turkey to her gas grill to continue cooking. What accounted for the outage? The caller’s neighbor had crashed into a power line while hang gliding.

But not all calls are quite that dramatic.

“How do I thaw my turkey?” is the most commonly asked question, according to Smith. One way is to put it in your refrigerator several days before Thanksgiving. It take one day for every 4 pounds, Smith said. But if it’s too late for that approach, the fastest way is to thaw it in water.

Universities can suck

I loved my time at the University of Guelph and Kansas State University – to a point.

bill-murray-lost-in-translationAt KState, I met my wife, Amy, we have a daughter, and I was made full professor.

But I know, at both institutions, the people around me thought I was a freak, and when I moved to Brisbane to support Amy, the salary became attractive so I was unceremoniously fired.

KState now brags about its virtual campus, but they couldn’t handle me doing more work than others, electronically.

Gotta be there to meet and greet, because if you follow KState president Kirk Schulz’s blog, that’s all he does to bring in the bucks.

Amy and I both got this message in the past week:

“Your K-State eID will lose access as of (December 03, 2014) to your K-State email account. That resource is intended solely for use by K-State faculty, staff, students, and sponsored users. This action is being taken because K-State records indicate you are not a currently enrolled student or a current employee.  You will retain access to your eProfile, K-State Online, any student records in iSIS, and any personnel records in HRIS as long as you keep your eID active.”

Don’t expect a donation to the alumni fund. My e-mail is I’m in Japan this week (right, not exactly as shown) which could be a great opportunity to promote KState, but, narrow vision doesn’t go far, no matter how much it’s dressed up by PR flunkies.


Salmonella soup – a bad Thanksgiving tradition

One of our food safety friends from Jersey, Michele Samaya-Timm, writes:

It’s November again, and the annual countdown to Thanksgiving is upon us.

therm.turkey.oct.13If you haven’t thought about defrosting the turkey, it might be a good time to get this started –unless turkey popsicles are on the menu.     

Planning this step safely in the refrigerator (as recommended)  is essential to food safety —  experts at USDA calculate the average safe defrost time is one day for every 4 pounds of poultry.   So that 20 pounder could necessitate a lead time of 5 days if the entire extended family is expected to show.   

Growing up in a nice blue collar neighborhood in central New Jersey, I became accustomed to turkey prep traditions that perhaps heralded my future of improving food safety.     

Every year on the Friday before Thanksgiving, my father would come home with a frozen turkey, compliments of his employer.   

 Usually a hefty 20-pound Tom, there was no room for it to safely sit in the modest sized Frigidaire without evicting the usual tenants of milk, eggs, condiments and leftovers.   So my mother did what any good housewife in the 70’s would do…she put the frozen poultry into a scrupulously clean mop bucket, filled it with cold water, and set it in the bathtub to defrost at leisure.  When bath time came for us kids, she would remove the bucket, comet the tub, and scrub us clean.   This would be followed by another bout of comet scouring, and replacement of the turkey bucket in the tub.    T

The process would be repeated every night  until Thanksgiving morn – by which time the bird had melted into a pool of Salmonella soup.   

Mom didn’t realize her turkey prep was flawed, or that she was putting her family at risk.  

In the hectic myriad of preparations, most food safety errors seem like a good idea to many folks,  often wrought out of desperation when a holiday — or one’s family — is looming.    A few of the defrosting debacles I have heard or witnessed are examples of this lapse in knowledge or judgment.       

Food safe defrosting cannot be safely accomplished in a bathtub, on the counter, or on a chair on the back porch.  Likewise, car engines and room radiators are not appropriate food prep equipment.  Hairdryers, clothes dryers, dishwashers and irons are appliances that should be used for their expressed purpose, and in accordance with the manufacturers’ instructions (which will not include any mention of melting a holiday bird.)  Electric blankets, hot tubs and saunas are best used with non-feathered living companions.    And blowtorches might just result in a flurry of unexpected guests yielding Scott Air Packs and hoses.    No matter how you slice it, time, planning and good refrigeration are the best food defrosting tools.  

