Mind, society, and behavior: Can banking inform food safety?

According to the World Bank, every policy relies on explicit or implicit assumptions about how people make choices. Those assumptions typically rest on an idealized model of how people think, rather than an understanding of how everyday thinking actually works.

o.brother.dumbThis year’s World Development Report argues that a more realistic account of decision-making and behavior will make development policy more effective.

 The Report emphasizes what it calls ‘the three marks of everyday thinking.’ In everyday thinking, people use intuition much more than careful analysis. They employ concepts and tools that prior experience in their cultural world has made familiar. And social emotions and social norms motivate much of what they do. These insights together explain the extraordinary persistence of some social practices, and rapid change in others.

The report shows that small changes in context have large effects on behavior. As a result, discovering which interventions are most effective, and with which contexts and populations, inherently requires an experimental approach. Rigor is needed for testing the processes for delivering interventions, not just the products that are delivered.

Full report available at: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/20597

250 paratroopers stricken with food poisoning in Israel

Some 250 members of the IDF Paratroopers 202nd Battalion came down with food poisoning after eating Friday night dinner at their base this past weekend.

paratroppersThe soldiers are currently stationed on the Golan Heights, where they are taking part in a battalion-wide exercise that began last Monday and which might have to be suspended due to the soldiers’ health.

Some of the soldiers told Channel 2’s news site that on Friday they had arrived at Pilon Camp in northern Israel, where they were to spend the weekend. The soldiers said they were served a dinner of sautéed chicken, and some noticed that the chicken smelled bad.

Meats are impounded as Maine chefs play with high-risk processes

Food porn: Portland’s restaurants are on the cutting edge of the culinary renaissance in Maine, where locally sourced ingredients and inventive dishes are prized by award-winning chefs and consumers.

celebrity.chefs_-300x225But efforts by health inspectors to bring local restaurants into compliance with federal regulations and reduce the risks of a potentially dangerous foodborne illness outbreak is splashing cold water on the sizzling creativity of many area chefs – at least temporarily.

In recent months, hundreds of pounds of meat have been embargoed by health officials and are waiting in cold storage until restaurants can prove the food is safe. Several restaurants have been ordered to stop vacuum-sealing their meats, cooking sous vide dishes and offering some types of house-cured meats until they develop special hazard plans and in some cases get formal variances from the Maine Food Code.

“These are high-risk processes,” said Michael Russell, who oversees Portland’s restaurant inspection program. “In Portland, we noticed a growth in specialized processing two years ago and a significant increase in the number of establishments using these practices within the past year.”

The city’s crackdown has caught many restaurants off-guard, and there is no clear process for getting plans and variances from the state food code.

“It’s been an open secret that all of the best restaurants in Portland have been using techniques that are not approved by the FDA without variance and (special) plans,” said Brendan Murray, the head chef at Duckfat. “There is a huge amount of talent and dedication to serving the best food in the city. The level is rising rapidly and that’s a good thing.”

But do chefs know food safety?

Restaurants are required to develop special plans – called Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points plans – for nearly 20 advanced food preparations, including vacuum-sealing, also known as reduced oxygen packaging, of raw and cooked meats on site, according to documents from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Nine of those preparations, including pickling, curing meats and growing bean sprouts on site, also require a formal variation from the food code.

At the same time, efforts to increase the frequency and quality of Portland’s restaurant inspection program have led to cleaner, safer kitchens and more knowledgeable kitchen staffs, according to city officials and restaurant owners.

Since 2012, when the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram published a series of investigative reports about the city’s troubled restaurant inspection program, Portland has more than doubled the size of its inspection staff, visited restaurants more frequently and posted inspection reports online.

The paper revealed that many restaurants hadn’t been inspected for years and that, when the city hired its first health inspector in 2011, 19 out of the first 23 restaurants inspected failed – a failure rate of 82.6 percent. Since then, the failure rate has steadily improved. It was 45.5 percent in 2012 (40 out of 88 restaurants), 10.5 percent in 2013 (33 of 314) and just 6.4 percent in 2014 (31 of 482).

Restaurant owners and city officials say that’s happened because everyone is becoming more familiar with the standards.

Fish edition: Gratuitous food porn shot of the day

Our friend is spending her weekends doing a business degree, and her hubby took the girls after hockey, so Amy and I got to relive the many reasons we initially got together 10 years ago and cooked dinner for our friends.

Sorenne ate the trout (she thought it was salmon because of the color, I didn’t argue) and her friend devoured the barramundi. Temperature-verified 145F.


‘It’s a macho thing’ Inspecting the inspectors in Ohio

Friend of the barfblog, Pete Snyder, president of Snyder HACCP, a food safety consulting firm near St. Paul, Minn., told WCPO Cincinnati, “The food code is supposed to be uniform everywhere, but it’s only as uniform as the local inspector.”

pete.snyderDifferences in the restaurant population accounts for much of the variation between jurisdictions, but Snyder said some departments are just more aggressive than others.

