Contrition after getting caught

My latest column from Texas A&M’s Center for Food Safety.

(I quite appreciate the freedom I have to delve into more substantive issues). 

The VW microbus: popular in an Arlo Guthrie song (Alice’s Restaurant), home to shag carpeting, and where people who came of age in the 1970s actually did that – in a VW microbus. 

But with news that Volkswagen rigged emission tests on some 11 million cars, the favored brand of professors and hipsters is collapsing.

And they’re not helping their cause.

At a corporate event to unveil the new Passant, the U.S. president of VW said, “Let’s be clear about this. Our company was dishonest. And in my German words, we have totally screwed up.

“Thank you very much for coming, enjoy the evening, up next is Lenny Kravitz.”

Or as comedian and British export John Oliver summarized:

“VW: Hitler trusted us, why won’t you?”

There’s a playbook for public contrition – even in the 140 characters of the Twitterverse — but it’s the day-in-day-out delivery that builds trust, in relationships with that person you met in a VW microbus or with global conglomerates.

Or that homespun ice-cream or peanut paste producer.

Blue Bell ice cream has done a lousy job of taking seriously their food safety responsibilities. Executives at Peanut Corporation of American, whose products killed nine and sickened at least 741 in 2009, received prison sentences varying from 28-to-three years for a not-so elaborate scheme to, as reported by USA Today and others over the years, “fabricate certificates of analysis in a scheme that falsely showed peanut butter from the Blakely, Georgia plant was free of Salmonella and other pathogens. In fact, there had been no testing of the product, or tests had confirmed contamination, prosecutors showed.”

Before the judge issued the sentences, former CEO Stewart Parnell said; “This has been a seven-year nightmare for me and my family. I’m truly, truly sorry for what’s happened.”

Parnell’s daughter said they never knowingly endangered customers, adding,

“No one thought that the products were unsafe or could harm someone. Dad brought them home to us. We all ate it.”

That’s from the contrition playbook. And it’s not enough.

Today, as the number of people sick with Salmonella from Mexican cucumbers continues to climb – 3 deaths, 671 people sick, the U.S. distributor has donated to a non-profit group’s campaign aimed at improving foodborne disease diagnosis and it urged other produce companies to do the same.

San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce partner David Murray said in a Sept. 25 statement, that the firm is “absolutely devastated” by the outbreak and is working with authorities in the U.S. and Mexico, as well as food-safety experts, to analyze its processes and fix any problems.

That’s from the contrition playbook. And it’s not enough.

Joe Nocera of The New York Times wrote recently about parallels between the peanut case and auto recalls, and while there are legal nuances about whether to go after corporations or individuals, that’s up for the lawyers to decide (The Untouchables couldn’t get Al Capone for murder, but they did get him for tax fraud).

Nocera writes the urge to prosecute corporate executives is the single most powerful deterrent imaginable — far more powerful than a fine, which is meaningless to a company like G.M.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat and a former attorney general of that state, said, “I guarantee you, one sentence like [Parnell’s] would change auto safety dramatically and enduringly.”

Get past the playbook of contrition and make data public, day-in-day-out, to earn people’s trust.

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


Prerequisites for effective official food control in Finland

We studied the prerequisites for official food control and their relation to the quality of controls by using 17 Finnish municipal food control units as our sample. on our results, units invest in creating adequate working conditions through the provision of guidance papers, pre forma templates and possibilities for staff to collectively hold discussions. However, poor orientation, tacit knowledge and incomplete commitment among staff to quality systems remain as challenges in the units. Insufficient human resources and the inability of heads of food control units to recognize problems in the workplace setting may impair the functional capacity of units. Poor workplace atmosphere and weaknesses in organization of work may also be reflected in food businesses operators’ lesser appreciation toward official food controls.

Food Control, Volume 61, March 2016, Pages 172–179

Tiina Läikkö-Rotoa, Janne Lundén, Jaakko Heikkilä, Mari Nevas

Tailgating packages to raise beef safety

Through a partnership with the USDA, members of University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Food Science Club will distribute special tailgate packages prior to the Oct. 10 Husker football game against the University of Wisconsin.

