Students roll out Don’t Eat the Pseudoscience project

Earlier this week I spent some time with NC State’s Food Science Club and told some stories about how I got into the food safety nerd world. One of the career-shaping experiences in my past (that I didn’t share) was making a Jon Stewart correspondent-type video with Christian Battista at Biojustice 2002.

We talked to lots of folks about their perceptions, concerns and understanding of GE foods and it gave me some hands-on experience in risk communication. The video led to some writing, which led to some criticism of putting out evidence-based opinions.

A couple of food science students I know, Nicole Arnold and Lily Yang (and others), are jumping into the communicating food risk world and put together a much slicker introductory video to a project they’re calling Don’t Eat the Pseudoscience.

I’m looking forward to their next steps as they do their own engaging with the passionate eaters of the world.

And here’s my YouTube debut from 13 years ago.

For a document about communication this is a terrible lede: Best practices for improving FDA and state communication during recalls

This document may set some sort of dubious record for the use of collaboration, partnership, and resources in relation to food safety.

fda.recall.commbest.practicesDoes anybody do anything, and will there be fewer sick people?

 Executive Summary

The best practices identified in this document are intended to encourage and enhance timely reciprocal communication of recall information among the U.S.Food and Drug Administration, State and local government agencies (herein after partner agencies) during Class I recalls and outbreaks. Information sharing between the agencies will save government resources and promote a safe and secure food supply.

The focus of the Partnership for Food Protection (PFP) Surveillance, Response and Post Response Workgroup was to enhance recall transparency,communication, and sharing of information that would help move us forward with implementing an Integrated Food Safety System (IFSS). The workgroup identified best practices for sharing recall activities that will not unduly impact the hih workload of partner agencies’ recall staff.

To develop the best practices, the following recall activities associated with information sharing were identified:

Differing regulations such as commissioning and sharing agreements that impact the timely sharing of recall information

Format of information to be shared

Information technology issues between partner agencies

Identification of FDA and partner agencies recall staff members with whom information can be shared and methods of contacting

crisis_communicationConsideration and possible identification of a universal recall reporting portal to capture and share recall and outbreak information in timely manner which is accessible by all authorized partner agencies

Not all best practices will be applicable in every situation; however, they should be considered where appropriate for the effective coordination of recall activities and the leveraging of mutual resources. This is living document. As additional best practices are identified, they will be captured in this document.

01.sep.15

Partnership for Food Protection’s Surveillance, Response and Post Response Workgroup presents

http://www.fda.gov/downloads/ForFederalStateandLocalOfficials/FoodSafetySystem/PartnershipforFoodProtectionPFP/UCM460013.pdf?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

Food bugs: ‘You can’t stop what’s comin’ they aren’t waitin’ on you, that’s vanity’

My latest for Texas A&M’s Center for Food Safety:

no.country.for.old.menMy worst failure as a human is that many loving, generous and smart people want to help me.

And I don’t want their help.

But sometimes, people need help, even if they don’t know it.

I sliced the tip off my thumb while making the girls’ lunch – food safety risk – and after three hours of bleeding, I finally took my wife’s advice and ended up with a few stitches.

I apply these lessons to food safety. The outbreaks that occur, the terrible soundbites, the gross mismanagement and I wonder, why didn’t they seek help sooner?

Most of it is psychological, just like my resistance to seek help, or, as one correspondent wrote, “it simply can’t happen. Until it does.”

Top 10 signs someone may need microbial food safety help:

The bugs will keep on coming, and whether it’s pride or vanity, people will ignore the protective measures until they get caught.

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University. 

The trouble with meanings of risk, safety and security

The concepts of risk, safety, and security have received substantial academic interest. Several assumptions exist about their nature and relation.

riskBesides academic use, the words risk, safety, and security are frequent in ordinary language, for example, in media reporting. In this article, we analyze the concepts of risk, safety, and security, and their relation, based on empirical observation of their actual everyday use.

The “behavioral profiles” of the nouns risk, safety, and security and the adjectives risky, safe, and secure are coded and compared regarding lexical and grammatical contexts.

