Observing is better than asking

Ten years ago, as a bunch of University of Guelph students were barfing in their residence bathrooms with noro, Brae Surgeoner, Doug and I hatched plot to observe hand hygiene practices in situ. We wanted test whether students in the midst of an outbreak would report they were really good at washing their hands or using sanitizer. We guessed that what they said, and what we would see, would be drastically different.

It wasn’t our first foray into observational research. A couple years before we did a bunch of secret shopping at Ontario grocery stores and interacted with associates to see what they share about food safety with patrons (us). We heard a whole bunch of nonsense. Ellen Thomas advanced this style of research by training a cadre of secret shoppers throughout the U.S. to order undercooked burgers at restaurants.

As Doug wrote a while back, ‘I view the grocery store and the restaurant as my laboratory. I watch and ask questions of people, especially front-line staff. The head of food safety back at corporate HQ may know the correct food safety answer, but are they providing support to front-line staff, the people customers are most likely to interact with?’

That lab also includes the home (or simulated home) kitchen.

Asking people what they know or do is a start. But it’s never enough. People lie, forget or don’t care. Employing other methods to confirm what they say they do is necessary to confirm actions.

So we’re working with RTI International and USDA FSIS to conduct observation research on consumer food handling behavior. FSIS announced the plans in the Federal Register for comment.

To test new consumer messaging and tailor existing messaging, FSIS can help ensure that it is effectively communicating with the public
and working to improve consumer food safety practices. This behavioral
research will provide insight into the effect FSIS consumer outreach
campaigns have on consumers’ food safety behaviors. The results of this
research will be used to enhance messaging and accompanying materials
to improve their food safety behavior. Additionally, this research will
provide useful information for tracking progress toward the goals
outlined in the FSIS Fiscal Years 2017-2021 Strategic Plan.
To inform the development of food safety communication products and
to evaluate public health education and communication activities, FSIS
is requesting approval for a new information collection to conduct
observational studies using an experimental design. Previous research
suggests that self-reported data (e.g., surveys) on consumers’ food
safety practices are unreliable, thus observational studies are a
preferred approach for collecting information on consumers’ actual food
safety practices. These observational studies will help FSIS assess
adherence to the four recommended food safety behaviors of clean,
separate, cook, and chill, and to determine whether food safety
messaging focused on those behaviors affects consumer food safety
handling behaviors and whether consumers introduce cross-contamination
during food preparation. For this 3-year study, FSIS plans to conduct
an observational study each year and to focus on a different behavior,
food and food preparation task, and food safety communication product
each year. The initial study will examine participants’ use of a food
thermometer to determine if meat and poultry products are cooked to the
proper temperatures. FSIS may decide to continue to conduct these
studies annually, and if so, will request a renewal to extend the
expiration date for the information collection request.

Silver Springs Farms recalls more beef for possible e. coli O157:H7 adulteration

Silver Springs Farms, Inc., a Harleysville, Pa. establishment is recalling approximately 7,970 pounds of ground beef and burger products, as well as an undetermined amount of sandwich steak products that may be adulterated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

silver-springs-e-coliThe ground beef items were produced on August 19 and 20, 2016. The exact production dates for the various sandwich steak products are unknown at this time, but are believed to have been produced between August 19 and September 19, 2016. The following products are subject to recall: [View Labels (PDF only)]

20-lb. cases containing 4 packages of 5-lb ground beef 80/20.

10-lb. packages of “Camellia Beef Pattie 80/20,” with package codes 6235 and 6242.

10-lb. packages of “Silver Springs Farm Beef Pattie 80/20,” with package codes 6242 and 6237.

10-lb. packages of “Silver Springs Farm Beef Pattie 80/20 Flat,” with package code 6237.

10-lb. packages of “Silver Springs Farm Gourmet Beef Burger Flat,” with package code 6235.

10-lb. packages of “Silver Springs Farm Gourmet Beef Burger 80/20,” with package code 6237.

10-lb. packages of “Silver Springs Farm Gourmet Beef Pattie 80/20,” with package code 6242.

various sandwich steak products produced by the recalling firm.

