CFIA plays the 99 per cent numbers game

CFIA is getting into the 99 per cent game, usually reserved for hucksters on TV.

99.9 per cent sounds good, but that’s only a 3-log reduction. For food safety purposes, log-5 (99.999 per cent) to log-7 (99.99999 per cent) reductions in dangerous pathogens are often strived for.

Last week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced that 99.8 per cent of whole cantaloupe samples tested negative for the presence of Salmonella (they didn’t test for Listeria, but should have).

cantaloupe.salmonellaPlaying the 99 per cent game is also terrible risk communication: it doesn’t matter how small the percentage of positive samples were if you were one of the 23 people that dies from Listeria in Maple Leaf cold-cuts in 2008.

Data and sampling are a necessary evil and I’m glad CFIA is making the results public. But testing is limited and fraught with caveats. It’s expensive, and industry has lots of data, so why not make it public, in the context of an overall approach to food safety for a specific food.

CFIA reports  a total of 499 whole cantaloupe samples were collected and tested for Salmonella bacteria, which can cause a serious illness with long-lasting effects. One sample was found to be unsatisfactory due to the presence of Salmonella.

A week later, CFIA said more than 99.9 per cent of leafy green vegetable samples had no detectable levels of bacterial pathogens and were safe to consume.

As part of a five-year microbiological plan that began in 2008/2009, the CFIA analyzed a total of 4,250 domestic and imported, whole and fresh-cut fresh leafy vegetable samples available in the Canadian market for Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O157:NM and generic E. coli. The fresh-cut samples were also tested for Listeria monocytogenes.

The 2009/2010 study deemed 12 samples to be “unsatisfactory” due to the presence of Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and/or high levels of generic E. coli. None of the samples were found to be positive for E. coli O157:H7 or E. coli O157:NM.

Food Safety Talk 58: Where’s my wallet?

Food Safety Talk, a bi-weekly podcast for food safety nerds, by food safety nerds. The podcast is hosted by Ben Chapman and barfblog contributor Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor at Rutgers University. Every two weeks or so, Ben and Don get together virtually and talk for about an hour.  They talk about what’s on their minds or in the news regarding food safety, and popular culture. They strive to be relevant, funny and informative — sometimes they succeed. You can download the audio recordings right from the website, or subscribe using iTunes.1396369706543

In Episode 58 the guys started the show admiring Ben’s new computer, and his House of Clay beer, before talking about Don and Victoria Backham’s treadmill desksRicky Gervais bathtub photosdressing up like a realtor, and confidence intervals.

Don and Ben then welcomed Bill Marler to the show. Bill’s notoriety started with the Jack-in-the-Box outbreak (documented in the book Poisoned). The discussion moved to the Jensen farm legal case, in particular, the criminal aspects of unknowingly shipping contaminated food and the involvement of service providers, i.e. auditors. The guys also discussed the impact on apportioning liability as a result of the recent North Carolina limiting farmers liability law. The conversation then turned to Salmonella and Foster Farm’s chicken and no one could understand why there hadn’t been a recall.

The guys then discussed Listeria and cantaloupes, including CDC’s recommendations and Don’s paper on “Modeling the growth of Listeria monocytogenes on cut cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon.”

After a short detour via the AVN Awards, Bill got the chance to explain why he generally doesn’t take on norovirus cases and the lengths he goes to before taking on a case, using the Townsend Farm Hepatitis A outbreak as an example. The conversation then turned to auditors and what the impact of the Jensen Farm litigation case might be.

After saying farewell to Bill, Don and Ben talked about podcasting, including Lex Friedman, and Libsyn’s Rob Walch.

In the after dark the guys chatted about House of CardsTrue Detective, Ben’s quirky Aussie accent, Malaysia Airlines flight 370 andLost.

Eating Dangerously: 2 Denver journalists tackle food safety

(Disclaimer, I’ve been interviewed by one of the authors several times; and I haven’t read the book – yet. And since I haven’t read it, below is a summary the authors wrote for the Denver Post.)