The main findings are: (1) the three nouns risk, safety, and security, and the two adjectives safe and secure, have widespread use in different senses, which will make any attempt to define them in a single unified manner extremely difficult; (2) the relationship between the central risk terms is complex and only partially confirms the distinctions commonly made between the terms in specialized terminology; (3) whereas most attempts to define risk in specialized terminology have taken the term to have a quantitative meaning, nonquantitative meanings dominate in everyday language, and numerical meanings are rare; and (4) the three adjectives safe, secure, and risky are frequently used in comparative form. This speaks against interpretations that would take them as absolute, all-or-nothing concepts.

The Concepts of Risk, Safety, and Security: Applications in Everyday Language

Wiley Online Library, Risk Analysis, 18 AUG 2015

Max Boholm, Niklas Möller and Sven Ove Hansson

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/risa.12464/abstract;jsessionid=9D9F719E466B8B041E72C7163C374D8D.f04t01

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/risa.12464/abstract;jsessionid=9D9F719E466B8B041E72C7163C374D8D.f04t01

Communicating food safety is tricky

Nicole Arnold, MS student at N.C. State University writes:

I never knew that I sounded like a twelve year old until I recorded myself for a video competition to take part in IFT’s first inaugural Food Communicator’s Workshop. A few snowflakes in North Carolina had shut things down; I couldn’t use a university studio so I was forced to record myself in my bedroom via YouTube.IMG_5919

Awkward.

Maybe it was because I boasted of being part of the behind the scenes of barfblog (and mentioned 40,000 subscribers) or because nobody else could bear the discomfort of recording themselves, but they chose me.

Sponsored by CanolaInfo, the IFT workshop was created to prepare and encourage students and young professionals to communicate food science information and issues through various channels. As a group, we dissected multiple media platforms, specifically the infamous Food Babe’s attack on canola oil.  The group leaders asked:

How would we respond?

What would we say if we chose to say anything at all?

What type of social media platforms would we use?

During a mock print interview, I grabbed a slip of paper out of a bowl with the words ‘artificial colors’ on it. I know a little bit more about that topic but am less- familiar with GMOs and preservatives (which others received).

With only a minute to look over the content, the interviewer asked me ‘why artificial colors are added to foods when scientific literature links it to cancer?’

I made a rookie mistake and used the oft-used phrase that the dose that makes the poison. The mock reporter’s eyes lit up.

Poison. I had said it.

An actual reporter could take that statement and run with it, indicating that my statement equated colors to poisons.

I should have talked about how safety reviews are conducted on artificial coloring and that while there are no certainties or guarantees in safety, regulators assess risk by calculating exposure and the amounts needed to cause problems. Many studies are based on mouse models – which may or may not be all that transferable to humans.  Based on the current available science, the U.S. FDA and other public health-protecting bodies throughout the world have deemed certain artificial colors as low risk.

It’s tricky, but as food communicators, our messages should be clear, concise and explain the uncertainties of the science. And shouldn’t use clichés.

Nicole Arnold is a MS student in Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, a barfblog news team member, and is a vegetarian studying mechanically tenderized beef safety.

Here’s a video submission from Ohio State’s John Frelka.

How to win friends and influence people? NZ burger chef loses it after foodborne illness accusation

The social media storm began when a woman sent a private Facebook message to Ekim Burgers, saying that she loved the cafe’s food but her son had spent the night vomiting after eating there.

how.to.win.friends.influence.people“Firstly, this is not a complaint,” the woman began. “[The burger] is the only thing he ate differently from us that day so we assume it was the burger. Just wanted you to be aware. We thought the burgers were fantastic and know it was probably a one-off.”

And it probably wasn’t the burger (that would take 2-4 days, unless it was norovirus).

But the response from the chef is an instructive lesson in what not to do when chatting with customers.

On Wednesday, owner Mike Duffy posted a screengrab of the private message from the Wellington woman, saying “he wanted to get in first.”

When people complained he was breaching her privacy, he posted on Thursday the rant against his customers.

“Almost 20 years in this f—ing industry and never had a person who ate what I cook get sick from it,” he wrote on Ekim Burger’s Facebook page.

No evidence to prove that.

“Plenty of pissed up office jocks pulling the ‘i got food poisoning’ call after going home way to [sic] drunk from a staff Christmas party with someone who they shouldn’t have.

“Loads of middle class no idea house wives completely out of their league complaining that their wine glass should have more in it.

“Dozens of to [sic] drunk to drive but gonna anyway cos they can lawyer’s with no regard for the position they put you in as the license holder by driving home.