If you are reading this on Thanksgiving morning, looking for solutions to melt a sub-zero fowl,   consider cooking the bird from its frozen state.    It takes a little longer (about 50% more time, according to USDA), but safety first, right?  Just put out a few more appetizers and watch the game until it’s done.  Or you could forego the Norman Rockwell presentation and tableside carving part of your family meal by opting for a platter of turkey legs and parts —  a dissected bird  will defrost quickly and will get you to a safe internal temp of 165 degrees quicker, too.    Consider it handing down a tradition of healthy and food safe holidays.   

Looking back, I don’t recall if the turkey-bathtub-defrost process from my childhood ever resulted in unwanted stomach effects and lengthy hours in the bathroom post- holiday.    I do know that I have taken over the prep and cooking for Thanksgiving.  That way, I can assure lots of handwashing,  safe turkey defrosting (in the refrigerator!)  and put my food thermometer collection to good use.      Salmonella soup is one tradition I won’t hand down.   

Ever appreciative for the dedicated folks who regularly keep our food and water safe – (and also thankful that mom doesn’t know I write about her culinary practices on the internet. )  

Michele is Health Educator for Somerset County (NJ) Department of Health, currently focused on the (hopefully soon!) completion of a thesis in foodborne outbreak communications. 


Improving the food safety world, one blog post or conversation at a time

chicken.cook.thermometerUnlike the UK Food Standards Agency, which continues to insist on piping hot as a guide for consumers, the University of Illinois admitted they were wrong and updated their food safety advice for cooking turkeys.

With the help of some correspondents, I called out UI for recommending that turkeys be washed prior to cooking.

The head of UI Extension Communications e-mailed me today to say thank-you, and that their website has been updated with current best practices.

(He also said is “an outstanding resource” but I’m just doing what I do.)

Testing is a tool: Improved microbial food safety assurance: tools and technologies to reduce the guesswork

My friend, Dr. Tom Ross (left, exactly as shown) at the University of Tasmania, gave a talk a while ago and was published in Food Australia. He has some important messages.

Tom-RossMost people know the basic rules of food hygiene, don’t they? 

We teach our children to wash their hands after going to the toilet, we know to keep left-overs in the fridge and to cook, or at least wash, raw foods because they might be contaminated with ‘germs’.  We cover foods, we avoid mixing cooked and raw and, if the food is old or we’re not sure about how its been stored, we apply the old adage of “if in doubt, throw it out”.  They’re really simple rules that reflect our awareness that invisible microbes might make us sick, and ways to minimise the risk.  Its hardly rocket science, is it? And if these are simple rules that ordinary people apply, how much safer must it be when food professionals prepare and process foods?

If it is that easy, then its hard to understand why – particularly given the enormous advances in biological science and technology over the last few decades – that there seems to have been no reduction in the incidence of microbial food-borne illness in decades.  

ANZFA (1999) estimated that there were 4 – 5 million cases of microbial food-borne illness in Australia every year or an average individual risk of foodborne illness of once every four to five years for all Australians.  Since 1999 the incidence rate has changed little. National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System data (NNDSS, 2014) shows foodborne illnesses incidence, including Salmonellosis, Campylobacteriois, Listeriosis and even typhoid have not fallen since 1999: if anything, per capita rates have increased slightly. This situation seems to apply across the ‘developed’ world (CDC, 2013).

While some of that increase is due to better detection and surveillance systems, commentators (e.g., Altekruse and Swerdlow, 1996, Hall et al., 2002, Nyachuba, 2010) point to changes in the way food is provided to human populations, particularly the increasingly large proportion of people in ‘first world’ nations that live in urban areas. Our food comes from increasingly remote locations, and from increasingly large, centralised production and processing facilities, that bring increased challenges for the modern food industry and increased risks for consumers if those challenges are not met.

food.lab.testingOur foods, at source, are not free from microorganisms.  Irrespective of technological advances, foods are still produced in natural environments that can harbour pathogenic microbes. Common food animals have a gut microbiota that can also harbour pathogens.  Cows udders can become infected and contaminate milk with pathogens like Staphylococcus aureus or Listeria monocytogenes. Microbial hazards arise from myriad sources, often without signs that contamination has occurred.