Soliloquy_tailgateThe packages — designed to promote cookout safety, primarily on the prevention of E. coli-related illnesses — include essential tailgate tools: can koozies, aprons and a thermometer to help check if beef is fully cooked.

The project, which will distribute 100 of the tailgate packages, is funded through an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. It is organized as part of UNL’s Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in the Beef Chain: Assessing and Mitigating the Risk by Translational Science, Education and Outreach project.

The STEC project has launched a #Grill160ToKill campaign, which is designed to provide information on foodborne illnesses to college-aged individuals.

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli — the type of the bacteria associated with foodborne outbreaks—causes 265,000 infections in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates. In 2012, the last year for which CDC statistics are available, Nebraska had the highest rate of such infections in the United States.

“Using a tip-sensitive digital thermometer, stuck into multiple spots allows the tailgate chef to find cold spots and verify safe temperatures”, said Jill Hochstein, project manager of the STEC project.

The tailgate packages will feature a set of “Griller Profile Cards,” which illustrate seven types of grillers. Each profile card describes a stereotypical griller and provides a short grocery list with witty, yet realistic items necessary for a tailgate, while encompassing the main idea that proper safety practices such as cooking food to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit is the best way to prevent E. coli.

Predicting food fraud, EU style

Because food fraud can harm human health and erode consumer trust, it is imperative that it is detected at an early stage. Therefore the aim of this study was to predict the expected food fraud type for imported products for which the product category and country of origin are known in order to target enforcement activities.

food.fraud.adulterationFor this purpose we used a Bayesian Network (BN) model that was developed based on adulteration/fraud notifications as reported in the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) in the period 2000–2013. In this period 749 food fraud notifications were reported and were categorised in 6 different fraud types (i) improper, fraudulent, missing or absent health certificates, (ii) illegal importation, (iii) tampering, (iv) improper, expired, fraudulent or missing common entry documents or import declarations, (v) expiration date, (vi) mislabelling. The data were then used to develop a BN model. The constructed BN model was validated using 88 food fraud notifications reported in RASFF in 2014. The proposed model predicted 80% of food fraud types correctly when food fraud type, country and food category had been reported previously in RASFF. The model predicted 52% of all 88 food fraud types correctly when the country of origin or the product-country combination had not been recorded before in the RASFF database.

The presented model can aid the risk manager/controller in border inspection posts in deciding which fraud type to check when importing products.

Prediction of food fraud type using data from Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) and Bayesian network modelling

Food Control, Volume 61, March 2016, Pages 180–187

Yamine Bouzembrak, Hans J.P. Marvin

Maple Leaf Foods blows itself

Eight years after Maple Leaf Foods cold cuts laden with Listeria killed 24 Canadians and sickened another 50, the company now announces, with fanfare, it will require all of its protein, ingredient and packaging suppliers to become food safety certified to a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standard in 2017.

Audits and inspections are never enough.

Organizations, groups, awards, they’re all designed to blow the insiders.

The families of the victims probably don’t feel they were blown.

Great. Make the data public.

  • More than 225,000 farms and food manufacturing facilities are certified to GFSI recognized standards globally.

No one cares if you kill people.

Maple Leaf is doing a tap-dance to avoid substantive issues.

  • Put a warning label on your cold-cuts, especially for expectant mothers;
  • make your testing results public; and as I frequently remind my daughters.
  • stop dicking around.

Regarding your audit claims, Maple Leaf sucks.