“100000s of eggs on Sunday mornings when no one, least of all the other staff wants to hear some little shit kid banging his or her fork on the wooden table only to be released from its chair to f— up the morning of other diners. So it’s dimwitted parents can talk about what shit the service is even though they’d never tip no matter how good it was.”

Unapologetic, Duffy said the rant was inspired by what he calls a creeping culture of rudeness and entitlement among hospitality patrons, who he said have a responsibility to behave well in restaurants, cafes and bars.

“It’s common courtesy and it’s not common anymore,” he explained.

Food Safety Talk 64: The One With Doug

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.doug.powell.church

In a special episode recorded back before Ben went on summer hiatus, the guys invite Doug Powell on for a chat.  According to Wikipedia (which is never wrong), Dr. Douglas Powell was raised in Brantford, Ontario (that’s in Canada). Doug describes himself as a former professor of food safety and the publisher of barfblog.com. He is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey.

These days Doug is been thinking a lot about soul, and given the Venn diagram of their intersecting musical tastes this leads to a discussion of Mr. Soul and a place where even Richard Nixon has got soul. Any discussion of music and soul leads to a mention of the classic Soul Man, which Don knows from the Blues Brothers movie, and Doug knows from the original version by Sam and Dave. Doug is thinking about soul because of his monthly writing gig for the Texas A&M Center for food safety. The piece he was ruminating on during the call led to a post called “It’s Gotta Have Soul” where his central thesis is that most people talking about food safety lack relevance; they lack soul, and fail to resonate.

After the guys bid Doug good night, the discussion turns to managing graduate students, task tracking software like OmniFocus, distracting diversions like Flappy Bird, managing references using Sente or Mendeley and a brief look forward to this special events which are coming, or rather were coming, at the IAFP annual meeting.

Food safety passion and soul

I spent about 30 minutes chatting with a mom I known whose husband knows who the Tragically Hip are, while grocery shopping Monday.

powell_soli_juneWe’ve chatted before.

Somehow, our chat got into me coaching Sorenne in hockey (the ice kind).

I find I’m either becoming nostalgic or reigniting my passion.

But I sure can talk a lot.

And skate.

Food safety crisis communication? Crisis? What Crisis? There is no crisis, it should be day-in-day-out,

But whatever you do, it’s gotta have soul.

Communication, cross-contamination, careful: wise words, but they lack soul.

The songs that move you, the art, the words, it speaks to your soul.

My friend Russ, aged 63, from Manhattan (Kansas) died recently while scuba diving with his wife in the Bahamas. My favorite memory is watching him dance to Sympathy for the Devil during the annual fish fry he hosted every Labor Day weekend in Manhattan, Kansas for about 300 people.

The dude had soul.

Most people talking about food safety lack relevance; they lack soul, and fail to resonate.

Since 1998, American consumers have been told to FightBac, to fight the dangerous bacteria and virus and parasites found in a variety of foods, by cooking, cleaning, chilling and separating their food. Solid advice, but not compelling.

crisis-what-crisisFresh fruits and vegetables are good for us; we should eat more. Yet fresh fruits and vegetables are one of, if not the most significant source of foodborne illness today in North America. Because fresh produce is just that – fresh, and not cooked — anything that comes into contact is a possible source of contamination. Every mouthful of fresh produce is an act of faith — especially faith in the growers — because once that E. coli O157:H7 or Salmonella gets on, or inside, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts or melons, it is exceedingly difficult to remove.

In 2004, Salmonella-contaminated Roma tomatoes used in prepared sandwiches sold at Sheetz convenience stores throughout Pennsylvania sickened over 400 consumers. The FightBac people told the public that, “In all cases, the first line of defense to reduce risk of contracting foodborne illness is to cook, clean, chill and separate.”
 Consumers were being told that when they stop by a convenience store and grab a ready-made sandwich, they should take it apart, grab the tomato slice, wash it, and reassemble the sandwich. Which would have done nothing to remove the Salmonella inside the tomatoes.

Ten years later, and the FightBac message still lacks soul.

I don’t see gender. I got five daughters, and when we stopped at the McDonald’s on the way home from the beach the other weekend, the server said, do you want a boy toy or a girl toy with that happy meal, I said, I don’t care. It shoudn’t matter.

My girls play hockey.

But according to the FightBac folks, the numbers of men who report shopping and cooking are on the rise.

My father’s been doing the shopping and cooking for decades. So have I. So have a number of my brofriends.

These self-reported surveys mean nothing, are so out of touch with what I see in grocery stores, and are soulless.

The American Meat Institute proclaimed it was going to the grass roots to share the facts about meat and poultry.

“The Communicators Advocating Meat and Poultry or CAMP program is designed to harness the energies of a growing number of individuals within the industry and the field of meat science who are committed to sharing the facts about the products that the industry produces and the measures they take to ensure they are safe, wholesome, nutritious and humane.”

Soulless.

When a band says it’s going back to its roots, they’ve lost it.

A university student that helps with food safety news asked if such groups would be mad if I questioned their integrity.

It’s an indictment of the university system that she even asked that question, so accustomed have they become to Noam-Chomsky-esq self-censorship. Health inspectors e-mail me from around the world on a regular basis, saying they are fearful for their jobs if they speak out about what they see.

Or as Neil Young sang:

I am a lonely visitor.

I came too late to cause a stir,

Though I campaigned all my life

towards that goal.

I hardly slept the night you wept

Our secret’s safe and still well kept

Where even Richard Nixon has got soul.

Even Richard Nixon has got

Soul.

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

Is there a better trifecta of rock music than Beggar’s Banquet, Let it Bleed, and Sticky Fingers?

Does food safety risk analysis have a public hope? How politics make us stupid

I have no time for scientists who bitch behind closed doors about how they’re misunderstood by the public.

As Thomas Jefferson famously stated, which I always use to introduce my risk analysis course, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion by education.”

communicationI’m not a fan of education, but I am a fan of compelling, current, credible information.

Ezra Klein writes about the More Information Hypothesis: the belief that many of our most bitter political battles are mere misunderstandings. The cause of these misunderstandings? Too little information — be it about climate change, or taxes, or Iraq, or the budget deficit. If only the citizenry were more informed, theb thinking goes, then there wouldn’t be all this fighting.

But the More Information Hypothesis isn’t just wrong. It’s backwards. Cutting-edge research shows that the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become.

This isn’t cutting-edge. This has been known for at least 50 years.

I heard the same thing about genetically engineered foods in the early 1990s (I’m old) and tried to tell the corporations, facts are not your answer: it’s compassion, stories.

That worked out well (that’s sarcasm).

Klein writes that in April and May of 2013, Yale Law professor Dan Kahan — working with co-authors Ellen Peters, Erica Cantrell Dawson, and Paul Slovic — set out to test a question that continuously puzzles scientists: why isn’t good evidence more effective in resolving political debates? For instance, why doesn’t the mounting proof that climate change is a real threat persuade more skeptics?

The leading theory, Kahan and his coauthors wrote, is the Science Comprehension Thesis, which says the problem is that the public doesn’t know enough about science to judge the debate. It’s a version of the More Information Hypothesis: a smarter, better educated citizenry wouldn’t have all these problems reading the science and accepting its clear conclusion on climate change.

That’s a new-fangled version of the needle theory – a willing public waiting to ingest science.

Doesn’t work like that.

Kahan goes on to say that the science community has a crappy communications team. Actually, scratch that: Kahan doesn’t think they have any communications team at all.”

Easy to throw darts from the outside. My team can tell you what you need to know about food safety science communication.

 

 

Message and medium; bye-bye PR hacks; social media as megaphone to pressure food industry

Marshall McLuhan famously said in 1967, “The medium is the message” and got to do a walk-on in the movie, Annie Hall, where he told some pompous professor that he doesn’t understand his theories at all and is not qualified to teach.

Fitting.

With food safety recalls today, it’s the medium and the message, if you want to get Marshall-McLuhan-in-Annie-Hall-300x225people’s attention.

Stephanie Strom of the NY Times recreates those themes for modern audiences (I’m old).

Matthew Egol, a partner at Booz & Company, a consulting firm, said companies were approaching the negative feedback they get with new tools that help them assess the risks posed by consumer criticism.

“Instead of relying on a P.R. firm, you have analytical tools to quantify how big an issue it is and how rapidly it’s spreading and how influential the people hollering are,” he said. “Then you can make a decision about how to respond. It happens much more quickly.”

Duh.