Promote food safety at retail: UK may do it to control Campylobacter

The UK Food Standards Agency is to ramp up its campaign against shops that continue to sell a high proportion of chickens with Campylobacter, admitting that “much further work needs to be done.”

campy.chickenThe bug makes 280,000 people ill each year, with 20,000 admitted to hospital.

Under proposals to be discussed this week, shoppers could be told to avoid certain supermarkets if they continue to sell high numbers of infected chickens in an explicit bid to change consumers’ “purchasing habits.”

The highly unusual intervention is likely to provoke legal challenges from retailers if it is forced through.

Officials will also consider whether the law should be changed to make it illegal to sell highly-contaminated poultry. Shops that fail to meet new requirements might be told to cook or freeze the infected chickens to kill the bacteria before the birds go on sale.

In a document outlining the proposals, Steve Wearne, director of policy at the FSA said: “The indications are that the prevalence of campylobacter in chickens is beginning to come down.


Chlamydia in women gutting chickens in France

Eight cases of psittacosis due to Chlamydia psittaci were identified in May 2013 among 15 individuals involved in chicken gutting activities on a mixed poultry farm in France.

Chlamydia psittaciAll cases were women between 42 and 67 years-old. Cases were diagnosed by serology and PCR of respiratory samples. Appropriate treatment was immediately administered to the eight hospitalised individuals after exposure to birds had been discovered. In the chicken flocks, mainly C. gallinacea was detected, a new member of the family Chlamydiaceae, whereas the ducks were found to harbour predominantly C. psittaci, the classical agent of psittacosis. In addition, C. psittaci was found in the same flock as the chickens that the patients had slaughtered. Both human and C. psittaci-positive avian samples carried the same ompA genotype E/B of C. psittaci, which is widespread among French duck flocks.

Repeated grassland rotations between duck and chicken flocks on the farm may explain the presence of C. psittaci in the chickens. Inspection by the veterinary service led to temporary closure of the farm. All birds had to be euthanised on site as no slaughterhouses accepted processing them. Farm buildings and grasslands were cleaned and/or disinfected before the introduction of new poultry birds.

Outbreak of Psittacosis in a Group of Women Exposed to Chlamydia Psittaci-Infected Chickens

Eurosurveillance, Volume 20, Issue 24, 18 June 2015

K Laroucau, R Aaziz, L Meurice, V Servas, I Chossat, H Royer, B de Barbeyrac, V Vaillant, J L Moyen, F Meziani, K Sachse, P Rolland

Facepalm-inducing chicken cooking messages from FSA

I don’t know exactly how much it costs to produce a video and put on a massive media campaign in the U.K..

That’s really a question for the folks at McCann-Erickson or Holloway Harris.tumblr_mo5rk6sgpd1qf6r9co2_5001

A rudimentary calculation leads me to believe that the UK FSA spent at least a couple of million pounds on production, media buying and message placement for their current chicken hero (not to be confused with chicken gyro) campaign (below, exactly as shown).

Roughly equivalent to the cost of 300,000 digital tip-sensitive thermometers.

The very tool that they must not think that U.K. households have.

Because they never mention temperatures.

And go with the increasingly frustrating – and not science based – steaming hot, no pink meat and clear juices suggestion.

Maybe investing in thermometers instead of commercials is a better approach to the Campy issue.

Foster Farms, regulators and a game of chicken

Lynne Terry of The Oregonian writes in a comprehensive feature that over the course of a decade, hundreds of people from Eugene to Baker City to Portland and Seattle were struck by bouts of food poisoning so severe they fled to their doctors or emergency rooms for treatment.

chicken.south.parkThey had no idea what made them sick. But federal regulators did.

Oregon and Washington public health officials repeatedly told the U.S. Department of Agriculture they had linked salmonella outbreaks in 2004, 2009 and 2012 to Foster Farms chicken.

State officials pushed federal regulators to act, but salmonella-tainted chicken flowed into grocery stores, first in the Northwest, then across the country. Oregon investigators became so familiar with the culprit they gave it a name: the Foster Farms strain.

The outbreaks tied by state health officials to Foster Farms first occurred in Oregon and Washington. Then in 2012, illnesses spread to almost a dozen states. The next year, a new outbreak emerged that sickened more than 600 people across the country.

Much has been written about that last 16-month ordeal and the USDA’s slow response. But the way the federal agency handled it was not an isolated case, an investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive has found.

