Street food in Brazil; and The Beatles

The aims of this study were to assess the compliance of street foods sold in an urban center in a major capital of Brazil with international standards for food safety and to provide data that could be used for the elaboration of specific legislation to ensure the safety of street food.

brazil.street.foodThe study investigated demographic profiles of street vendors and hygiene practices used in critical points of food production for products sold. Direct observations and structured interviews were conducted among vendors at stationary locations in the downtown area. Forty-three participating vendors were mostly males who generally completed only elementary school. Among observed food safety risks: 12% of the vendors did not provide ice at the point of sale for perishable ingredients; 95% did not wash hands between food and money transactions and restroom breaks; 91% did not have hair coverings and 100% of the vendors did not have access to a water supply. The interviews revealed that 12% of the vendors did not provide proper cold holding during transportation; 33% did not wash their hands at all, whereas 24% only used water to wash their hands; and 33% never took the required food-handling course. The study indicates a need for improvements of the environmental conditions at these sites to prevent foodborne diseases. Specific local and national laws for street food need to be created to protect the consumer, and continuous training of vendors could help address the lack of food quality and safety.

And for no particular reason, today in 1966, The Beatles began recording sessions for Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The album cost $75,000 to record.

Food safety and hygiene practices of vendors during the chain of street food production in Florianopolis, Brazil: A cross-sectional study

Food Control, Volume 62, April 2016, Pages 178–186

Rayza Dal Molin Cortese, Marcela Boro Veiros, Charles Feldman, Suzi Barletto Cavalli

Are they really ‘dynamic, interactive and arousing adolescents’ interest’ Food safety risk communication in games

Raising consumers’ awareness about food safety issues is one of the primary objectives of Italian public health organizations.

SophiaLorenNew dynamic and interactive tools, based on web applications, are already playing a leading role in health promotion campaigns targeted at adolescents. Among the web-based tools specifically designed for young people, educational videogames have proved especially effective in furthering learning and disseminating information, as they arouse adolescents’ interest and curiosity.

When a number of cases of hemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS) were reported in 2010, particularly among children, the Italian Ministry of Health stressed the need to implement communication initiatives aimed at raising consumers’ awareness of the potential risks associated with raw milk consumption at home.

The pilot study described in the article is a relevant example of educational projects implemented in Italy, oriented to transmit knowledge about food risks to young consumers (aged 16–18). To provide correct information on safe milk handling practices and to reduce health issues, including serious ones, the videogame “A mysterious poisoning” was developed. This tool was administered online to 359 upper secondary school students from four different provinces in Italy. The videogame covered all stages of the milk supply chain, from stable to table, and enabled players to identify the crucial moments when milk can be contaminated and to discover safe milk handling practices. By completing a series of tasks, students helped a detective discover the cause of a food poisoning outbreak. This videogame provided an opportunity for students to test their knowledge of the product and to receive more detailed and accurate information. Data collected through two structured questionnaires that were administered before and after the controlled use of the videogame showed that this serious game was capable of changing players’ perception of risk exposure and their cognitive associations, particularly increasing their levels of knowledge about the risks associated with raw milk consumption.

Food safety and young consumers: Testing a serious game as a risk communication tool

Crovato, A. Pinto, P. Giardullo, G. Mascarello, F. Neresini, L. Ravarotto

Whole genome sequencing – it’s all the rage

I returned to the University of Guelph in about 1989 for a press thingy, and asked a former genetics prof (who was an asshole; drinking game, they all were) what was this PCR stuf.

kary.mullisHe didn’t tell me how a dude on acid figured it out, but it was now routine.

Today, whole genome sequencing is all the rage, and all I can remember is, another six months of graduate school for you, Powell, go tape those gels.

Our rudimentary DNA sequencing back in 1985 involved a particular skill with masking tape so the gels wouldn’t leak.

And a lot of radioactive phosphorous.

And phenol-based extraction, which has left my one pinky finger smaller than the other.


 Whole genome sequencing (WGS) has emerged as a powerful tool for comparing bacterial isolates in outbreak detection and investigation. Here, we demonstrate that WGS performed prospectively for national epidemiologic surveillance of Listeria monocytogenes has the capacity to be superior to our current approach using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), multilocus sequence typing (MLST), multilocus variable-number tandem repeat analysis (MLVA), binary typing and serotyping. Initially 423 L. monocytogenes isolates underwent WGS and comparisons uncovered a diverse genetic population structure derived from three distinct lineages. MLST, binary and serotyping results inferred in silico from the WGS data were highly concordant (>99%) with laboratory typing performed in parallel. However, WGS was able to identify distinct nested clusters within groups of isolates that were otherwise indistinguishable by our current typing methods. Routine WGS was then used for prospective epidemiologic surveillance on a further 97 L. monocytogenes isolates over a 12-month period, providing a greater level of discrimination to conventional typing for inferring linkage to point source outbreaks. A risk based alert system based on WGS similarity was used to inform epidemiologists required to act on the data. Our experience shows WGS could be adopted for prospective L. monocytogenes surveillance, and investigated for other pathogens relevant to public health.