The problem is compounded by expectations that fresh food is inherently ‘healthier’, and by longer food supply chains that can extend across continents. Longer supply chains with more handlers involved, and reduced use and choices of food preservatives, increase the chance of contamination and for microbes to grow to hazardous levels before consumption.  Nonetheless, consumers expect that food should not harbour hazards, an expectation encouraged by law firms now actively specializing in compensation claims and class actions suites.  The increasing proportion of consumers in developed nations with increased susceptibility to infectious illness due to age, underlying chronic disease, or reliance on chemotherapeutics that weaken their immune system further heightens the challenge. Put simply, much higher standards of food hygiene are expected, and needed, but with fewer ‘weapons’ in the arsenal.

‘End product’ testing is useful only for batches of product that contain a high proportion of defective units, i.e., units that fail to meet relevant food safety criteria.  If we assume that a just tolerable foodborne illness risk is one per 100 meals, to assure this incidence by testing we would need to be able to detect batches of product that have ≥ 2 contaminated units per 100.  We have the methods, particularly those involving enrichment and/or signal amplification (e.g. PCR), to detect a few microbes in a large volume  (e.g., 125g) of food, but only if we know where to look.  The problem is finding those one or two contaminated units among 100 with confidence. The probability of detection can be estimated using the “binomial distribution”[1] equation, that tells us how many samples are needed to be 95% certain that the batch as a whole has less ≤ 1 in 100 unacceptable units.

The binomial distribution tells us we’d need to take 299 samples, and they’d all have to test negative!  To be confident that the frequency of contaminated units was less than one in 10,000 (essentially the estimated status quo), however, we’d need to take nearly 30,000 samples and for all of them to be “clear”[2].  Those sorts of sampling numbers are simply not feasible.

So, what is the answer?

On May 25, 1961 then US President John F. Kennedy set a vision for his nation, that USA should “commit itself to achieving the goal …  of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space”. That speech started the ‘space race’, but the race was not always smooth.

crew_eatinghi_fullThe US space program had had many spectacular failures resulting in massive explosions in the Gemini and Mercury rocket programs. To explain, the propulsion system of a rocket is essentially a controlled explosion, propelling the rocket forwards.  Minor mistakes in construction of the rockets, particularly the boosters (engines), could lead to catastrophic failures. Fortunately, few such disasters resulted in loss of life. But the rocket scientists realized there was a weakness in the way that the rockets were constructed, particularly because that huge national project involved different regions constructing different components of the rockets, which were then transported to different locations for assembly.  Through the massive failures it became clear that new techniques for assuring the quality of  far-flung  systems  manufacture  and  final  integration were needed. A technique called Failure Mode, Effects, and Criticality Analysis (FMECA) first developed by the US Army in 1949 was applied to the Apollo program. It is a procedure for analysis of components and processes to determine those that, if they fail, could lead to catastrophic outcomes, especially those that endangered the crew. That analysis focused attention on ensuring the absolute reliability of ‘mission critical’ components.  It also become apparent that the astronauts themselves were mission critical components and that anything that affected their performance at critical moments (such as atmospheric re-entry, where an incorrect manoeuvre could lead to incineration of the spacecraft), were also critical components. Thus, the safety of the astronauts’ food supply was regarded as critical and led to the application of FMECA to food production and, eventually, spawned the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) system.  HACCP is now the most widely endorsed approach to food safety management in the world.

Like FMECA, the basic principle of HACCP is that by understanding where hazards arise in food processes and by putting in place procedures to prevent, control or remove them, those hazards can be controlled in the end product to ensure the safety of the food and to minimise reliance on “end product” testing. Indeed, quality assurance for the early stage consumed most of the food through testing for food safety assurance!

But, sooner or later, if you do HACCP properly, you end up asking questions that need quantitative answers, like “how much control is needed” and “how can it be achieved”?, e.g., what times, and temperatures, or product formulations are needed to control specific microbial hazards?