There have been no confirmed reports of illness or adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

7 sick: Multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 linked to beef products from Adams Farm

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, multiple states, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) are investigating a multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coliO157:H7 (STEC O157:H7) infections.

adams-farmSeven people infected with the outbreak strain of STEC O157:H7 have been reported from four states.

Five ill people have been hospitalized. No one has developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure, and no deaths have been reported.

Epidemiologic, traceback, and laboratory evidence indicate that beef products produced by Adams Farm Slaughterhouse in Athol, Massachusetts is a likely source of this outbreak.

On September 24, 2016, Adams Farm Slaughterhouse recalled beef, veal, and bison products due to possible E. coli O157:H7 contamination.

The products subject to recall have establishment number EST. 5497 inside the USDA mark of inspection and include several lot numbers and cuts of meat. The full list can be found on the USDA website.

These items were shipped to farmers’ markets, retail locations, and restaurants in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and eastern New York. The products may have been shipped to neighboring states.

We recommend that consumers, restaurants, and retailers do not use, serve, or sell the recalled meat products.

Don’t cook recalled meat products and eat them. Throw the meat out or return it to the place of purchase. If you throw it away, put it in a sealed bag in the trash so that children, pets, or other animals can’t eat it..

Public health investigators are using the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that may be part of this outbreak.

Illnesses started on dates ranging from June 27, 2016 to September 4, 2016. Ill people range in age from 1 year to 74, with a median age of 25. Fifty-seven percent of ill people are female. Five ill people have been hospitalized.

Epidemiologic, traceback, and laboratory evidence indicate that beef products produced by Adams Farm Slaughterhouse in Athol, Massachusetts is a likely source of this outbreak.

In interviews, ill people answered questions about the foods they ate and other exposures in the week before they became ill. All five (100%) of the five people reached for interview reported eating ground beef in the week before they became ill.  Preliminary traceback information indicates that ill people ate ground beef which had been produced by Adams Farm Slaughterhouse.

The Connecticut Department of Public Health collected leftover ground beef from an ill person’s home and from a restaurant for testing; that beef had been produced by Adams Farm Slaughterhouse. Test results showed the outbreak strain of STEC O157:H7 in both samples of the leftover ground beef.

 

Show me the data: FSIS to begin posting location-specific food safety data online

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will soon begin sharing new levels of food safety data specific to slaughter and processing facilities in the United States, on Data.gov.

dataThe agency has detailed its framework for releasing this data in its Establishment-Specific Data Release Plan, which the agency anticipates will allow consumers to make more informed choices, motivate individual establishments to improve performance, and lead to industry-wide improvements in food safety by providing better insights into strengths and weaknesses of different practices.

“FSIS’ food safety inspectors collect vast amounts of data at food producing facilities every day, which we analyze on an ongoing basis to detect emerging public health risks and create better policies to prevent foodborne illness,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza. “Consumers want more information about the foods they are purchasing, and sharing these details can give them better insight into food production and inspection, and help them make informed purchasing decisions.”

FSIS employs roughly 7,500 food safety inspectors who work in more than 6,000 meat, poultry and processed egg facilities across the country and more than 120 ports of entry every day. Over the past seven years, the agency has taken an increasingly data-driven approach to identifying and preventing food safety concerns, and the data these men and women collect in regulated facilities every day have made it possible for FSIS to implement significant food safety changes since 2009. More information about these efforts to modernize food safety inspection can be found at www.Medium.com/USDA-Results. Between 2009 and 2015, this work led to a 12 percent drop in foodborne illness associated with FSIS-regulated products.

The new datasets will begin to publish on Data.gov on a quarterly basis starting 90 days after publication in the Federal Register. Initially, FSIS will share information on the processes used at each facility, giving more detail than is currently listed in the searchable establishment directory, as well as a code for each facility that will make it easier to sort and combine future datasets by facility. Additionally, FSIS will release results for Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) and Salmonella in ready-to-eat (RTE) products and processed egg products.