  • safety audits and inspections are a key component of the nation’s food safety system and their use will expand in the future, for both domestic and imported foodstuffs., but recent failures can be emotionally, physically and financially devastating to the victims and the businesses involved;
  • many outbreaks involve firms that have had their food production systems verified and received acceptable ratings from food safety auditors or government inspectors;
  • while inspectors and auditors play an active role in overseeing compliance, the burden for food safety lies primarily with food producers;
  • there are lots of limitations with audits and inspections, just like with restaurants inspections, but with an estimated 48 million sick each year in the U.S., the question should be, how best to improve food safety?
  • audit reports are only useful if the purchaser or  food producer reviews the results, understands the risks addressed by the standards and makes risk-reduction decisions based on the results;
  • there appears to be a disconnect between what auditors provide (a snapshot) and what buyers believe they are doing (a full verification or certification of product and process);
  • third-party audits are only one performance indicator and need to be supplemented with microbial testing, second-party audits of suppliers and the in-house capacity to meaningfully assess the results of audits and inspections;
  • companies who blame the auditor or inspector for outbreaks of foodborne illness should also blame themselves;
  • assessing food-handling practices of staff through internal observations, externally-led evaluations, and audit and inspection results can provide indicators of a food safety culture; and,
  • the use of audits to help create, improve, and maintain a genuine food safety culture holds the most promise in preventing foodborne illness and safeguarding public health.


ITALY-G8-G5-AGRICULTURE-FARMAudits and inspections are never enough: A critique to enhance food safety


Food Control

D.A. Powell, S. Erdozain, C. Dodd, R. Costa, K. Morley, B.J. Chapman


Internal and external food safety audits are conducted to assess the safety and quality of food including on-farm production, manufacturing practices, sanitation, and hygiene. Some auditors are direct stakeholders that are employed by food establishments to conduct internal audits, while other auditors may represent the interests of a second-party purchaser or a third-party auditing agency. Some buyers conduct their own audits or additional testing, while some buyers trust the results of third-party audits or inspections. Third-party auditors, however, use various food safety audit standards and most do not have a vested interest in the products being sold. Audits are conducted under a proprietary standard, while food safety inspections are generally conducted within a legal framework. There have been many foodborne illness outbreaks linked to food processors that have passed third-party audits and inspections, raising questions about the utility of both. Supporters argue third-party audits are a way to ensure food safety in an era of dwindling economic resources. Critics contend that while external audits and inspections can be a valuable tool to help ensure safe food, such activities represent only a snapshot in time. This paper identifies limitations of food safety inspections and audits and provides recommendations for strengthening the system, based on developing a strong food safety culture, including risk-based verification steps, throughout the food safety system.

What me worry? Growers worry over critical media coverage of food

This is just dumb. Stop whining to your pals and start providing food safety information to tell your story. County’s nearly $3 billion agriculture industry is responsible for a large percentage of its total prosperity, and local cities and businesses are working to further expand its influence with agritourism-based attractions and events.

But many industry figures said they’re worried about critical media coverage cutting into consumer demand for Yuma-grown crops at last week’s Southwest Arizona Futures Forum session about preserving the area’s water supplies.

A paragraph near the top of the “plan of action for Yuma” compiled at the end of the all-day meeting attended by more than 100 began with, “the community must directly address negative ads and comments regarding the agriculture industry with positive facts about regarding efficient food production and the importance of food safety.”

Attendees of the conference cited articles such as an August column in The Washington Post, “Why Salad is So Overrated,” by contributor Tamar Haspel, who said the dish which employs so many of the vegetable crops grown in the Yuma area “has almost nothing going for it. It occupies precious crop acreage, requires fossil fuels to be shipped, refrigerated, around the world, and adds nothing but crunch to the plate.”

Food Safety Talk 81: Food safety matters every week

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.

After a brief discussion about Quadrophenia, the guys thankfully decide to not sing this episode.Unknown-3

Ben mentions that the last video store in the Raleigh area is closing. This led to some discussion about the job security of academic careers where Don stated, ‘prediction is very difficult especially about the future.’

Spurred by Ben’s short visit to Baltimore, the guys then discuss how awesome The Wire is.  Don mentions a perspective by David Simon, the Wire’s creator, on the real life situation in Baltimore.  Ben was recently in Baltimore for the Food Safety Summit.  A nod goes out to Brian Saunders for doing a good job of boots on the ground coverage of what’s going on in Baltimore during the Food Safety Summit.

Don recommends Acorn TV for anyone interested in British TV. This subscription service has British programming not typically shown on US TV. At the Acorn website Ben spotted Time Team an archeology reality series that he thinks his kids would love.