Jennifer Brown and Michael Booth of the Denver Post write in their new book, Eating Dangerously, that dying from a cantaloupe shouldn’t have to rank high on a person’s list of fears.

Nor should people have to worry that a spinach salad, peanut butter or cantaloupe.salmonellaeven an undercooked fast-food cheeseburger might kill them.

The depth of flaws in the food-safety system in this country struck us as we wrote about the melon outbreak tracked to a fourth-generation farm in tiny Holly in southeastern Colorado. How often would you guess federal inspectors had visited the farm prior to the outbreak? Once every few years? Once a year? Try never.

We spent the next year investigating food safety in America, and the result is “Eating Dangerously: Why the Government Can’t Keep Your Food Safe, and How You Can.” Here are 10 issues to consider as you shop and cook for your family.

1. The fox guards the henhouse, all too often: Here’s something the producers of deadly cantaloupes, killer peanut butter and lethal eggs had in common: embossed certificates from third-party auditors, paid by the producers, declaring their production first-rate.

2. If everyone is in charge, is no one in charge? It’s hard to keep track of the mishmash of agencies and responsibilities.

3. If food illness strikes, Colorado is a good place to be. The “CSI” of a food-illness investigation is fascinating, and some states, including Colorado, are fast and efficient, nailing the target within days or weeks. Still, we found that many states and the CDC are reluctant to disclose information even when they know who is at fault.

4. Punishing the perpetrators is rare: Most of the time, food producers are not criminally charged even when people die.

5. The list of foods most likely to cause an outbreak doesn’t include processed chicken nuggets or bags of potato chips. It’s the foods not so far removed from a field of dirt or a barn that are more dangerous, at audit.checklistleast in how often they cause outbreaks. Among the most notorious: sprouts, ground meats, peppers, tomatoes and oysters.

6. High-tech help for low-tech foods: Industries that have experienced the expense and heartache of a deadly national outbreak are now some of the leaders in food safety.

7. Chicken is the new ground beef: More consumer watchdogs and legal advocates are challenging why raw chicken is allowed to float in pools of juice laden with salmonella and other pathogens, long after steps were taken to crack down on E. coli in ground beef.

8. The underfunded Food Act.

9. Imported foods take up more and more space in your fridge and cabinets, and even the FDA acknowledges it can’t keep ahead of the tide.

10. Don’t waste worries on spilled GMO milk: You might fear genetically modified foods because you don’t like big corporations, or because you prefer local, smaller farms. But don’t worry about food safety — a solid, international scientific consensus declares them safe for humans. Clear labeling would help eliminate many fears.

Lawyers win: Wal-Mart files suit in Jensen cantaloupe case

There’s a food safety shell game for fresh produce involving growers, retailers and auditors.

Consumers are losing, lawyers are winning.

Tom Karst of The Packer reports that Wal-Mart Stores Inc., facing a lawsuit from the family of a man who died after eating a cantaloupe bought at one of its stores – one of 33 who died in the 2011 listeria-in-cantaloupe.salmonellacantaloupe outbreak —  is now suing the grower, distributor and the grower’s third-party auditor.

In a complaint filed in Wyoming federal court in late January, Wal-Mart asserts third-party claims against Edinburg, Texas, distributor Frontera Produce Ltd., auditors Primus Group Inc. and Bio Food Safety Inc., and Jensen Farms. Primus subcontracted Bio Food Safety to undertake the on-site audit of the cantaloupe farm, which resulted in a superior rating of 96%.

The third-party complaint is tied to a wrongful death lawsuit brought in Wyoming against Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart by Frederick Lollar, the husband of the deceased woman..

Bill Marler, Seattle food safety attorney handling about 45 of the 66 victim cases related to the listeria outbreak, said it is not unusual for a retailer to bring action against upstream suppliers, but Wal-Mart’s naming of a third-party auditor is unusual.