To answer those questions requires a high level of expert knowledge because of the diversity of behaviour and environmental limits of different microbial hazards.  Thus, while HACCP is founded on a logical a system that allows for the early detection and elimination of specific hazards the correct application of the concept requires comprehensive expert knowledge.    

The zenith of the US space program is the International Space Station (ISS), orbiting some 330 km above Earth. It’s home to six astronauts/scientists at any given time and is so large that it can easily be seen from Earth when the sun has gone down, by reflection of sunlight or moonlight. NASA provides an email alert service  ( that, for any location on Earth, advises when the ISS will become visible, from what direction, its the height in the sky, and for how long it will be visible. You can set your watch by the space station’s appearance! Given the complexity of interactions of the ISS’s orbit, and position of the sun and moon, that this information is calculated for any point on Earth for any day of the year, the accuracy of the predictions of the ISS appearances seems incredible. But, at some levels, the Universe is very predictable. Despite the experience of many food scientists, food microbiology is also predictable. While not with the same confidence as the position and visibility of the ISS, the reproducibility of microbial behaviour in foods does offers great potential to food safety managers.

Microbes can’t think, ergo Predictive Microbiology

Bacteria and fungi can’t think. They don’t have free will.  As such, they tend to behave reproducibly in response to their environment, which has led to the development of the discipline of predictive food microbiology.

The basic premise of predictive food microbiology is that the behaviour (growth potential, growth rate, inactivation) of microorganisms is deterministic and able to be predicted from:

  • specific characteristics of the micro-organism itself
  • the immediate environment of the micro-organism (i.e., food composition and storage conditions)
  • time the organism is in those conditions and – sometimes -
  • the previous environment (because it affects lag time, and may affect resistance to inimical conditions).

In practice, the information about those responses is derived from systematic studies in research laboratories or gleaned and collated from the published scientific literature. The patterns of response are characterised and the data and patterns summarised as mathematical equations, called “predictive microbiology models”. In essence, these equations represent condensed quantitative knowledge of the microbial ecology of foods. 

No matter how much a researcher knows, or how well that knowledge can be summarised in a mathematical model, to be useful that knowledge still needs to be communicated and made accessible to people in the food industry in a form that they can use to improve food safety or shelf life. Accordingly, the equations are usually integrated into computer software that automates the calculations to enable quick predictions of microbial changes in foods over time.

Many of these models can be downloaded, or used, for free. As an example of the depth of information ComBase, which is the most developed predictive microbiology application in the world, is based on ~ 50,000 determinations of microbial growth, or inactivation rate, or survival, relevant to foods. 

Australia is an international leader in the use of predictive microbiology, having adopted the “Refrigeration Index” (RI),  a predictive microbiology model, into legislation. The RI evaluates the effects of temperature and time on the safety of red meat by converting that data into the potential growth of E. coli. The RI is enshrined in Australia’s Export Controls (Meat and Meat Products) Orders (1985).  In consequence of the Garibaldi EHEC outbreak in Adelaide in 1995 another Australian model, that predicts the inactivation of enterohaemorrhagic E. coli in fermented meats, was developed and adopted by industry and regulators for evaluation of process safety.

Recently, Australia adopted Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) criteria for L. monocytogenes in foods. Those regulations differentiate between foods that do, or do not, support the growth of L. monocytogenes. For foods, that do not support growth, tolerance for L. monocytogenes is much higher (≤ 100 CFU/g) than in products that do support growth (<1CFU/25g), greatly reducing the probability of product recalls and the burden of microbiological testing.  In the guidelines the use of predictive microbiology models to differentiate foods that do, or do not, support the growth of L. monocytogenes is specifically endorsed.  Among such models, the Mejlholm and Dalgaard  (2009) model, and available in the SSSP software suite (see Table 1), is the most extensive and best validated.