This week Ben talks about media interviews and a focus on multiple food safety stories all hitting at the same time. He talked a cutting boards post on barfblog that garnered some attention.  He also fielded inquires regarding the Blue Bell Listeria outbreak .  Ben noted that Blue Bell announced they are recalling all the ice cream.

A tragic botulism outbreak linked to a church potluck in Ohio was also a topic in multiple media outlets. The potluck outbreak was linked to home-canned potatoes but the coverage prompted a side conversation about bot and foil-wrapped baked potatoes.

Looking ahead to future food outbreaks Ben mentions that a bill was introduced in North Carolina to legalize raw milk.  This bill would allow consumers to legally acquire raw milk via a cow share mechanism.  In this article Ben is quoted challenging an inappropriate comparison of raw milk outbreak data by the bill’s sponsor.

In After Dark Don shames Ben for not listening to Roderick on the Line. Again.

– 30 –

NZ hospital food safety manager rightly sacked

A food safety manager in an Auckland hospital who was fired after unsafe work practices was not unjustifiably dismissed as she claims.

simpsons.lunch.lady.09Former food service manager at North Shore Hospital Padmini Singh was employed by Compass Group from August 2009 until January 2015.

Her employment ended after she was found to have been lacking in a number of areas in food safety and a decision on a demotion for her couldn’t be reached.

Compass Group had already been warned about food safety prior to audits of Singh’s work coming up short.

An outbreak of norovirus at North Shore Hospital in 2012 was found to have most likely originated in the hospital kitchen – though this was never confirmed nor linked to Singh.

During the outbreak there were 59 cases of gastroenteritis with each patient having had the same food.

The Ministry for Primary Industries conducted an investigation and there were indications the culprit may have been a chicken and barley soup served at lunch.

Ultimately, the source of the norovirus was not determined and MPI issued a formal warning to Compass Group that it was at risk of legal action.

Operations manager Raymond Hall said this warning was related to hand hygiene practices, training and food safety documentation.


Chicken and campy: Foodnet Canada 2011-2012

FoodNet Canada (formerly known as C-EnterNet) is a preventive, multi-partner sentinel site surveillance system, facilitated by the Public Health Agency of Canada, that identifies what food and other sources are causing illness in Canada.

chickenEach sentinel site is founded on a unique partnership with the local public health unit, private laboratories, and water and agri-food sectors, as well as the provincial and federal institutions responsible for public health, food safety, and water safety. The pilot sentinel site (ON site), comprised of the Region of Waterloo, Ontario, has approximately 525,000 residents, with a mix of urban and rural communities and innovation in public health and water conservation.

A second site (BC site) was officially established in the Fraser Health Authority, British Columbia in April of 2010. This BC site includes the communities of Burnaby, Abbotsford, and Chilliwack and has approximately 450,000 residents.

In the ON site, enhanced surveillance of human cases of enteric disease in the community is performed, as well as active surveillance of enteric pathogens in water, food (retail meat and produce) and on farms. In the BC site in 2010, enhanced human disease surveillance began, as did active surveillance of enteric pathogens (for retail produce only).

The following key findings are based on the surveillance data from 2011–2012 in the ON and BC sites:

  • A total of 1663 human cases of 11 bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases were reported within the ON and BC sites between 2011 and 2012. The three most frequently reported diseases (campylobacteriosis, salmonellosis and giardiasis) accounted for 82% of the cases.
  • Campylobacteriosis remained the most commonly reported enteric disease in both sentinel sites, with Campylobacter jejuni being the most common species associated with human campylobacteriosis. The majority of raw chicken samples tested were also contaminated with Campylobacter jejuni. Possible exposure factors included living on a farm or country property, contacting on-farm poultry, contacting household pets, contacting animal manure and consuming spoiled food. Overall, as found in the past, retail chicken meat was considered to be the most important vehicle of transmission for Campylobacter.

