Powell: I have a bad case of nostalgia

Today, I am 53-years-old, been married to Amy for nine years, and it’s my mom’s birthday.

dp.lab.apr.2005That’s a lot for one day.

I’ve been looking back, only with an eye to going forward (that’s the lab in Guelph, about early 2005, right; I’ve since been told it was summer 2001; first lesson of professoring — surround yourself with good people).

Three years ago, about this time, I submitted a proposal to my employer, Kansas State University, to take a 20 per cent cut in pay, develop a MOOC in food safety risk analysis (and three other courses), and continue with research and outreach.

I also wrote that “I have promoted K-State and collaborations throughout many countries, particularly New Zealand, Australia, Canada, France, UK, Egypt and Afghanistan. Regarding the latter, I have provided several food safety training sessions for the U.S. military for troops being deployed to that region. Through the bites-l listserv, barfblog.com and media coverage, I have attracted significant attention to the food safety activities at Kansas State University.”

The bosses at Kansas State University determined I had to be on campus, so I was dumped.

Full professors can get dumped for bad attendance.

Like a breakup with someone you really loved, it was messy and takes time, about three years.

But I’m over it.

Irony being ironic, or karma being karma-like, the Manhattan (Kansas) paper re-ran a story today, my birthday and anniversary and my mom’s birthday, from the Topeka paper about my global activities, billing me as a former and retired K-State prof.

I’m not dead yet.

It’s a wonder of the electronic world that journalists from anywhere can find me, but a university that aspires to – something – can’t.

barfblog.com now consists of about 11,580 posts and 60,100 subscribers in over 70 countries. Chapman refers to barfblog.com as a repository of food safety stories.

I like that.

barfblog daily has 4,855 subscribers in over 70 countries.

The barfblog twitter feed has 3,601 subscribers, and Chapman has a bunch more.

doug.amy.coffs.oct.15In October, website analytics showed that barfblog.com was visited 573,000 so far in 2015, by 413,000 unique users resulting in over 813,000 page views. This represents a 6% increase in visits, 4% increase in visitors and 6% increase in page views over last year.

Chapman also produced and posted 14 Food Safety Talk (www.foodsafetytalk.com) Podcasts during this past year

Food Safety Talk podcasts have been downloaded over 4300 times in the past year (with an average download rate of 340 per episode).

I love what I do, and I love that Amy kicked me out of complacency – nothing would have been easier than to stay at K-State.

And she’s got me playing hockey again, just like she said she would in our self-written wedding vows at City Hall.

In Manhattan (Kansas).


Former Kansas State professor (me) uses blog to track stories of foodborne illness

For former Kansas State University professor of food safety Doug Powell, E. coli isn’t an illness that only appears on his radar during an outbreak like the one traced to Chipotle this fall by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

dp.sweet.potato:feb.14Powell, who in 2013 moved with his wife to Brisbane, Australia (actually it was 2011; it was 2013 when Kansas State decided to dump me for bad attendance), compiles stories of foodborne illness daily on his blog, barfblog.com. Writing about it is his life’s career, he said by phone Friday, from Brisbane, to Samantha Foster of the Topeka Capital-Journal (that’s in Kansas, irony can be pretty ironic sometimes).

“Forty-eight million people get sick from the food and water they consume in the U.S. every year,” Powell said. “If we can make a little bit of a dent in that, then that’s a good reason to get out of bed in the morning.

When Powell started the blog — before Google and other developments made such information more readily available, he said — its purpose was to provide information so people could make informed choices. He said he doesn’t try to preach what to do or not do.

“When I started this 20 years ago, it was largely about parents saying, ‘We never knew,’ ” he said. “I wanted to make sure there was never a case where they said that.”

In a blog post Friday, Powell wrote about a Jefferson County family whose child became infected with a Shiga toxin-producing E. coli — the most virulent type of E. coli. The 8-year-old Meriden boy’s symptoms progressed from severe diarrhea to a point at which his kidneys began to shut down, Powell wrote.

doug.amy.wooli.oct.14According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, 106 cases of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli had been reported across the state this year as of Tuesday. Of those, 11 were reported in Shawnee County. Compared with 2014’s statistics, this year’s are slightly higher, with 90 cases reported statewide, four of which occurred in Shawnee County.