“There’s always been in the 30 years I’ve been teaching this macho thing. They rate themselves based on how many deficiencies they find.”

When the city of Sharonville shut down its health department at the end of 2014, food inspection scores dramatically improved at Currie’s Indian restaurant on Lebanon Road.

Hamilton County’s Public Health Department, which took over restaurant inspections for Sharonville this year, cited three violations in a Feb. 12 visit to Curries and no violations on Feb. 24. That’s a far cry from the 24 violations cited by Sharonville inspectors Nov. 19. Or the 23 violations that followed in two December visits.

Sharonville inspectors “didn’t like anything,” said Hiral Agrawal, owner of the buffet-style restaurant that has operated in Sharonville Plaza for four years. “They were trying to give me a hard time.”

Sharonville Mayor Kevin Hardman said he wasn’t familiar with Curries’ enforcement history, but he doesn’t recall any complaints about the city’s food inspectors being too aggressive.

Hardman said the dismantling of the city’s health department was “largely a budgetary move” that city council approved Dec. 16. But the performance of the food safety program is one of the factors that made it hard to gain support for the idea.

A WCPO analysis of inspection records from five local health departments shows Agrawal’s account may not be an isolated incident. Inspection results can vary widely by department.

City of Cincinnati inspectors, for example, wrote an average of 1,355 violations in 2014, three times more than those in Warren County. Clermont County inspectors averaged 8.2 violations for every facility they inspected, more than double Warren County’s rate.

This year’s Dirty Dining database has 37,432 violations observed by 42 inspectors at 5,852 food establishments. That’s up from last year’s total of 32,474 violations at 5,579 locations. In 2013, we tracked 33,334 violations at 5,022 facilities.

54 sickened: German eggs linked to UK Salmonella outbreak

A Salmonella outbreak at Kirkby take-away Woks Cooking has been linked to German eggs and poor hygiene.

salmonella.eggsHealth bosses have completed their final investigations into the fast food outlet which was shut down by Knowsley council last July but opened again in August and is now under new management.

The report by Public Health England (PHE) confirms food safety experts have found signs that the salmonella illnesses at Woks Cooking, as well as a series of other cases across Europe, were linked to eggs from a German supplier.

Dr Alex Stewart, from PHE’s Cheshire and Merseyside centre, said: “There is now evidence to indicate that a series of cases in Europe caused by the same strains of Salmonella were associated with consumption of eggs from a single source. The eggs from this supplier also reached distributors and food outlets in England and there is evidence to support the hypothesis that this was the same source of infection for Woks Cooking.

“Nevertheless, good practice in any food outlet accounts for the possibility of contaminated food sources; in this outbreak it is clear that poor hygiene practices with cross-contamination were the ultimate cause of the outbreak.”

It had previously been thought 25 people were struck by the salmonella in Kirkby last July but food safety experts have now confirmed 54 cases were identified which were linked to Woks Cooking, which is on Richard Hesketh Drive in Westvale.

Of these, 33 cases were microbiologically confirmed Salmonella Enteritidis PT14b and 21 were classified as probable cases.

There were nine people hospitalised during the outbreak.

A spokeswoman for PHE said they were unable to name the company which supplied the eggs from but confirmed it was German.

Can norovirus get into plants? Apparently, yes

Human norovirus (NoV) is the leading cause of foodborne disease in the United States, and epidemiological studies have shown that fresh produce is one of the major vehicles for the transmission of human NoV. However, the mechanisms of norovirus contamination and persistence in fresh produce are poorly understood.

sorenne.strawberry.13The objective of this study is to determine whether human NoV surrogates, murine norovirus (MNV-1) and Tulane virus (TV), can attach and become internalized and disseminated in strawberries grown in soil.

The soil of growing strawberry plants was inoculated with MNV-1 and TV at a level of 108 PFU/plant. Leaves and berries were harvested over a 14-day period, and the viral titer was determined by plaque assay. Over the course of the study, 31.6% of the strawberries contained internalized MNV-1, with an average titer of 0.81 ± 0.33 log10 PFU/g. In comparison, 37.5% of strawberries were positive for infectious TV, with an average titer of 1.83 ± 0.22 log10 PFU/g. A higher percentage (78.7%) of strawberries were positive for TV RNA, with an average titer of 3.15 ± 0.51 log10 RNA copies/g as determined by real-time reverse transcriptase quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR).