 Prospective whole genome sequencing enhances national surveillance of Listeria monocytogenes

J Clin Microbiol. 2015 Nov 25. pii: JCM.02344-15.

Kwong JC, Mercoulia K, Tomita T, Easton M, Li HY, Bulach DM, Stinear TP, Seemann T, Howden BP.

Thanksgiving Australia style, 2015 edition

We’ve tried Thanksgiving a few times in Australia.

We did the Canadian one because it was earlier and not so hot, we did the U.S one. and it’s too hot, so after four years we found a model that may have worked.

amy.thanksgiving.nov.15Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday. No religion, just good food to celebrate the harvest. We have traditionally hosted friends, family and students to share the feast each year.

So this year we adapted to Australian weather, and had about 30 people – that includes a bunch of kids – to a park.

We have fabulous parks.

The kids had a great playground and an area for rollerblading, scooters, whatever, the breezes from the river were good, and we did it picnic style.

I cooked the turkey and duck the night before – to a microbiologically safe temperature as determined by a tip-sensitive digital thermometer — and then refrigerated overnight.

Saturday morning, I carved up the birds – and underestimated the popularity – and made a casserole-based stuffing. Amy made potato salad, our friends brought sides, it was a relaxing four hours.

The hockey parents talked hockey gossip, the neighbors talked town home gossip, I stayed out of the way and tried to make sure everyone was fed.


kids.thanksgiving.nov.15They all said they had never had anything like stuffing, so that was sorta cool.

We took a hockey kid home for 24 hours so his Canadian dad could play baseball.

Cause that’s how we roll.

And look how happy Hubbell is (hard to see).

Then we played hockey Sunday am.

Listeria redux: Maple Leaf to cut 400 jobs

I killed two people in a car accident when I was 18-years-old. I went to jail. It’s all on the Intertubes.

20080827bg_leaf07.JPGBut I’ve never hid from it.

Seven years after his cold-cuts killed 23 people and sickened 55 with Listeria, Maple Leaf president Michael McCain now says, it’s all about the money.

Fair comment: food is a low-margins-high-turnover kind of biz.

But to ignore the food safety aspects when your company has monumentally messed up is beyond belief.

Or just another day at the office.

Maple Leaf Foods Inc said on Wednesday it would cut 400 management jobs, or about 3 per cent of its work force, saying it was ready to streamline operations after starting up Canada’s biggest meat plant.

Nearly half of the positions are based in the Mississauga head office, said spokesman Dave Bauer. Sixty-four are based at the new Hamilton, meat plant, where analysts noted excess staff and supervisors during a recent tour, and the rest of the job cuts are scattered across Canada.

Senior management, led by chief executive officer Michael McCain, remains intact, Bauer said.

“After years of change and transformation, we’re now in a position to streamline the organization so we can operate as efficiently as possible,” Bauer said.

Does that include food safety?


Journalism works: Philly restaurants get same-day health inspections

Philadelphia this week joined other major American cities in publicly releasing same-day restaurant inspection reports rather than waiting a month, a policy critics said kept diners in the dark about potential health risks.

rocky.phillyFor the last three decades, diners in Philadelphia have unknowingly patronized restaurants cited for serious hygiene problems including mouse droppings, improperly refrigerated food and managers oblivious of the basic tenets of food safety.

Health department officials said the city’s longstanding 30-day secrecy policy was meant to give eatery owners time to challenge inspection results. Yet it was a practice that surprised health officials in other big cities.

The same-day release of inspection results follows an Inquirer/ report that found Philadelphia was the only major city in the United States to withhold results for a significant length of time. The results are available from the city, or more conveniently, on the Clean Plates website:

This week, health department sanitarians dropped in on dozens of eateries throughout the city. Among the most sharply criticized were a Drexel University dining hall, two South Philly watering holes and an upscale burger joint in Center City.

Avoid holiday pathogen starter kit: Thanksgiving leftovers version

Friend of the, Michéle Samarya-Timm, with the Somerset County Department of Health (Jersey, represent) writes:

thanksgiving.leftoversWhile conducting my annual perusal of online Thanksgiving hints, tips, tweets and infographics,  I began musing about Thanksgiving post-dinner activities.  You know, when folks are leaning back with turkey fatigue, food scraps begin congealing on individual dinner plates, the buffet resembles a feeding frenzy at the zoo, and the kitchen is stacked with pots clogged with unused remnants of fall harvest traditions.

This mellow and restrained moment often progress into a free-for-all, where guests start jockeying for position to grab leftovers to take back home. This lineup becomes fueled by individual dreams of creating a Friday morning shooter sandwich, turlafel, magical mystery mush or similar creative concoction of post-Thanksgiving residuals.  And so, the mad pantry hunt for tin foil, old Tupperware containers or the box of zippy bags begins.  You know it will happen.  With this in mind, shouldn’t leftover planning be a natural extension of Thanksgiving food prep?

An ideal Thanksgiving schedule allows adequate time for food preparation, thorough cooking and proper cooling of leftovers.  Just like asking the family culinary wiz to carve the turkey, the host (or guest) with the most knowledge should be tasked with overseeing the holiday food safety.

Why? You’ve heard the two-hour rule:  Never let hot or cold food sit on the dinner table or on the counter for more than 2 hours.  After two hours, the food has cooled to the point that it’s in the food danger zone – 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F – the range where bacteria can rapidly reproduce and contaminate the food.   This can be a tall task during a holiday meal, but one that is achievable with some creativity.

mr-creosoteDevelop a game plan for any extra perishable food.  After filling serving dishes in the kitchen, immediately divide up the remaining vittles into smaller portions or pieces, place in shallow containers, and promptly refrigerate.  For leftovers tableside, invite guests to pack up what they’d like before the end of that 2-hour window, (try setting a music loop as a timer for that two hours) and encourage folks to stay for more coffee while their take-home bag is chilling in the fridge or freezer before the ride back home.  With that, zippy bags full of water make great cheap ice packs for that added touch of food-safety caring to-go.

Labeling the food packages makes sense so those who rave about your potatoes with marshmallows don’t find themselves with roasted brussels sprouts. In addition to including recipient names and food contents, labeling containers with safe reheating instructions (to 165 degrees!) ads that little-something extra –  and cute, printable tags found online can be adapted for this purpose.

Is that necessary?  While folks may be more likely to check the Thanksgiving turkey with a thermometer for doneness (after all, how embarrassing to carve a half-raw bird in front of a table full of salivating guests?),  FDA reports that 97% of leftover eaters don’t use a food thermometer before eating to check if the food is safety reheated to prevent possible foodborne illness.  You know Aunt Gladys, Uncle Charlie, and your loopy neighbors. Do you want to gamble that these guests are part of the 3% who safely prepare resurrected meals?

Take home meals can take on a life of their own if not properly handled. Reimagining Thanksgiving leftovers takes on a whole new meaning if not eaten over the holiday weekend.  After all, the idea isn’t how long the food is pretty or tasty…it’s how long before  it  can create ill effects. Two storage options exist:  Refrigerate and safely eat within 3 to 4 days (that’s Monday), or freeze at 0 degrees F for a longer lasting souvenir.

Enjoy the holiday with your family and friends. And when providing guests with take-home packages of harvest bounty, aim to give them ingredients for post-meal happiness, not a holiday pathogen starter kit.

With much appreciation to all the good folks working to prevent foodborne outbreaks.  

Laws are like catfish sausages

I feel so much better about the safety of my catfish now. And have a better understanding of non-tariff trade barriers.

According to the New York Times, After years of delay, the Agriculture Department on Wednesday established tough new rules to inspect imported catfish, yielding to pressure from domestic catfish producers that risks retaliation from America’s trade partners.Untitled-4081.png

The rules come seven years after lawmakers from the South, at the request of catfish farmers in states like Mississippi and Arkansas, helped secure legislation in the 2008 farm law that moved inspections of catfish from the Food and Drug Administration to a more rigorous program at a new office within the Agriculture Department. Domestic producers of catfish called it a safety measure, but opponents said the new inspection program was a veiled trade barrier intended to limit imports.

 “The point of this process has been to ensure that the farm-raised catfish served to American families is safe and nutritious. The U.S.D.A. is in the best position to get this done,” said Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, who pressed to have the inspections moved.



On-line cheese presents risk

Online shopping saves time and provides an enormous product choice, but when buying cheeses, this may lead to a quality compromise, according to a new study from Vetmeduni Vienna.

3294_Cheese shutterstock_117291487According to a German market study, six per cent of all fresh foods sold today are purchased online – and this rate is on the rise. For perishable foods, however, it is necessary to follow certain hygienic rules.

Dagmar Schoder from the Institute of Milk Hygiene at the Vetmeduni Vienna was interested above all in one especially high-risk food – raw milk cheese. Raw milk cheeses are made from unpasteurised milk, which puts them at a higher risk of microbiological contamination.

Ms Schoder and her colleagues ordered 108 different raw milk cheeses from 21 online retailers in seven European countries (France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Belgium).

“We chose raw milk cheese because it is a high-risk product. As raw milk is unpasteurised, it can be easily contaminated with harmful bacteria.

“Even a small amount of bacteria, for which raw milk cheese offers ideal growing conditions, can reach critical proportions after a longer ripening, storage and transport time.

“The product is then no longer edible and may even make consumers ill. For this reason, special care must be taken during production, storage and transport,” said Ms Schoder.

The researchers found Listeria monocytogenes in two cheese products: one from France and one from the Netherlands.

The fecal bacteria Escherichia coli was found in 32 products. It indicates poor conditions of hygiene during production. Salmonella were not found in any of the cheese samples.

“Some of the producers apparently have shortcomings in terms of hygiene,” said first author Ms Schoder. “Furthermore, when making online purchases, I recommend consumers to check if a product is adequately packaged and cooled when it arrives.”

The shipping period of the online products was between one and five days.

“Cheese must be cooled,” Ms Schoder stressed. But this was not the case with 61.5 per cent of the raw milk products purchased.

“If raw milk cheese is not cooled, bacteria will grow more quickly. A longer transport journey and improper packaging increase the risk for consumers.”

Only 19 cheeses fulfilled the EU labelling requirements (Directive 2000/13/EC and Regulation 853/2004). Of the cheeses purchased, 37 were not labelled as “raw milk cheese” and 43 labels had no “use by date”. Information on storage requirements was missing in more than half of the cheeses.


A labelling mess and a technology fix, turkey edition

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

I have this weird affliction (among many): The more I read about a food involved in an outbreak, the more I crave it.

mr-bean-turkey(6)Mad cow disease, I want beef

Salmonella in eggs; I want an omelette

WHO cancer report? Had a steak the next day, and gave the kid a salami sandwich for lunch.

Salmonella in peanut butter? Won’t go there, never liked peanut butter.

The point is that crises or occasions are opportunities to get compelling food safety information into the public discourse.

Unfortunately, most of it sucks.

The U.S. glutton-fest known as Thanksgiving, which kicks off the six-week shopping orgy until Christmas, has appeared on calendars again.

As you do.

And simultaneously, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has finally approved genetically engineered salmon that has been in the works for over a decade (or two, I can’t keep track).

This has sparked a call for labels on all things genetically modified (I prefer engineered, all food is genetically modified).

FDA says, there’s no legal requirement for companies to label foods as genetically modified.

turkey.headAs you do.

Because FDA’s job is to regulate based on safety, not on consumer whims.

If retailers and consumer groups want to make a fuss, go ahead.

But your arguments suck.

I’ve always been a fan of full disclosure whether it’s labeling, point-of-sale info, a web url, provide full information on how food is produced.

Most people don’t care, but some do, and they can make a lot of noise.

When we sold genetically-engineered and conventional sweet corn and potatoes at a local market in Ontario (that’s in Canada) back in 2000, people preferred the GE stuff – because it required no pesticides.

The more info the better – for those who care.

With turkeys, consumers are, according to NPR , inundated with labels: natural, fresh, no hormones, young, premium and so on.

Fresh has nothing to do with the time between slaughter and sale. Instead, it means that the turkey has not been cooled to below 26 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, it was never frozen.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not define young for turkeys, but it requires that turkeys that lived more than a year be labeled as yearling or mature.

USDA says natural means no artificial ingredients have been added to the turkey meat, and the meat is only minimally processed.

Free-Range are raised in the standard, crowded houses but have access to the outdoors.

Premium means nothing.

No Hormones Added means nothing: By USDA law, turkeys (and other poultry) are not allowed to be given growth hormones.

And so it goes.

A possible fix is using smart phones and QR codes, so those who care can find out everything – and I mean everything, including if the seed was derived from radiation mutagenesis, a primal form of genetic engineering – if they want.

Meanwhile, we have enough food safety idiots practicing the things that actually make people sick.

During a cooking segment on the Today show this month, Matt Lauer handled an uncooked turkey, wiped his hands with a towel, then grabbed a piece of the cooked turkey that was sitting nearby and gobbled it down.

The tweets said, “Enjoy Salmonella for the next 24 hours, idiot,” and “We were screaming at the television set. Did you not hear us?” Lauer apologetically explained all of this on the next day’s show.

Other holiday tips:

Do not wash turkey.

Do not place a whole turkey over your head.

Do not pass babies with leaky diapers around the table.

In 2005, one American recalled how, when dessert arrived, the family started passing around the newborn baby. As recounted on the Internet site,, “Apparently, the baby had a pretty full diaper, and it was kinda leaking. He was passed to my uncle, and then passed to someone else. What my uncle didn’t notice was that a little something rubbed off of the baby as he was passed. He looks down on his tie and sees what he believes is some pumpkin pie filling, so he scrapes it off, and takes a bite. He spent the rest of the night in the back yard throwing up.”

We’ll be having turkey and duck with friends on the weekend. It’ll be safe.

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