“We don’t know definitively why there are more reported cases this year compared to most previous years,” said KDHE spokeswoman Cassie Sparks. “It could be the actual incidence is slightly higher. It could also be with the increased attention in the news lately, that physicians are testing more frequently, so more cases that are occurring are being identified.

“Infectious diseases also tend to cycle. In 2011, we had 108 cases reported for the year, so that was a little higher than usual as well.”

Powell said some research has shown physicians are more likely to check for a specific disease if it has been in the news. If they were to check for everything, that would be expensive and time-consuming, he said.

“When there’s something in the news, it triggers doctors to look harder for it,” he said.

Though Powell said the source of the Meriden boy’s E. coli isn’t clear and doesn’t seem to be part of an outbreak, isolated incidents are frequent and often tragic, sometimes causing lasting problems, he said.

KDHE’s annual reports, available online, state that E. coli occurs when susceptible individuals ingest food or liquids contaminated with human or animal feces. Outbreaks have been linked to eating undercooked ground beef, consuming contaminated produce and drinking contaminated water or unpasteurized juice. Person-to-person contact, especially within daycares or nursing homes, also can spread the disease, according to the reports.

powell.coffsPowell said he personally won’t eat many raw foods, including sprouts, oysters and unpasteurized milk. Produce, however, is problematic. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy diet, he said, though at the same time, they are the leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S.

Farm food safety programs are critical to keeping the poop out of the produce, Powell said.

“That entails paying attention to what you’re adding to your soil, whether it’s raw manure or other things,” he said. “It means knowing your source of irrigation water, because often … there’s been a flood situation and it’s coming from a cattle farm loaded with E. coli, and that becomes the water for the produce.”

Good hand-washing also is critical for farm employees, Powell said, because once produce is contaminated, soap and water do little to stop the bacteria.

“It has to be prevented on the farm, as much as possible,” Powell said.

Happy holidays from barfblog.com

We didn’t write a letter last year, because it wasn’t a good year: I got fired as a full professor for bad attendance (it’s a long commute from Brisbane) but did get my U.S. citizenship.

sorenne goannas.3This year was better.

I’m writing lots at barfblog.com and Amy is doing the professoring thing.

Sorenne turned six, and continues to amaze.

Ben is hitting his stride as a professoring thing, and we continue to collaborate and occasionally write something of interest.

sorenne.goannas.2.dec.14I’m coaching hockey and skating, and volunteering as the food safety specialist at Sorenne’s school, as well as at swimming (I don’t get in the pool, my role is to get the boys dressed on time, and make sure kids don’t do dumb things in the pool).

It’s a different lifestyle but one I am finally growing used to.



Coachella Calif., home of all things groovy and where 8% of food businesses fail inspection

While the vast majority of Coachella Valley food establishments received “A” grades, about 8 percent failed unannounced health inspections in the past two years, according to a Desert Sun analysis of data from the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health.

imagesOut of the valley’s 1,865 such businesses — ranging from restaurants and ice cream trucks to hot dog stands and grocery stores — 151 were downgraded from an “A” rating when inspected from July 2012 to June 2014.

Of those failed inspections, 17 led to closures.

Six businesses failed three or more inspections.

Toni Romero, owner of the catering service Sacher Enterprises, said she supports the stringent grading system because it adds transparency and accountability.

“We could be wrong from anything – from the refrigerator not working, from your temperatures not being at the right temperature. It could be a variety of things, not necessarily that it’s a bad place,” said Romero, who operates her catering service in a commercial kitchen.

“You have to remember that they’re (health inspectors) looking out for the public,” she added. “That’s what their job is. They’re not going to go in and give you problems just because. They go by the guidelines.”

Riverside County has used a color-coded grading system since 1963 for public awareness.

The blue “A” signifies a restaurant is up to par with county health guidelines. A green “B” or red “C” indicates trouble.

The argument can be made that unannounced health inspections – which vary in frequency for each establishment though occur at least once per year – are not representative of a restaurant’s overall compliance with health and sanitation standards.

“It’s not necessarily accurate, but it’s better than nothing,” said Doug Powell, a former public health professor and publisher of Barfblog.com, a website that aggregates food safety news coverage.

Powell likened the inspections to “snapshots in time,” but said that enforcing compliance through public notices like letter grades is a form of “shame and blame (that) is probably the most effective because no one really wants to be embarrassed.”

The letters usually are plastered near the front entrance. Inspection reports are available at restaurantgrading.rivcoeh.org, which is updated daily. Restaurants and other food businesses also are required to show their latest report if a customer asks to see it.

An “A” is the only passing grade in the system, which scores inspections from 0-100, with 90 being the cutoff point for a pass.

The points are deducted in increments of one, two and four points per violation, depending on the severity.

They add up.

“Traditionally, you’ll see minor violation after minor violation, and the next thing you know, they don’t have enough consistent points to stay in that 90 percentile,” said Howard Cannon of Restaurant Expert Witness, an Atlanta-based consultancy that provides testimony, opinions and reports for plaintiffs and defendants in court cases.

“If you prepare your restaurant every day with the idea of safety, security, cleanliness, operational execution, the reality is that the health department score will be a cakewalk,” he said.

“It’s the ones that are waiting to only impress the health department, those are the ones that struggle.”

Cannon said most of the restaurateurs he consults with are “scared to death of the health department.”

“In reality, the health department is there to help. So even though it’s a scoring process, they’re providing corrective feedback. The reality is that they don’t want you to do poorly.”

barfblog.com: we’re here for safe food and food safety types

For a poorly-funded, ragtag global existence that seems to appeal to food safety nerds, barfblog.com is doing alright (but we’re not so good at video).

bob.doug.mckenzie.strange.brew.1980I was reminded of this by Ron Doering, the first president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (and we often disagreed, but could still have a beer afterwards), who told me today he was reminded again how much barfblog.com gets around after one of his columns appeared last month, and again today, based on the comments he received (whether anyone likes the name or not, we do; and can back it up with peer-reviewed research).

Sure, many of the new subscribers are spam, but we’ve gone from about 3,000 subscribers a year ago, to 21,000 today.

That’s a lot of food safety nerds.

And coincides with me getting dumped by Kansas State University.

Chomsky’s theory of self-censorship is alive and well.

I’m working on a variety of additional projects and while the pay isn’t great, and no benefits and retirement, I’m having a lot more fun.

And I’m with my family.

Here’s hoping you are too.


Texas A & M Center for Food Safety announces new monthly column by Doug Powell of barfblog.com

The Texas A&M Center for Food Safety is proud to announce a new monthly column by Doug Powell of barfblog.com, starting March 19. This new feature will be available on the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety’s website, CFS.TAMU.EDU, along with other original content currently in production.

“Dr. Powell offers a unique and sometimes irreverent view of food safety issues – he always ‘hits the nail on the head’ and will challenge your comfort zone,” said Texas A&M doug.goalie.feb.14Center for Food Safety director, Gary Acuff. “I am thrilled that we convinced him to write a monthly column for us and I know he will be a favorite feature on our website.”

This column kicks off a new initiative of original content designed for academics, industry members and consumers. Look for videos, infographics and additional columns coming very soon.

Join us Wednesday, March 19th as we launch the first piece in our special feature series and keep checking back for more fresh new content from the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety.

We like the social media stuff: barfblog is now active on Facebook

Someone asked me about the history of barfblog this week – stuff like how it started and where the name came from.

Here’s how I remember it: Doug had been editing a bunch of daily listservs (FSNet, Agnet, Animalnet and FFnet) in some form since 1993. These were a big source of food safety-related news for risk managers (folks in industry, academia and the regulatory agencies) Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 1.28.41 PM before Google Alerts, RSS feeds and Twitter existed. Beyond sharing what was going on in the food safety world, Doug encouraged the students and staff who worked for him to write evidence-based commentary and submit op-eds and letters to the major publications (back when there were actual newspapers).