No jail time for Jensens in cantaloupe Listeria outbreak

A federal judge in Denver sentenced Eric and Ryan Jensen each to six months of home detention and five years probation for selling Listeria contaminated cantaloupe in 2011 that killed 33 and sickened 147 people across 28 states.

The brothers, who owned and operated Jensen Farms, Granada, Colo., pleaded guilty last year to six federal misdemeanors of introducing an adulterated food into interstate cantaloupecommerce. They could have faced up to six years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.

Coral Beach of The Packer reports the judge also ordered the Jensens each to pay restitution of $150,000 and to do 100 hours of community service, according to U.S. Attorney’s office in Denver. Ryan Jensen agreed to attend a substance abuse program and take drug tests and Eric Jensen agreed to provide a DNA sample, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The Jan. 28 ruling by Magistrate Judge Michael E. Hegarty came after the U.S. Attorney’s office and officials from the federal probation and parole office recommended probation in the case.

“These defendants were at worse negligent or reckless in their acts and omissions,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Pena wrote in a court document recommending probation.

Listeria cantaloupe farmers seek probation

Two Colorado cantaloupe farmers who pleaded guilty to charges related to a deadly listeria outbreak in 2011 are asking a federal judge for probation, saying jail time for them is excessive because justice has been served with the federal government’s imposition of new food guidelines.

Attorney William Marler, who represents 24 people who died from the outbreak, said Thursday he believes probation is adequate. He said farmers, retailers and the federal cantaloupe.salmonellagovernment learned valuable lessons and there are now new regulations in place that will reduce the likelihood of a repeat tragedy.

Attorneys for Eric and Ryan Jensen, the two brothers who owned and operated Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo., said in federal court filings on Tuesday that jail time would be excessive.

The 2011 listeria outbreak traced to tainted fruit from the Jensens’ farm caused 33 deaths and sent scores of people to hospitals. Officials have said people in 28 states ate the contaminated fruit and 147 were hospitalized.

Prosecutors are expected to make their recommendations before a sentencing hearing on Jan. 28. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said the rare move to charge the Jensens was intended to send a message to food producers in the wake of the deadliest case of foodborne illness in the nation in a quarter century.

According to The Packer, PrimusLabs of Santa Barbara, Calif., is named in all of the suits. Two federal judges and one state judge have dismissed Primus from cases in their jurisdictions.

Primus continues to blame Jensens

PrimusLabs subcontracted the Jensens’ 2011 audit to Texas-based Bio Food Safety Inc. The Jensens contend the California company was negligent and breached its contract because the auditor failed to point out substandard conditions and equipment that federal officials later cited as the cause of the listeria contamination.

Primus denies any liability to the Jensens or consumers. It contends the Jensens are to blame, partly because of the type of audit they requested.

The attorney representing Primus said the Jensens did not request any microbiological testing and that they requested their audit be done on a day when their packing facility cantaloupe.washhad not yet begun operations for the season. He said the auditor did find areas of minor, major and “total noncompliance” but was still able to give a 96% score and a superior rating to Jensen Farms.

“I understand 96 seems incongruous,” said attorney Jeffrey Whittington, of Kaufman Borgeest & Ryan LLC. “People in the food industry know what that means.”

Do consumers?

Listeria lawsuits question food safety audits

Lawsuits filed by victims of a 2011 Listeria outbreak that killed four New Mexicans and severely sickened a fifth raise questions about the effectiveness of food safety inspections required by many retailers.

The New Mexico victims were among 33 people killed nationally by bacterial infections linked to cantaloupes grown at a farm in Colorado, making it one of the deadliest outbreaks of food-borne illness in U.S. history.

A focus of the five New Mexico lawsuits, and dozens of others in the U.S., is a California food safety auditing firm, PrimusLabs, that gave the Colorado cantaloupe packing Cantalope_300operation a score of 96 percent and a “superior” rating just weeks before the outbreak, the lawsuits contend.