Time after time dating to 2004, Oregon and Washington officials alerted the USDA’s food safety agency about salmonella illnesses, but the federal government chose not to warn the public or ask Foster Farms for a recall.

Foster-Farms-Chicken-BreastWith no reason to worry, people kept eating contaminated chicken.

Foster Farms processes hundreds of thousands of birds a day, and only a small fraction of its customers ever got sick.

But from 2004 through 2014, state or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials identified nearly 1,000 infections they said were linked to Foster Farms chicken in four separate outbreaks. About 300 of those cases occurred in Oregon and Washington. The overall toll was possibly much higher. The CDC estimates that for every confirmed salmonella infection, more than 29 go unreported.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reviewed thousands of pages of government records related to Foster Farms and interviewed dozens of health officials, inspectors, food safety experts and federal managers for this story. The records and interviews reveal for the first time an agency that over a 10-year span had repeatedly failed to protect consumers when confronting one of the nation’s largest poultry processors.

During that time, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issued hundreds of citations at the company’s sprawling plant in Kelso, Washington. But the agency allowed the plant to operate even though people kept getting sick.

Since the last outbreak ended, no known illnesses have been tied to the company, the largest poultry processor in the West. Foster Farms says it now has one of the lowest salmonella rates in the industry, having invested tens of millions of dollars to improve its plants and procedures.

It’s a different story at the USDA.

The agency has boosted its food safety budget and has made some strides to protect consumers, including introducing stricter standards for salmonella and ordering more random tests.

But many of the same practices and cultural hurdles that contributed to the way the agency handled public health concerns during that 10-year span remain in place today.

chicken.shock.may.13USDA officials are so worried about being sued by companies that they’ve set a high bar for evidence, even rejecting samples of tainted chicken that state health agencies believed would help clinch their case, records and interviews show.

Union officials said the government inspectors they represent are pressured to go easy on food processors, citing one notable case in which the USDA transferred an inspector after Foster Farms complained he wrote too many citations. And after strong pushback from Foster Farms, the USDA retracted a reference in a public document that unequivocally linked the company to illnesses in 2004, a move that baffled state health officials who described the investigation as “rock solid.”

And there’s much more, including USDA’s unwritten rules for going public at

Shock over Checkers chicken blunder in South Africa

Cell phones and their cameras are everywhere.

Be accountable. Checkers store in Cape Town, South Africa,  has left a bitter taste in the mouth of a consumer after he saw raw marinated chicken on the floor in the deli.

This stomach-turning experience took place at the Checkers outlet in Bayside Mall in Table View.

The consumer, who wants to remain anonymous, was so appalled by what he saw that he snapped an image to capture the shocking discovery.

He says nothing indicated to him that an accident may have occurred because no sign was put up and there was no rush to pick up the chicken from the floor.

“I stood in the queue waiting to be assisted … there were three customers in front of me and two behind me.  For this whole time the chicken was just laying on the floor.

“Then a woman came from the back and packed the chicken in a white container. It seemed very normal. She was so relaxed.”

He said what looked like the manager watched on as the employee packed over the chicken to the container without even assuring customers that there is no need to worry.

Health24 checked in with the Shoprite Checkers group and handed over the image.

Sarita van Wyk, spokesperson for the retailer, said Checkers views the perception created by the photograph in a serious light.

“The supermarket group regards food safety and hygiene in its stores of utmost importance and therefore our stores adhere to stringently monitored food safety hygiene and product handling requirements to ensure that food products prepared on the premises remain fresh and safe to eat at all times.”

Listeria again: Lilydale Oven Roasted Carved Chicken Breast recalled in Canada

Lilydale Inc. is recalling Lilydale brand Oven Roasted Carved Chicken Breast from the marketplace due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination. Consumers should not consume the recalled product described below.

listeria.lilydale.chickenThis recall was triggered by the company. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. If other high-risk products are recalled, the CFIA will notify the public through updated Food Recall Warnings.

The CFIA is verifying that industry is removing recalled product from the marketplace.

There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of this product.

Unbaked chicken patty recalled after testing positive for E. coli O157:H7 in Canada

Juici Patties (Canada) is recalling Juici Patties brand Jamaican Style unbaked Chicken Patty from the marketplace due to possible E. coli O157:H7 contamination.

Juici PattiesThis recall was triggered by the company. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. If other high-risk products are recalled, the CFIA will notify the public through updated Food Recall Warnings.

The CFIA is verifying that industry is removing recalled product from the marketplace.

There have been no confirmed illnesses associated with the consumption of this product.