In contrast, no or little virus internalization and dissemination were detected when TV was inoculated into bell peppers grown in soil.

strawberryCollectively, these data demonstrate (i) virally contaminated soils can lead to the internalization of virus via plant roots and subsequent dissemination to the leaf and fruit portions of growing strawberry plants and (ii) the magnitude of internalization is dependent on the type of virus and plant.

 Evidence of the Internalization of Animal Caliciviruses via the Roots of Growing Strawberry Plants and Dissemination to the Fruit

Applied and Environmental Microbiology, April 2015, Volume 81, Number 8, doi:10.1128/AEM.03867-14

DiCaprio E, Culbertson D, Li J


Eating mechanically tenderized beef could make you sick

Before you bite into your next steak, consider this unappetizing fact: It may have been punctured all over before it made its way to your plate, contaminating the inside of the meat with bacteria that can make you sick.

needle.tenderize.crAs the name suggests, mechanically tenderized beef has been put through a machine that breaks up the muscle fiber and tough connective tissue with blades or needles. This promotional video for the Jaccard Model H Commercial Meat Tenderizer shows just what that looks like (below).

About a quarter of beef sold in the U.S. has been treated this way. The restaurant industry is one of the largest purchasers of mechanically tenderized beef because the process makes cheaper cuts of beef more palatable and therefore more marketable. Moderately priced cuts – such as sirloin tip, eye of round, inside round and outside round – are more likely to have been mechanically tenderized, according to the beef industry.

After an E. coli outbreak in 2012 prompted the largest meat recall in Canada’s history, the country instituted mandatory labeling of all mechanically tenderized beef that includes safe cooking instructions. In the U.S., Costco started voluntarily labeling such cuts as “blade tenderized” after meat sold in its Canadian stores was implicated in that outbreak.

After years of pressure by consumer groups, the U.S. now is poised to require labeling of mechanically tenderized beef, too. That’s over the objections of the meat industry. But the new rules still might take years to take effect.

Rare hamburgers are (not) safe, tasty and disgusting

What once was deemed unfit for human consumption now is considered a delicacy.

rare.hamburgerLes MacPherson of The StarPhoenix says restaurants in Saskatoon (that’s in Canada) are now offering rare hamburgers as a feature entree. They can get away with this by grinding their beef on the premises, just before it is served. E. coli thus does not have time to colonize the larger surface area exposed by grinding. At these establishments, you can order and safely consume a burger scorched on the outside and raw on the inside, like a big, juicy steak.

No. This is just more food porn that ignores biology.

The effect of diet on E. coli 0157:H7 in cattle

Fifteen years old, written for me by Rena Orr while I was a prof at Guelph, and I’m still citing it.

cow.poop.spinachThe gastrointestinal tract of animals and humans is an ideal habitat for the growth of mostly harmless bacteria. Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a normal inhabitant of the human gastrointestinal tract. The 0157:H7 strain of E. coli, however, is responsible for the illness known as hamburger disease.  As few as 10 viable E. coli O157:H7 can cause infection. Victims may experience severe cramping and abdominal pain, watery or bloody diarrhea, vomiting or low-grade fever for an average of eight days. It can also cause kidney failure and death, primarily in children and immune compromised adults.

A small percentage of cattle are carriers of E. coli O157:H7. The prevalence of Shiga toxin‑producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in beef slaughter steers and heifers on P.E.I. was reported to be 4% (2000, Douglas Schurman). When meat is contaminated with cattle feces at slaughter, this strain of E. coli can enter the food chain. With the increasing use of hazard analysis and critical control point ( HACCP) plans, dietary management during the pre-slaughter period of beef production may play a role in reducing the incidence of E. coli O157:H7‑positive ruminants. Reducing the levels of E. coli O157:H7 organisms that enter slaughter plants would require two interrelated strategies: (i) reducing the number of cattle shedding E. coli O157:H7 and (ii) reducing the magnitude of shedding (CFU/gram) by those animals infected with the organism (1998, Cray Jr.).

cow.poop2Since September 1998, there has been conflicting information on the effect of diet on E. coli shedding from cattle. The conflict arises in part from the effect of diet on the ability of E. coli to develop acid resistance. The induction of acid resistance could increase the risk of human food‑borne illness. Normally, stomach acid is an effective barrier to infection by food‑borne pathogens because the organisms die in an acid environment. Acid resistant bacteria are able to survive this defence mechanism, reproduce, and produce the toxins that cause disease.

Diez‑Gonzalez et. al demonstrated that feeding a high‑grain diet to cattle results in an acidic environment in the colon. Because the animals incompletely digested the starch in grains, some starch was able to reach the colon where it fermented, producing fermentation acids. The researchers believe an acidic environment selects for or induces acid resistance among the Escherichia coli population.