The New Mexico lawsuits, filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, also name Walmart Stores, where the families say they purchased the tainted cantaloupes, and Frontera Produce, a Texas-based produce distributor.

A contractor hired by PrimusLabs inspected Jensen Farms in July 2011 and gave the cantaloupe packing operation the superior rating, allowing it to continue selling cantaloupes, the lawsuits contend.

In September 2011, health officials announced a multistate Listeria outbreak that ultimately infected 147 people in 28 states, including 15 in New Mexico. Later that month, federal and Colorado health officials inspected Jensen Farms, finding 13 confirmed samples of Listeria strains linked to the outbreak.

PrimusLabs Corp. is seeking dismissal of a civil case filed against the audit firm by cantaloupe growers Eric and Ryan Jensen, placing blame on the brothers and distributor Frontera Produce.

Even though an audit in July 2011 — conducted by BFS for PrimusLabs — gave the Jensens packing shed a score of 96 out of 100 and a “superior” rating, PrimusLabs contends the Jensens should not have assumed their cantaloupes were “fit for human consumption.”

PrimusLabs described the audit as “non-descript” in court documents. The audit company contends it did not create a risk that otherwise did not exist and that there is no reason to think Jensen Farms would have not shipped cantaloupe if it had received a poor audit score.

“If Jensen wanted to protect consumers from its products, it could have contracted with some third party to conduct the requisite environmental testing and inspection,” PrimusLabs states in court documents.

 

What we found when investigating the audit issue, long before this 2011 outbreak, was:

• food safety audits and inspections are a key component of the nation’s food safety system and their use will expand in the future, for both domestic and imported foodstuffs., but recent failures can be emotionally, physically and financially devastating to the victims and the businesses involved;

• many outbreaks involve firms that have had their food production systems verified and received acceptable ratings from food safety auditors or government inspectors;

• while inspectors and auditors play an active role in overseeing compliance, the burden jensen.cantaloupefor food safety lies primarily with food producers;

• there are lots of limitations with audits and inspections, just like with restaurants inspections, but with an estimated 48 million sick each year in the U.S., the question should be, how best to improve food safety?

• audit reports are only useful if the purchaser or  food producer reviews the results, understands the risks addressed by the standards and makes risk-reduction decisions based on the results;

• there appears to be a disconnect between what auditors provide (a snapshot) and what buyers believe they are doing (a full verification or certification of product and process);

• third-party audits are only one performance indicator and need to be supplemented with microbial testing, second-party audits of suppliers and the in-house capacity to meaningfully assess the results of audits and inspections;

• companies who blame the auditor or inspector for outbreaks of foodborne illness should also blame themselves;

• assessing food-handling practices of staff through internal observations, externally-led evaluations, and audit and inspection results can provide indicators of a food safety culture; and,

• the use of audits to help create, improve, and maintain a genuine food safety culture holds the most promise in preventing foodborne illness and safeguarding public health.

Audits and inspections are never enough: A critique to enhance food safety

30.aug.12

Food Control

D.A. Powell, S. Erdozain, C. Dodd, R. Costa, K. Morley, B.J. Chapman

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713512004409?v=s5

Abstract

Internal and external food safety audits are conducted to assess the safety and quality of food including on-farm production, manufacturing practices, sanitation, and hygiene. Some auditors are direct stakeholders that are employed by food establishments to conduct internal audits, while other auditors may represent the interests of a second-party purchaser or a third-party auditing agency. Some buyers conduct their own audits or additional testing, while some buyers trust the results of third-party audits or inspections. Third-party auditors, however, use various food safety audit standards and most do not have a vested interest in the products being sold. Audits are conducted under a proprietary standard, while food safety inspections are generally conducted within a legal framework. There have been many foodborne illness outbreaks linked to food processors that have passed third-party audits and inspections, raising questions about the utility of both. Supporters argue third-party audits are a way to ensure food safety in an era of dwindling economic resources. Critics contend that while external audits and inspections can be a valuable tool to help ensure safe food, such activities represent only a snapshot in time. This paper identifies limitations of food safety inspections and audits and provides recommendations for strengthening the system, based on developing a strong food safety culture, including risk-based verification steps, throughout the food safety system.