Food safety Frank: Go beyond government standards (remember the Pinto)

When Frank Yiannas left Disney to go work for Walmart, I asked, why?

He said something along the lines of, bigger brand, bigger influence.

frank.doug.manhattanFood safety Frank is using that influence.

As its aisles were bustling with holiday shoppers a week before Christmas this past December, Walmart and Sam’s Club stores announced to their poultry suppliers, details of plans to enhance food-safety requirements of whole chickens, chicken parts and ground turkey products shipped to its stores. The press release from the company said it would require poultry suppliers to achieve prevention-based certification by one of the Global Food Safety Initiative’s recognized standards. As part of the program, poultry suppliers will be expected to implement holistic controls, from farm to fork; the controls must significantly reduce potential contamination levels, in whole birds as well as in chicken parts. Suppliers will also be required to test and validate their food safety interventions. Lastly, poultry suppliers must be in compliance with the program by June 2016.

Led by Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for the retail giant, the announcement was hardly a surprise to its current suppliers, as the poultry industry had been consulted about the requirements for nearly a year before it was made public and hints about it were dropped back in 2010. From his Bentonville, Ark., office, Yiannas detailed the plans for the poultry safety initiative in early January. He explained how it is part of a continuous-improvement strategy that was developed using aspects of a 2010 plan introduced to enhance beef safety and how it is all part of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s farm-to-fork approach to food safety.

Frank Yiannas has three heroes in life. The charismatic food-safety guru for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is bullish about this short list, which includes: His father, Haralambos Yiannas; Louis Pasteur, to whom he refers to as the Founding Father of food safety; and Dr. Rudy Wodzinski, a professor who ignited his interest in microbiology during his studies at the Univ. of Central Florida where he earned his bachelor’s in microbiology before going on to receive a master’s degree in public health from the Univ. of South Florida. Dr. Wodzinski has passed away, but his impact on Yiannas was profound and continues to inspire him.

frank.amy.doug.jun.11“I can credit him for my career in food safety,” says Yiannas, who worked as the director of safety and health at Walt Disney World for 19 years before joining Walmart in 2008. His global role is daunting, considering the retailer operates about 4,400 Walmart stores and 650 Sam’s Club stores in the US. Worldwide, the company serves its customers 200 million times per week across 11,000 retail units in 27 countries.

The development of the poultry program reflected some of the successful aspects of a beef-safety initiative rolled out by Walmart in 2010. Also spearheaded by Yiannas, the beef-safety program challenged beef suppliers by requiring processors and slaughtering facilities to verify specific decreases in pathogen loads in a companywide effort to decrease E. coli and Salmonella on carcasses and processed beef. At that time, Yiannas admitted other species suppliers would likely face similar initiatives, but didn’t mention poultry or a target date specifically. Five years later, poultry processors are in the spotlight.

The four-part plan for poultry includes the following points:

1) Ensure chicken suppliers are sourcing from breeder stock suppliers that participate in USDA’s National Poultry Improvement Plan;

2) Require vaccination of parental flocks if a facility finds Salmonella serotypes of human health concern. This isn’t to replace eradication of the pathogen but an additional layer to address horizontal transmission via immunization;

3) Focus on whole birds by requiring suppliers to validate interventions they have in place and demonstrate a cumulative 4-log (99.99 percent) reduction of Salmonella on whole carcasses;

4) Because there was no standard or proposed standard on chicken parts at the time of its announcement, Walmart is requiring suppliers to implement interventions to reduce Salmonella at a minimum of 1 log on parts — or a 10-fold reduction, specifically on parts. Suppliers are being given extra time to comply with this requirement due to the fact it will likely require many in the industry to make significant changes in their production lines and processes.

Aussies getting the thermometer message; when will the Brits?

ABC News Australia reports that chicken is Australia’s favorite meat.

chicken.bbq.thermometerThe story goes with the just-cook-it-approach and ignores cross-contamination (isn’t there a better term? I say be the bug, but there’s lots of marketing geniuses out there), but at least Dr Duncan Craig, the principal microbiologist with Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), says, “It’s about making sure that the center of the poultry meat gets up to a high enough temperature that would kill off the Campylobacter. So the advice that we put out is that the temperature should be up around 75 degrees [on the inside],” Craig says.

The best way to test whether poultry has been cooked to the right temperature is to use a meat thermometer; Craig says this is especially the case when you’re cooking a large bird such as a turkey.

“I was a skeptic but I use one at home and it actually is really quite effective, and on the converse it saves you from over cooking the poultry, just as much as making sure it’s cooked properly,” Craig says.