The discussion above does not consider the limits of application of predictive microbiology. Its clear that to make predictions about the number of bacteria in a specific food after a certain amount of time, and under given storage conditions, requires that we know the initial number, and also how the storage conditions fluctuated over time.  Low-cost data logging technology now exists that can wirelessly communicate details of product storage conditions over time,. But sources of variability might include differences between strains, and inhomogeneity in the foods that might be enough to allow some cells to be able to grow, while others of the same population cannot. Worst still, under certain conditions, bacteria are genetically programmed to behave unpredictably and for multiple phenotypes, with very different physiology, to be present among a single population. Fortunately, this so-called ‘bet-hedging behaviour is based on quorum sensing and would only be expected occur when cell densities are very high (Veening et al., 2008). For these reasons, models usually make predictions that take this variability into account and can provide predictions that include the probability of different responses occurring in different environment,

Both theory and experience show that end-product testing isn’t a practical for food safety assurance, particularly for the low incidence of contamination that consumers expect.  The HACCP philosophy approach provides the most reliable means of food safety assurance, but for that approach to be practical its necessary to prioritise among potential hazards and understand how to control them: from among the myriad potential hazards we need to identify those that represent the greatest risks, and to understand their individual behaviour and environmental limits to design foods and processes that  limit their growth or inactivate them, while minimizing affects on product quality. This challenge requires expert knowledge of the physiology of individual microbial hazards. That knowledge is increasingly being made available through the development of predictive microbiology mathematical models and software.

While basic principles of food safety aren’t rocket science, the complexities of the modern food industry mean that food safety managers can gain much from lessons learnt and technologies developed in the space program.  The HACCP concept had its genesis in the USA space program:. The modelling approaches and software now being used to optimise food safety management rely on high level mathematics to develop tools and strategies to best satisfy the paradoxical consumers expectations of minimally processed foods with maximum levels of safety. 



Altekruse, S. and Swerdlow, D. (1996). The changing epidemiology of foodborne disease. American Journal of  Medical Science, 311: 23-29.

ANZFA (Australia New Zealand Food Authority), (1999).  Food Safety Standards Costs and benefits: An analysis of the regulatory impact of the proposed national food safety reforms. ANZFA, Canberra, Australia. 154 pp.

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) (2013).   Incidence and trends of infection with pathogens transmitted commonly through food – foodborne diseases active surveillance network, 10 U.S. sites, 2006. 2013.  Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 68:328-332.

CDNANZ (Communicable Diseases Network Australia and New Zealand – Foodborne Diseases Working Party) (1997). Foodborne Disease: Towards reducing foodborne illness in Australia.  Tech Report Series No. 2. Australian Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services, Canberra, Australia. 85 pp.

Hall, G.V., D-Souza, R.M. and Kirk, M.D. (2002). Foodborne disease in the new millenium:  out of the frying pan and into the fire? The Medical Journal of Australia, 177:614-618.

Mejlholm, O. and Dalgaard, P. (2009). Development and validation of an extensive growth and growth boundary model for Listeria monocytogenes in lightly preserved and ready-to-eat shrimp. Journal of Food Protection, 72:2132-2143

Membré, J-M. and Lambert, R.J.W. (2008).  Application of predictive modelling techniques in industry: From food design up to risk assessment. International Journal of Food Microbiology, 128: 10–15.

NNDS (National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System), (2014). Notifications of a selected disease by State and Territory and year. Accessed on 20 September 2014 at:

Nyachuba, D.G. (2010).  Foodborne illness: is it on the rise? Nutrition Reviews, 68:257–269.

Veening, J-W., Smits, W.P. and Kuipers, O.P. (2008). Bistability, epigenetics, and bet-hedging in bacteria. Annual Reviews in Microbiology, 62:193-201.


[1]      To be strictly correct, we should use another, related, equation called the ‘hypergeometric distribution’, but for almost all practical purposes the binomial distribution gives the same result.

[2]      Reliable on-line tools that can perform these calculations to design or assess the reliability of sampling plans can be found at:, or


Australian Bonsoy toxic soy milk victims on track for share of $25m payout; thought to be record-setting settlement

Hundreds of Australians allegedly poisoned by toxic soy milk are set to share in a $25 million settlement, in what is believed to be the country’s biggest ever payout concerning food safety.

