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.

The Band last played 39 years ago: Salmonella found in raw milk sold at NY farm

A Tompkins County farm was ordered to stop selling raw milk after a sample tested positive for salmonella last week, according to New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A Ball.

Officials say the “unpasteurized” raw milk from Jerry Dell Farm on Fall Creek Road in Freeville agreed to stop selling raw milk in light of the results.

The contamination was found during a test on Nov. 18. Sampling is performed every three months, according to the state.

And for no particular reason, today in 1976, The Band made their final performance, “The Last Waltz”, at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Not bad for a bunch of kids from around my hometown in southern Ontario, and an amazing drummer and vocalist from Arkansas.

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.



Taylor Farms produce mixture fingered in Costco chicken salad/E. coli O157 outbreak

A retailer or food service operator is only as good as the ingredients they use. Even with the best internal food safety programs, a good food safety culture includes supplier standards and verifications. Audits and inspections are never enough.

According to the Associated Press, Costco believes that contamination of their rotisserie chicken salad is linked to produce.costco.chicken.salad_.nov_.15

Costco officials say testing has pointed toward a vegetable mix from a California food wholesaler as the source of E. coli in the company’s chicken salad that has been linked to an outbreak that has sickened 19 people in seven states.

Craig Wilson, Costco vice president of food safety and quality assurance, said Wednesday he was told by the Food and Drug Administration that the strain of E. coli seems to be connected to an onion and celery mix.

Wilson says the company uses one supplier for those vegetables in the chicken salad sold in all its U.S. stores.

He says one additional test is needed to confirm that the vegetables carried the same E. coli strain connected with the outbreak.

Wilson identified the supplier as Taylor Farms in Salinas, California.

The great Canadian cheese heist

My favorite Breaking Bad episode centers around a train heist. Spoiler alert: Walt, Jesse and company acquire methylamine by stopping a train in the desert and replacing the crystal meth precursor with water.

The theft nets them $15 million in chemicals.

A bit more than what three Ontario (that’s in Canada) criminals got when they stole a truck containing over 30,000 lbs of cheese, according to The Star.5x5_Dead_Freight_(02)

According to police, the suspects allegedly stole a parked tractor trailer ‘loaded’ with dairy near Hwy 7 and Vaughan Valley Blvd. in Brampton around 1:40 a.m.

They then managed to make it to the area of Hwy 7 and Hwy 427 in Vaughan before crashing the truck and taking off on foot. One of the suspects was later arrested driving another car and the other two were located trying to hail a taxi.

Police followed the truck using an installed GPS system and a canine unit was brought in to track down the suspects.

Although unsure of the exact amount, “there might’ve been between 30,000 and 36,000 pounds of cheese in the truck,” said Const. Andy Pattenden. “The truck was fully-loaded.”

He also noted that police have ‘no idea’ if the thieves were specifically targeting the cheese or not.

Maybe there’s a black market for cheese in Ontario.

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.


E. albertii: Prevalence in retail raw meat in China

Escherichia albertii is a newly emerging enteric pathogen that has been associated with gastroenteritis in humans.

e.albertiiRecently, E. albertii has also been detected in healthy and sick birds, animals, chicken meat and water. In the present study, the prevalence and characteristics of the eae-positive, lactose non-fermenting E. albertii strains in retail raw meat in China were evaluated.

Thirty isolates of such strains of E. albertii were identified from 446 (6·73%) samples, including duck intestines (21·43%, 6/28), duck meat (9·52%, 2/21), chicken intestines (8·99%, 17/189), chicken meat (5·66%, 3/53), mutton meat (4·55%, 1/22) and pork meat (2·44%, 1/41). None was isolated from 92 samples of raw beef meat. Strains were identified as E. albertii by phenotypic properties, diagnostic PCR, sequence analysis of the 16S rRNA gene, and housekeeping genes. Five intimin subtypes were harboured by these strains. All strains possessed the II/III/V subtype group of the cdtB gene, with two strains carrying another copy of the I/IV subtype group. Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis showed high genetic diversity of E. albertii in raw meats.

Our findings indicate that E. albertii can contaminate various raw meats, posing a potential threat to public health.

Prevalence of eae-positive, lactose non-fermenting Escherichia albertii from retail raw meat in China

Epidemiology and Infection / Volume 144 / Issue 01 / January 2016, pp 45-52

Netherlands: Salmonella outbreak from salmon cost €1.7m

For 20 years now, smoked salmon on bagels has been my quick breakfast go-to while driving to the rink in the early morning.

rivm-cost-salmonella_largeUnfortunately, the bagels in Australia suck.

An outbreak of Salmonella Thomson due to smoked salmon cost €1.7m, according to RIVM, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment.