‘Barf-proof yourself like a food-safety ace’

Amy says she’s going to get me a hat that says, Ace.

Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News writes:

article-barf-1024He rarely eats in restaurants. When he dines at friends’ homes, he’s been known to peek into his hosts’ fridge and cupboards. “It’s an annoying habit,” he tells the Daily News.

Meet Doug Powell (right, exactly as shown, in 2005, dissenters to the left please) a former professor of food safety and publisher of barfblog.com, which is all about food-safety issues. There are plenty of them. Last year there were 626 food recalls in the U.S. and Canada. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that food-borne pathogens sicken 48 million Americans — that’s one in six — hospitalize 128,000 and kill 3,000. Powell, who was raised in Canada, lived in the U.S. and now resides in Brisbane, Australia, has been there. He wrote about that in barfblog.  “More recalls are due to better detection and awareness,” he says. “The food is as dangerous as it’s always been, not more so.”

Between posting about recalls and E. coli outbreaks in the U.S. and beyond, Powell, 53, set the Daily News straight about everyday food-safety questions.

Now it’s okay to eat pork that’s rosy pink, right?

Nope. “Research has shown that color is a lousy indicator of whether meat is safe to eat,” says Powell. Same goes for requesting your chops or steaks “well done,” which is vague enough to put you in hurl’s way. “When I go to a restaurant and they ask me how I want my steak, I say, ‘140 degrees.’” He also carries a tip-sensitive digital thermometer in his backpack. He swears by one from Comark that’s around $16.

Raw sprouts are good for you, yes?

dp-chest-protectorMaybe not. “I never eat them,” says Powell. And that includes ones he could grow at home. Warm and humid conditions ideal for growing sprouts are an Eden for growing bacteria, like Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli. In the past 20 years they’ve been connected to at least 30 outbreaks of foodborne illness (bring on your best shots, left, I got some new goalie equipment, 11 years later).

You should have two cutting boards in the kitchen — one for meat, the other for vegetables?

Powell uses one and “usually I use dish soap” to clean it. To sanitize, he uses a 10-to-one ratio of bleach to water.

(Nosestretcher alert: I already sent in the correction, which is somewhere between 250-400 parts water to I part bleach, or a tablespoon bleach per gallon of water.)

Is organically raised food safer than if it’s conventionally produced?

Nope. “Organic is a production standard and has nothing to do with microbial food safety,” says Powell. “Large or small, conventional or organic, safety is a function of individual farmers. They either know about microbial food safety risks and take steps to reduce or manage that risk, or they don’t.” Along the same line, “local” does not automatically mean safe, he adds.

Super-fresh sushi won’t make you sick will it?

“Raw fish houses an amazing microbiology profile that can make you sick,” he says. “It’s just not a good idea to eat it.”

Chapman says whenever someone calls him Ace, he responds with Ace of Spades, in a bad imitation of Lemmy’s voice.

Barfblog daily is down

Blogging used to be glamorous, sorta like airplane travel before 9/11.

Sorta before you knew that Bob Ross’ afro wasn’t all-natural, how things were normal until Harrison Ford started wearing an earring, sorta before you knew that people who run ice hockey in Australia are just as self-centered as the Canadians (they mainly are Canadians).

There’s a lot of behind the scenes stuff, and the pay sucks. Chapman is off in Japan (right, not exactly as shown) and barfblog daily ain’t working. For the 4,000 subscribers, we’re trying to fix things.

With over 70,000 direct subscribers to barfblog.com in over 70 countries, you’re getting the news, just a bit fractured at the moment.

And since so many of you comment on my music choices, I’m sending this out to my favorite and under-appreciated hockey coach, bus driver Chris. Gotta have soul.

Meet barfblog’s French correspondent

Had the pleasure of finally meeting Albert Amgar, mirobiologist and frequent French correspondent for barfblog.com.

albertWe had lunch, hung out in his family’s apartment, toured old Paris and found out there really are other people in the world who have to have a couple of hours on the internet just to talk about food safety stuff.

Amy said the similarities were somewhat overwhelming.

I thought it was great.

Albert said France was terrible at public disclosure.



My worlds have come together: The Click Trap: Internet porn addiction and the on-line community

I can’t speak for Chapman or Casey, but for me, my professional career has reached a new plateau, a zenith.

click.trap.internet.porn.jun.16click.trap.internet.porn.jun.16Our research on blogs and new media has been cited in a Masters thesis from London’s  Royal College of Art entitled: The Click Trap: Internet porn addiction and the on-line community.

Online resources, such as blogs and sites such as Twitter and Facebook, have been shown to be useful research assets in several academic works. That’s us, Douglas A. Powell, Casey J. Jacob and Benjamin J. Chapman, ‘Using Blogs And New Media In Academic Practice: Potential Roles In Research, Teaching, Learning, And Extension’, Innov High Educ, 37 (2011), 271-282, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10755-011-9207-7.

The author also searched barfblog.com, so Amy was sure it was for the quote, about how the adult porn industry is more safety conscious than the food industry.

restaurant.inspection.la.porn.mar.13Or food porn.

But no, just boring academic stuff.

My parents are proud.

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.”