On a quarterly basis, FSIS will then begin to share other datasets, including results for Shiga Toxin-producing Escherichia coli(STEC) and Salmonella in raw, non-intact beef products; results for Salmonella and Campylobacter in young chickens and young turkeys, comminuted poultry, and chicken parts; routine chemical residue testing data in meat and poultry products; and advanced meat recovery testing data.

Criteria such as data availability and possible impact on public health will be considered by FSIS to determine which datasets are best suited for future public release. User guides that provide context to the data will be included with each dataset.

“This plan is another step toward better engagement with our stakeholders and they will now have quality information on an ongoing basis,” stated USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza.

The Establishment-Specific Data Release Plan was developed in response to the President Obama’s call for increased data sharing and greater transparency under the Open Government Plan by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Beginning in 2010, FSIS consulted with various stakeholder groups, including the National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection Subcommittee on Data Collection, Analysis, and Transparency and the National Research Council on this issue. With the expertise of these organizations, FSIS developed its plan that will not only provide consumers with the opportunity to make more informed choices, but make data publicly available that could yield valuable insights that go beyond the regulatory uses for which the data were collected.

 

Safest food in the world – Canadian edition; US says clean up

The Globe and Mail is reporting that the U.S Agriculture Department has given the Canadian Food Inspection Agency until mid-March to fix significant food safety and sanitation concerns found during an audit of Canada’s meat, poultry and egg inspection systems.

Chicago_meat_inspection_swift_co_1906CFIA met the “core criteria” for overall food inspection, but American officials identified “operation weaknesses related to government oversight, plant sanitation and microbiological testing” for listeria, salmonella and E. coli, according to a final report submitted to CFIA on Jan. 14.

Failure to fix the deficiencies could lead the U.S. government to delist Canadian plants that were audited from exporting their products to the United States.

CFIA issued a statement to The Globe and Mail late Monday insisting that food safety was not compromised and steps are being taken to improve the inspection system.

“It is important to note that none of the audit findings posed a food safety risk to consumers, including the identified sanitation issues,” CFIA said. “At the time of the audit, the CFIA inspectors were already addressing the sanitation findings outlined in the audit report and the establishments were already taking the required steps to fix the issues in question.”

The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) conducted the audit between May 28 and June 13, 2014, of slaughter and processing plants in Ontario and Quebec.

The audit found CFIA does not conduct ongoing environmental sampling and testing in food-production plants for Listeria monocytogenes (Lm), the bacteria that contaminated cold cuts produced by Maple Leaf Foods in 2008 that resulted in the death of 22 Canadians.

Food-plant employees test the surfaces where ready-to-eat meat and poultry is packaged but “does not collect samples or test for the presence of Lm on non-food contact surfaces,” the audit said.

XL.foodsU.S. auditors also raised concerns that plant inspectors are not checking for the presence of manure, ingesta or milk contamination on carcasses prior to the final wash. Tests are only done once the meat or poultry is in refrigeration units.

“FSIS considers this sanitary measure to not be equivalent [to U.S. standards]. Because this is a significant finding that will impact the overall equivalency of the CFIA inspection system,” the audit said, “CFIA must respond with either correcting the location at which zero tolerance verification occurs or providing an appropriate rational for implementing an alternative inspection procedure within 60 days or FSIS will deem the inspection system to not be equivalent.”

The audit discovered serious sanitation problems in food-processing plants where meat is packaged before being shipped to stores in Canada and the United States. Auditors observed open ceilings, leaking condensate and rust that could contaminate food.

These are the type of sanitation problems that led to the largest meat recall in Canadian history in 2012 when E. coli was found in meat exported to the U.S. from a Brooks, Alta., plant, now owned by JBS Food Canada.

U.S. food inspectors detected the meat before it ended up on U.S. food shelves, but 18 people in Canada got sick from eating the tainted meat. CFIA blamed unsanitary conditions, poor hygiene and the Brooks plant’s failure to immediately disclose E. coli tests.