Listeria-in-cantaloupe victims go after Primus Labs

Audits and inspections set a food safety minimum.

The best farmers, processors and retailers will go far above and beyond what is required by minimal standards.

Coral Beach of The Packer reports that following a meeting with some family members of victims of the 2011 listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe from their farm, Eric and Ryan Jensen signed over a lawsuit they filed against Primus Labs to the victims.

Attorney Bill Marler, who represents 46 of the 64 victims and their families who have filed civil suits against the Jensen brothers, said Nov. 21 that he Cantaloupe-listeria-outbreakwould soon file a notice of appearance in Colorado state court in the case against the Santa Maria, Calif., auditing firm.

By “assigning” the case to the victims, the Jensens have basically taken themselves out of the lawsuit against Primus Labs, Marler said. Now he and the other lawyers representing victims in civil cases against the Jensens will prosecute the Colorado case against Primus Labs.

Any settlement in the Primus Labs case will be divided among the victims, Marler said. He said he could not estimate how long it would take to resolve the case. Marler will continue to represent 46 clients who have filed civil suits against the Jensens.

In the suit against Primus Labs, the Jensen brothers contend the auditing firm should be liable for damages related to the 2011 listeria outbreak that killed at least 33 people.

The Jensens hired Primus Labs to do a food safety audit of their operation, but the company paid a third-party contractor to do the job.

Bio Food Safety, a Texas company, sent auditor James Dilorio to Jensen Farms, Holly, Colo., on July 25, 2011, according to the Jensens’ complaint.

Dilorio gave the Jensens’ operation a score of 96 out of 100. He did not raise questions about numerous issues that the Food and Drug Administration cited in its inspection report on the Jensens’ farm and packing facility after the deadly outbreak.

As we wrote last year:

• food safety audits and inspections are a key component of the nation’s food safety system and their use will expand in the future, for both domestic and imported foodstuffs, but recent failures can be emotionally, physically and financially devastating to the victims and the businesses involved;

• many outbreaks involve firms that have had their food production systems verified and received acceptable ratings from food safety auditors or government inspectors;

• while inspectors and auditors play an active role in overseeing compliance, the burden for food safety lies primarily with food producers;

• there are lots of limitations with audits and inspections, just like with restaurants inspections, but with an estimated 48 million sick each year in the U.S., the question should be, how best to improve food safety?

• audit reports are only useful if the purchaser or  food producer reviews the results, understands the risks addressed by the standards and makes risk-reduction decisions based on the results;

• there appears to be a disconnect between what auditors provide (a snapshot) and what buyers believe they are doing (a full verification or cantaloupe.salmonellacertification of product and process);

• third-party audits are only one performance indicator and need to be supplemented with microbial testing, second-party audits of suppliers and the in-house capacity to meaningfully assess the results of audits and inspections;

• companies who blame the auditor or inspector for outbreaks of foodborne illness should also blame themselves;

• assessing food-handling practices of staff through internal observations, externally-led evaluations, and audit and inspection results can provide indicators of a food safety culture; and,

• the use of audits to help create, improve, and maintain a genuine food safety culture holds the most promise in preventing foodborne illness and safeguarding public health.

