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.

doug.ben.family

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.

 

 

Bye-bye bites-l, hello dailybarf

The barfblog.com brain trust decided a few months ago to get rid of bites-l and centralize around barfblog.com.
American Independence Day seems apt, so welcome to dailybarf-O-Brother-Where-Art-Thoul.

Although it probably won’t be daily; the brain trust will figure it out as it goes.

Any immediate stuff will be on barfblog.com, twitter and facebook. When there’s enough stuff, a dailybarf will be distributed, along with additional items that were not blogged – dailybarf is like the daily digest with bonus tracks.

For those of you who signed-on-or-off for bites-l in the past month, sorry, you’ll probably have to do it again.

To sign up, go to barfblog.com and enter your e-mail in the receive newsletter box visible after scrolling down on the right side.

To unsubscribe, click the button at the bottom of dailybarf.

o.brother.hitchhike

Smartest contribution to barfblog today; cooks know crap

Change is afoot.

Over the next couple of weeks, the bites-l listserv will be changed to something else. We haven’t had the resources to archive all the stories, so we hamburger.thermometerneeded to come up with something different.

barfblog.com will continue with musings from me, Chapman, Hubbell and various food safety friends.

Probably not as often.

bites-l will be converted to a new daily listserv – the dailybarf — with new formatting.

If you want your food safety news fast and furious, subscribe to barfblog.com, facebook, twitter, whatever.

If you want the daily summary of all barfblog.com posts, plus all the food safety stories we didn’t have time to blog about but are still of interest, subscribe to dailybarf.

Some may want both.

You don’t have to do anything, this is just an advisory of things about to happen; I’m not sure when, and am interested to see the outcome.

But I am encouraged by the increased dialogue on barfblog.com, which will amy.thermometerbecome the hub of all our food safety and child rearing activities.

From today:

At culinary school, we were taught to gauge the doneness of beef by touching it. As a food safety consultant, I believe you are foolish if you don’t use a thermometer.”