Bonsoy toxic soy milkAbout 500 people alleged they suffered health problems caused by dangerously high iodine levels contained in Bonsoy between 2004 and 2009.

It was alleged Bonsoy was reformulated in August 2003 and pure kombu (seaweed) was replaced with kombu powder, which had the effect of increasing the level of iodine.

It was alleged one glass of milk contained 50 times the recommended daily intake of iodine.

Maurice Blackburn principal Jacob Varghese said it caused problems with the thyroid gland which regulates hormones that control metabolism.

“Ranging from lethargy and anxiety from one end of the scale, to very severe episodes that would involve hospitalisation,” he said.

“In some cases people had to have their thyroids removed.

“In a couple of cases women say that they had miscarriages as a result of the excessive iodine.”

The Australian distributor and brand owner, Spiral Foods, and Japanese companies Muso and Marusan Ai-Co agreed to the settlement without admitting liability.

It was lodged in the Supreme Court today for approval, with victims expected to begin receiving payouts within six months.

Mr Varghese said it was a warning to all food producers.

“We understand it’ll be the biggest settlement of any food safety class action in Australia,” he said.

“That’s quite important I think, in sending a message to food producers that the class action system is available to consumers to assert their rights if something does go wrong in the production process.”

Vietnam asks to ease seafood restrictions; Brits selling fresh seafood 15 days old

Russia now only allows Vietnamese seafood enterprises with existing contracts to export to the market. This means only 64 of the 102 enterprises that meet food safety standards are allowed to export to Russia because the others have no valid contracts.

fish artThe Nafiqad request came following food safety inspections of Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (FSVPS) last month.

The director of a seafood company that failed to enter into a contract with a Russian importer said it would be easier for the company to find an importer if it were allowed to export to the market.

This was the first time the director visited Russia to seek export opportunities, but he failed to find an importer who would sign a contract.

However, if the company met food safety and technical standards, there was no reason to bar it from exporting to the market, the director added.

Meanwhile, British supermarkets are selling fish which is two weeks old and labelling it as ‘fresh’, an investigation has found.

Fish on sale at the fresh counters of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons was found to be up to 15 days old.

Experts said some samples of cod, plaice, mackerel and haddock were ‘bland’ with ‘little flavour’, and that they could start to taste ‘off’ after just a day in the fridge.

Fish scientist Richard Chivers examined and tasted 14 pieces of fish including samples from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons and an independent fishmonger.

He found that a third of the fish – including some from Morrisons, Asda and Sainsbury’s – was between 12 and 15 days old. 

If you try sometimes, you’ll get what you need: FDA says can’t have it both ways on food safety

Two of the things growers and shippers want to see in new federal food safety rules — flexibility and simplicity — are mutually exclusive according to officials from the Food and Drug Administration.

mick.taylorCoral Beach of The Packer writes the more flexible the rules, the more complicated they have to be. That was the message from FDA’s top food safety staff during a Nov. 21 session in Florida where they fielded questions on proposed rules required by the Food Safety and Modernization Act.

Mike Taylor (right, not exactly as shown), FDA deputy director of foods, and Samir Assar, director of produce safety at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, also said time has not been on the agency’s side in terms of developing the rules.

“It’s an incredibly rapid, very tight time frame were on,” Taylor said, adding that a court order requires the agency to publish the final rule for produce in October next year.

Taylor and other federal officials spent about 90 minutes reviewing the proposed rules and revisions before taking questions during the session, which was sponsored by the Florida Agriculture Department. It was the fifth such state session Taylor and the others have attended since Nov. 6.

(Terrible pretend playing in the video below; and this guy interviewed Nixon.)


Training fail: Cheating the health card system in Vegas

When you go out to eat, what stands between you and food poisoning?

large_spaceyTonight, in a special Dirty Dining report, Contact 13 uncovers a loophole in the food safety system.

As Chief Investigator Darcy Spears learned, some of the people preparing your food may not be prepared to keep you safe.

“It was a wake-up call, especially for the employees,” said Mark Green when his restaurant, Kahunaville at TI, was on Dirty Dining in October.