 

Audits and inspections are never enough: A critique to enhance food safety

Food Control

D.A. Powell, S. Erdozain, C. Dodd, R. Costa, K. Morley, B.J. Chapman

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713512004409?v=s5

Abstract

Internal and external food safety audits are conducted to assess the safety and quality of food including on-farm production, manufacturing practices, sanitation, and hygiene. Some auditors are direct stakeholders that are employed by food establishments to conduct internal audits, while other auditors may represent the interests of a second-party purchaser or a third-party auditing agency. Some buyers conduct their own audits or additional testing, while some buyers trust the results of third-party audits or inspections. Third-party auditors, however, use various food safety audit standards and most do not have a vested interest in the products being sold. Audits are conducted under a proprietary standard, while food safety inspections are generally conducted within a legal framework. There have been many foodborne illness outbreaks linked to food processors that have passed third-party audits and inspections, raising questions about the utility of both. Supporters argue third-party audits are a way to ensure food safety in an era of dwindling economic resources. Critics contend that while external audits and inspections can be a valuable tool to help ensure safe food, such activities represent only a snapshot in time. This paper identifies limitations of food safety inspections and audits and provides recommendations for strengthening the system, based on developing a strong food safety culture, including risk-based verification steps, throughout the food safety system.

Consumers can wait; California cantaloupe board promotes food safety via twitter — to industry

I don’t understand a lot about computers, social media, instagram and whatever the next fad is; but I do know to hang out with people who can tell the message person (me) what medium to use and how.

I’ve always been a fan of Marshall McLuhan and read all his impenetrable stuff 30 years ago. The University of Toronto professor coined his famous, marshall_mcluhan_woody_allenthe medium is the message, phrase in his 1964 book, Understanding Media. The cameo he did in Woody Allen’s 1977 movie, Annie Hall, where McLuhan tells some pompous professor that he doesn’t understand his theories at all and is not qualified to teach, is so … apt.

Today, U.S. producer groups like the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board want to battle foodborne illness through a social media campaign.

According to The Packer, the board will work to build its Twitter following at the upcoming Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit in New Orleans.

The campaign will be introduced to consumers next season after the board has gained a following in the produce industry.

It’s social media; go straight to consumers.

 

Entire food system should be accountable for outbreaks

Arresting the Jensen brothers without indicting anyone else in the food system is like arresting Richard Eggers to curb the excesses of the global financial crisis.

Eggers, a 68-year-old Des Moines resident, who gained national attention after being fired by Wells Fargo & Co. in July 2012, was featured on the Colbert Report (video below for North Americans) in a segment satirizing the federal government’s failure to jail a cantaloupesingle high-level banker who helped precipitate the global financial crisis.

Eggers was fired after the nation’s largest bank by market value learned that he had been arrested 49 years ago for putting a cardboard cutout of a dime in a Carlisle laundry machine. He is one of an estimated 3,000 low-level bank employees who were fired last year under employment regulations meant to deter the kind of high-level excesses that helped precipitate the global financial crisis.

The Jensen’s case is far more serious, involving the death of 33 people and sickening 143 from Listeria in cantaloupe in 2011, but focusing on the farmers who received stellar audit reports lets the system off the hook.

And the system is at fault.

The nation’s food safety system, especially for produce, is a patchwork of third-party audits, personal assurances, and profit before protection.

The government – the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – says it’s sending a message, but it’s sending the wrong one.

Eric Jensen, 37, and Ryan Jensen, 33, were accused of six counts of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce and aiding and abetting.

The Jensens should be held accountable, as should everyone else in the food system, including the auditors that gave the Jensens a big thumbs up and the retailers who rely on paperwork in the absence of evidence. Going after the weakest link only displays a decrepit and ineffectual system.

Some companies – to their credit – are going beyond the paper trail and using their own staff along with outside expertise to build a credible food safety system; some companies really are better.

And they should brag about it.

Because as a consumer, I have no way of knowing whether one cantaloupe was raised, harvested, packed and shipped more hygienically than another. Retailers insist all food is safe, but weekly outbreaks, especially with repeat offenders, shows the system is broken.

(Meeting government standards implies no sort of microbial food safety; that is a tactic to deflect responsibility, what some call the Pinto effect.)

The FDA may be flexing its tiny muscles against the weak kids, but is doing nothing visible about that troubled third-party system in food, where the company selling the food is paying the auditor to approve the safety of the food.

The best producers won’t rely on government and will get ahead of the food safety curve.