I came along in 2000 and became a news junkie and jumped into the whole share-your-thoughts-in-an-interesting-way thing. Even with my grammar, spelling and general logic challenges. In 2005, when self-publishing was all the rage, we decided to start a forum to post stories about food safety experiences, the stuff that others didn’t publish or didn’t fit the format of the traditional newspapers.

And we started a blog. It wasn’t really a blog at the start, but a forum. And it got bombarded by porn spam. So we left it for a while and relaunched the whole thing in 2007.

But it needed a name.

Christian, a particularly creative undergraduate, came up with the name – barfblog (all in lowercase as Dave Stanley always told Doug uppercase was a waste in e-mail, and he agrees) – and then created a video of him guzzling vermouth and actually barfing.

The idea was (and still is) to write stories about what makes people barf and take current news items and highlight what we thought was important – based on the literature and our experiences.

Doug’s more concise description is this:

Every time I talk to someone on a plane, train or automobile, they find out what I do, and then proceed to tell me their worst barf story. barfblog.com was created to capture those stories, except most people don’t want to be bothered writing, so we did it for them.

Since 2007 we’ve embraced social media as a channel to carry out that dialogue and increase discussion. But we’ve really sucked at Facebook. Until now. We’ve got a somewhat new, but now active space where we’ll be posting our, uh, blog posts as well as pictures and links. And we’re looking for folks to jump in on the discussions.
Check out barfblog on Facebook at Facebook.com/safefoodblog

consumerfoodsafety.org: people can make a difference

Some companies really are better. Yet as consumers, parents, shoppers, we don’t get to make that food safety decision at retail.

Still, everyone votes at checkout.

consumerfoodsafety.org is here to empower individuals so they can FoodFightAnimalHouse-185x141demand and choose microbiologically safe food.

barfblog.com will still be the place where I send food shout-outs to my daughters, where me and Chapman and Hubbell will post stuff, but to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, it’s about multiple messages and multiple media.

We’re still working out some bugs with the new blog site, the new daily listserv, but getting there. This will be the last dailybarf-l.

Sign up for the individual blog posting, or the daily mailer at consumerfoodsafety.org. And twitter at consumesafefood, and facebook.

Straight, no chaser; because some food companies are better

Amy says she’s my filter, and I say dumb things when she’s not around (IAFP?).

But that’s not quite true: I say dumb things whether she’s around or not.

It must have been March when I got interviewed for the Meatingplace magazine bit that appeared today.

powell.meatingplace.aug.13Apparently I give bracing interview.

I was in Kansas, miserable because I was once again away from my family for U.S. citizenship requirements, and had found out I was going to be fired from my professoring job for bad attendance (ironic, since I spent about four of the first five months of 2013 in the U.S.

I’ve got this fog of academia slowly clearing from my brain – not as fast as a San Diego or Brisbane morning, but getting there – and again reinventing.

But, for a journey through the past, have a giggle.

A friend said I looked like a cross between Harrison Ford and Guy Fieri; far too complimentary.

No one could accuse Douglas Powell of pulling his punches. This is the guy, after all, who named his popular online food safety journal, barfblog. In a bracing conversation with Meatingplace, Powell, a professor of microbiology, food safety consultant and an “OK goaltender in pickup hockey,” discussed consumers’ concerns in meat processors’ language.

Meatingplace: Your research encompasses food safety throughout the supply chain. Where do you think the weakest links are in the meat supply chain?

Powell: The meat supply chain has done a fabulous job over the last 10 years at improving itself. That being said, when little kids get sick, it’s devastating, and when you get outbreaks of E. coli … [meat companies amy.the.look.2007have] got to step up. I think the industry has been really innovative in some [ways]. Companies like Cargill started using video surveillance for animal welfare … [a]nd pretty soon they started doing it for food safety.

Meatingplace: Where would you personally, as a microbiologist in this area, like to see more effort made by the meat industry?

Powell: What I’d like to see is for the best companies to be able to go public and brag about it. You and I both know that there are a lot of companies out there that are really good at this stuff. I want them to brag about it at retail because as a parent of five daughters, I want to buy their product. If you’re going to invest in food safety, you should get rewarded for it.

The rest of the interview is available at meatingplace.com.