Someone’s been reading my soundbites – or not – but it’s gratifying to see the Aussies gravitate towards evidence-based advice, rather than what the Brits offer up: juices run clear and piping hot.

barfblog.Stick It InIn the past, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand has found 84 per cent of chicken carcasses tested positive to Campylobacter (22 per cent tested positive to salmonella, another common cause of food poisoning).

Regarding cross-contamination, Dr. Craig says, “I’ve rescued a number of mates who have brought out the plate of marinated chicken skewers and popped them on the barbie. They then cook them to within an inch of their life and go to put them back on the plate, which had the raw chicken meat and the marinade on it.”

UK supermarkets named and shamed over Campylobacter on chicken contamination

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published the cumulative results from the first two quarters of its year-long survey of campylobacter on fresh chickens.

FunkyChickenHiIndividual results by major retailer have also been published.

Retailers aren’t happy.

One of the companies that has helped develop a way to flash freeze the surface of birds to kill campylobacter bacteria after slaughter, Bernard Matthews, said that retailers had been resistant to the extra cost, which is about 4-5p per bird.

However, the Co-op, Marks & Spencer, Asda and Sainsbury’s all told the Guardian they were supporting the trials of technology which rapidly chills or steams the surface of a chicken to significantly reduce levels of campylobacter.

Tesco said it would be helping to fund a full-scale trial of rapid chill technology with one of its suppliers from January to test feasibility on a commercial scale.

Andrew Large, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, which represents the largest producers and processors, said the industry was focusing on about 10 measures that looked promising, but he warned that there was “no silver bullet” to end campylobacter contamination.

The results to date show:

18% of chickens tested positive for campylobacter above the highest level of contamination

70% of chickens tested positive for the presence of campylobacter

6% of packaging tested positive for the presence of campylobacter with only one sample at the highest level of contamination (>1,000 cfu/g)

chicken* Above 1,000 colony forming units per gram (>1,000 cfu/g). These units indicate the degree of contamination on each sample.

In total, 1,995 samples of fresh whole chilled chickens have now been tested, with packaging also tested for most of these samples. Data show variations between retailers but none are meeting the end-of-production target for reducing campylobacter.

This 12-month survey, running from February 2014 to February 2015, will test 4,000 samples of whole chickens bought from UK retail outlets and smaller independent stores and butchers.

Campylobacter is killed by thorough cooking; however it is the most common form of food poisoning in the UK, affecting an estimated 280,000 people a year. Poultry is the source of the majority of these cases.

But-just-cook-it doesn’t cut it and fails to account for cross-contamination.

In response, a number of retailers have introduced ‘roast in the bag’ chickens which help limit cross-contamination by minimizing the handling of the raw chicken in the home.

The FSA advises that the data for individual retailers have to be interpreted carefully. Confidence intervals are given for each retailer and the ‘others’ category. These show the likely range of the results allowing for the number of samples taken.

At this half-way stage in the survey the results show, taking the confidence intervals into account, that Tesco is the only one of the main retailers which has a lower incidence of chicken contaminated with campylobacter at the highest level (>1,000 cfu/g), compared to the industry average. Asda is the only main retailer which has a higher incidence of chicken that is contaminated by campylobacter at the highest level, compared to the industry average. However, the results suggest that none of the retailers is achieving the joint industry end-of-production target for reducing campylobacter.

chicken.thermAnd what FSA chicken advice would be complete without a recommendation to  “make sure chicken is steaming hot all the way through before serving. Cut in to the thickest part of the meat and check that it is steaming hot with no pink meat and that the juices run clear.”

This is ridiculous advice from a supposedly science-based agency: use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer.

Meanwhile, The Guardian revealed this week that Tim Smith, the former boss of the FSA who left the regulator to become a director of Tesco, is said to have contacted a senior official in the Department of Health in June to warn that the FSA’s plans could provoke a major food scare, in an apparent breach of the terms approved by David Cameron for his move to industry.

And Tim Lang, a professor of food policy at London’s City University, told The Guardian the results are schocking and that “public should refuse to buy poultry until this is sorted out. This is a public health scandal easily on a par to those of the 1980s and 1990s and reminds me of the outrage over food adulteration and contamination in the mid 19th century. Have we really sunk back to that level?”

Dear British public, be outraged, act, withhold your money until you can have confidence in what you consume. This may not be orthodox public health strategy but it is definitely what history shows works when standards are as dire as these results show them to be.