Distributions of patient age and gender among the human salmonellosis cases between 2011 and 2012 were similar to those observed historically in both the ON and BC sites. The most commonly reported serovars for human cases of salmonellosis were Enteritidis, Typhimurium, and Heidelberg. Phage type alignment continues to be observed among isolates from endemic human cases, chicken meat, and broiler chicken feces for both Salmonella Heidelberg and Salmonella Enteritidis. A slight decrease was observed in the rate in both sites (in 2011–2012 combined compared to 2010), which is comparable to the national trend observed during the same time period (2, 3, 7, 8). The prevalence of Salmonella on ground chicken was twice the level found on chicken breast. This may highlight the greater chance of product contamination during processing. Overall, possible salmonellosis exposure factors included contact with pet reptiles, retail poultry products, and broiler chicken manure (Table 4.6). The most important possible vehicle of transmission is considered to be retail poultry products.

• Verotoxigenic E. coli (O157:H7 and non-O157:H7 serotypes) infections continue to be primarily acquired domestically, as demonstrated by the low number of travel-related cases in 2011–2012. E. coli O157:H7 PFGE patterns in both human and non-human samples from 2011–2012 continued to show considerable diversity, as observed nationally and within the FoodNet Canada sites, in past years.

• As in previous years, the majority of Yersinia cases are domestically acquired. Among travel-related cases, the majority reported travel to Central or South America in 2011–2012. The incidence in domestically acquired cases was much higher in females than males. None of the swine manure samples in the ON site in 2011 were positive for pathogenic Yersinia (biotype 4, serotype O:3). • As in previous years, pathogenic strains of Listeria monocytogenes were recovered in 2011–2012 from samples of skinless chicken breasts, ground beef, ground chicken and ground turkey, as well as uncooked chicken nuggets. The scientific literature suggests that abattoirs and meat processing environments rather than farm animals may be an important source of L. monocytogenes (21). The retail meat data from many historical surveillance years indicate that pathogenic serotypes of L. monocytogenes are present on raw chicken, beef, and pork meat sold at retail, as well as in bagged leafy greens. Although, based on one PFGE enzyme, there was a match between a human case and a sample of uncooked chicken nuggets in 2011–2012, there were no matches between sources and sentinel site cases of listeriosis in 2011–2012 when both PFGE enzyme patterns were compared. Also, based on one enzyme, a few matches were identified between meat isolates (chicken and beef) and four of the top five PFGE patterns reported at the national level in humans (according to PulseNet Canada data). In 2012, fresh herbs were tested for L. monocytogenes though the pathogen was not detected.

• The majority of Shigella infections were travel-related, with Asia being the most frequently reported travel destination.

FoodNet Canada surveillance identified human pathogenic strains of norovirus on retail soft berries and fresh herbs in 2011–2012. Historically, pathogenic subtypes have also been found in food animal manure, as well as retail pork chops and leafy greens.

Frankenface.berry• Cryptosporidium was found in 2011–2012 on retail soft berries and in untreated surface water. Giardia was detected on retail soft berries and herbs, and water in the same period. Also, Cyclospora was found on soft berries. However, the viability of these pathogens was unable to be determined.

• Travel outside of Canada continued to add to the burden of enteric disease observed in Canada during 2011–2012, with 27% of the reported cases from both sites (combined) likely involving infections acquired abroad. Safe travel practices continue to be important considerations among Canadians.

• Enhanced, standardized laboratory testing across all FoodNet Canada surveillance components (human, retail, on-farm, and water) has allowed for the identification of patterns in subtype distributions among human cases and potential exposure sources over time. Continued surveillance and addition of more sentinel sites will help in refinement of the key findings and inform prevention and control measures for enteric diseases in Canada.


UK supermarket chicken price war ‘putting health at risk’

When I showed up in Australia and started shopping at my local stores – as you do without a car – I noticed the whole chickens were leaking all kinds of bacterial crap.

moneyI spoke with the manager and said, in the U.S., they have additional plastic bags in the meat section and antibacterial wipes.

He said, that’s a great idea, I’ll bring it up at our fortnightly food safety meeting.

The company decided not to do anything because the wipes would cost half-a-cent each.

Other customers I’ve chatted with say they grab a plastic bag from the produce section to further enclose their chicken.

UK professor, Chris Elliott, who led the official inquiry into the horsemeat scandal, says supermarkets are reluctant to bring in changes that could reduce potentially fatal infections from chicken because of the cost.

Food safety versus economics.