“He was hired very new and so… he didn’t know,” said Vanessa Nguyen of Pho Bosa in another October Dirty Dining report.

And in September, Min Yoon of Kaizen Fusion Roll and Sushi said, “It’s incompetence.  I understand that.”

Week after week, that’s what we hear from restaurant owners and managers whose eateries are downgraded or closed for failing to protect public health.

But whether they’re featured on Dirty Dining or not, our investigation found local restaurants may be vulnerable to a loophole in the system.

Darcy Spears: Is this a system that’s ripe for fraud?
County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani/Board of Health: It is a system that probably could be used fraudulently.

Contact 13 discovered it has.

The Health District certifies first-time restaurant workers in the form of a food handler safety training card.

“So that when they get to the workplace, they are ready and set to work,” explained SNHD Environmental Health Director Jackie Reszetar.

But at Wo Hing during the restaurant’s first inspection this month, they were nearly shut down due to unsafe food handling.

Darcy Spears: Did they have training from the Health District?  They have their food card, right?

Sam Lee/Wo Hing: Yeah, yeah.

Jonh Dang of Vietnamese bistro Nem Nuong says the training is flawed.

Jonh Dang: I fired a lot of people.

rainman.counting.cardsDarcy Spears: You had to fire like 20 people for defrauding the food card program?

Jonh: Yeah, they supposed to know what they doing.  You know?

The problem with the system is that there are no checks and balances. 

There’s nothing to prevent one person from stepping in and answering the test questions for another.

To get the card, you just need a test completion certificate, identification and $40.

Darcy Spears: What does that suggest to you?

Jackie Reszetar: That suggests that we have to have a better check system.

County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani sits on the Board of Health, which oversees the Health District.

Darcy Spears: What safeguards are there in place right now to make sure that the person who goes on the computer is the person who goes to pick up the card and takes the picture?

Chris Giunchigliani: To my knowledge, I don’t know that they have that safeguard because they can do it from home, they can do it from a library.

The Health District issues more than 100-thousand food handler cards each year.

So how many instances of cheating have they documented?

“We don’t want the numbers out there,” Chua said.  “We don’t want anything out there because one person, one instance is too much.”

How would consumers know? Iowa too has an egg problem

Four years ago, Iowa was the focus of unwanted national attention triggered by an outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis that sickened at least 1,800 people and led to the largest egg recall in United States history — more than 500 million eggs.

seasame.street.good.egg.projectAccording to an editorial in the Des Moines Register, then-Gov. Chet Culver proposed a few long-overdue reforms that would have strengthened Iowa’s oversight of the egg industry. Three days later, Gov. Terry Branstad took office.

Since then, not one of the proposed reforms has been enacted.

Federal investigators attributed the 2010 outbreak to the Iowa operations of Austin “Jack” DeCoster, whose company eventually agreed to pay $6.8 million in fines for attempting to bribe a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector and for selling old eggs with false labels.

DeCoster and his son, Peter, have each agreed to pay $100,000 in fines. They are now awaiting sentencing on criminal charges of introducing tainted eggs into the nation’s food supply.

The DeCoster case perfectly illustrates why states must be vigilant in regulating their most important industries — particularly when the public health is at stake.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, DeCoster eggs that were produced in Maine and Maryland were linked to a series of salmonella outbreaks, including one in New York that killed nine people and sickened hundreds more.

New York eventually banned DeCoster from selling his eggs in that state, and Maine and Maryland imposed a variety of restrictions on his business. DeCoster complained about the expense associated with this new regulatory oversight and sold his Maryland operation. He focused his business on Iowa, the nation’s No. 1 egg-producing state, which had no state-imposed requirements for salmonella monitoring.

Even after the federal reforms were enacted, Iowa egg producers were still given advance notice of government inspections. In some cases, the companies dictated the date of their inspections. The egg producers also were allowed to continue to keep secret from inspectors the brand names under which their eggs were sold. They also withheld access to their complaint files and even refused to name company employees. Even now, egg producers are not required to notify state regulators when salmonella is found in their eggs and barns.