On a diet of hay, there is no residual starch to be fermented in the colon. Thus, the acid level remains low and the E. coli remain acid‑sensitive. Acid‑sensitive E. coli are easily destroyed in the human stomach. Diez‑Gonzalez et al. concluded that if cattle were given hay for a brief period (five days) immediately before slaughter, the risk of food‑borne E. coli infection would be significantly reduced because the acidity in the colon is greatly reduced. “Our studies indicate that cattle could be given hay for a brief period immediately before slaughter to significantly reduce the risk of food‑borne E. coli infection.”  This finding was supported by studies on fecal shedding of E. coli 0157H7. Van Donkersgoed et al. concluded that feces and rumen content are sources of E. coli and Victor Gannon et al. showed that there were significantly fewer E. coli isolated from steers changed to an alfalfa hay diet for three weeks than for steers that stayed on silage/grain. The effect of dietary stress such as fasting has also been demonstrated to increase fecal shedding of E. coli O157:H7. The Science article received mainstream media attention, and was covered by the Associated Press and The New York Times, as well as scientific releases and reports. In the Irish Times, it was cited as the basis for concluding that because Irish cattle are fed a grass‑based diet rather than grain, Ireland has a low incidence of E. coli 0157:H7.

Hancock et al. contend that this conclusion is unsupported or contradicted by several lines of evidence. The E. coli that contaminate beef typically originate from the hide, the hooves, or the equipment used in slaughter and processing rather than directly from the colon, and likely replicate in environments unlike the colon. Therefore, the induced acid resistance of E. coli contaminating beef is likely to be unrelated to the pH of its ancestral colonic environment. The E. coli O157:H7 bacterium uses several mechanisms to survive acid environments, some of which are innate and are not influenced by environment . Although acid resistance is likely a factor in an infective dose, induced acid resistance has not been shown to be a factor in E. coli O157:H7 infectivity by experimental (dose‑inoculation) or observational (epidemiological) data . Therefore, acid resistance induced by exposure to weak acid may not influence the virulence of this pathogen.

mad.cows.mother's.milkPublished data on E. coli O157:H7 tends to contradict or does not support the effects of the dietary change proposed by Diez‑Gonzalez et al. In a recent study on three different grain diets (85% cracked corn, 15% whole cottonseed and 70% barley, or 85% barley), the fecal pH of the animals fed the corn diet was significantly lower (P < 0.05) than the fecal pH of the animals fed the cottonseed and barley and barley diets, likely resulting in a less suitable environment for E. coli O157:H7 in the hindgut of the corn fed animals (2000, Buchko et al). In the Journal of Food Protection, researchers concluded that changing from grain to a high roughage diet did not produce a change in the E. coli concentration that was large enough to deliver a drastic improvement in beef carcass hygiene. Sheep experiencing an abrupt diet change have higher concentrations and increased shedding of fecal E. coli O157:H7 for longer periods than sheep fed a consistent high‑grain diet. Another study compared the duration of shedding E. coli O157:H7 isolates by hay‑fed and grain‑fed steers experimentally inoculated with E. coli O157:H7 as well as the acid resistance of the bacteria. The hay‑fed animals shed E. coli O157:H7 longer than the grain‑fed animals, and irrespective of diet, these bacteria were equally acid resistant.

These results suggest that the proposed dietary change would actually increase contamination with E. coli O157:H7. Also, the 1,000‑fold reductions in total fecal E. coli demonstrated by Diez‑Gonzales et al. are far greater than those recorded in cattle experiencing similar ration changes. Finally, extensive surveys show that grain‑fed feedlot cattle have no higher E. coli O157:H7 infection prevalence than similarly aged dairy cattle fed forage (hay) diets. Abrupt feed change immediately before slaughter could have unexpected deleterious effects. The proposed diet change has the potential to increase the risk of bovine salmonella infections, a potential source of food poisoning. The dietary change results in sharply reduced volatile fatty acid

concentrations in the large intestine as well as changes in the bacteria, allowing for colonization of Salmonella.

Several people interviewed in the media, including U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, Dr. Gary Weber of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Dr. Robert Buchanan, a microbiologist at the Food and Drug Administration, and the authors, including Diez-Gonzalez, of a review article of recent research pointed out the need for further study to confirm that cattle feeding management practices may be manipulated to decrease the risk of foodborne illness from E. coli . Glickman said in a statement that the findings, if confirmed by additional research, “have the potential to greatly assist efforts to fight foodborne illness” and may lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture to recommend changes in the way cattle are fed. Peter Doris of the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association recommended a “cautious approach” on this issue. “Subjecting cattle to a special diet before slaughter is a problem in itself since most market‑ready cattle are sorted from pens in feedlots no more than 12 hours before they board the truck to the packing plant . Before we get to that point, we need to clarify if the research findings are valid”.



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Brody, Jane E. The New York Times: September 11, 1998.

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