Canada's Agriculture minister Gerry Ritz attends a meeting of the G8 and G5 agriculture ministers on April 18, 2009 at Castelbrando castle in Cison di Valmarino, northern Italy. Farm ministers from the world's leading industrialised and developing nations meet in Italy this weekend for the first time to find ways of overcoming a global food crisis. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO  (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

Canada’s Agriculture minister Gerry Ritz attends a meeting of the G8 and G5 agriculture ministers on April 18, 2009 at Castelbrando castle in Cison di Valmarino, northern Italy. Farm ministers from the world’s leading industrialised and developing nations meet in Italy this weekend for the first time to find ways of overcoming a global food crisis. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. audit includes written responses from CFIA that strongly objected to the findings, saying the report “paints an inaccurate picture of the actual situation” and insisting the agency was in the process of addressing the food-safety concerns.

Terrence McRae, the director of CFIA’s Food Import and Export division, even tried but failed to persuade the U.S. Agriculture Department to give the agency a better grade.

CFIA did update their manual to require improved testing for listeria, but said it’s unclear if companies are doing the inspections or CFIA. He was unaware of any plans to set up inspection stations before the final wash.

Risk reduction is better than zero tolerance: USDA finalizes new food safety measures to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry

While you’re scarfing down wings and that beverage Americans call beer during the Super Bowl, be content to know that the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has framed new rules with an aim to lessen salmonella and campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products. The FSIS has updated its microbial testing schedule at poultry facilities and will start the provision of online updates of individual companies’ food safety performance.

buffalo.wild.wingsThe new rulings demand that the companies have to reduce the frequency of contaminated chicken parts to 15% or less. The new standard has also levied limits for turkey and ground meat products. Alfred Almanza, the USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety, was of the view that after a year of testing, the USDA will start posing the test results from every poultries.

“[This] is not a good thing for them, if they’re failing. So those are pretty significant deterrents, or incentives for them to meet or exceed our standard”, affirmed Almanza. But as per some, there is a lot of guesswork required in the calculation.

As part of this move to make chicken and turkey items that Americans frequently purchase safer to eat, FSIS has also updated its microbial testing schedule at poultry facilities and will soon begin posting more information online about individual companies’ food safety performance.

FSIS releases new guide to help food processors control potential allergens, other hazards

The  U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has released new guidelines to assist meat, poultry, and processed egg product producers in properly managing ingredients that could trigger adverse reactions among consumers with allergies or other sensitivities.

food.allergies“Our mission as a public health agency is to protect America’s most vulnerable populations, including children, from harm, and these new guidelines do just that,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza. “Beyond keeping our families safe, these guidelines also provide a useful tool to help food companies avoid preventable, costly recalls.”

Food allergens are a public health issue impacting millions of Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that two percent of adults, and four to eight percent of children, in the United States have food allergies. Food allergens can cause serious symptoms and can result in anaphylaxis, a potentially life threatening reaction.

Over the last several years, in part due to new actions by FSIS, there has been an increase in recalls of FSIS regulated products due to undeclared allergens. These problems often are caught by FSIS inspectors during labeling checks and are the result of changes to ingredient suppliers, products being placed in the wrong package, or changes to product or ingredient formulations.

By following these new guidelines, establishments are more likely to ensure that product labels declare all ingredients, as required by law, and that products do not contain undeclared allergens or other undeclared ingredients.  The guidance covers prevention and control measures of potentially allergic ingredients, packaging, labeling, storage, checklists, and allergen training, among others.

The finalized guidelines are part of FSIS’ comprehensive and ongoing efforts to reduce the number of allergen-related recalls. In April 2015, FSIS inspectors met with management at every FSIS-regulated establishment in the country to discuss whether the establishment produces items containing allergens, and, if so, whether the establishment had a process in place to ensure proper labeling. FSIS inspectors then increased the number of allergen labeling-related inspection checks they conduct in these establishments in order to ensure products are properly labeled. The Agency believes that this action has made plants more conscious of properly labeling their products and prevented additional recalls this year.

The guidelines can be found online at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/AllergenGuide

Over the past six years, USDA has collaborated extensively with other federal partners to safeguard America’s food supply, prevent foodborne illnesses and improve consumers’ knowledge about the food they eat. USDA’s FSIS is working to strengthen federal food safety efforts and develop strategies that emphasize a three-dimensional approach to prevent foodborne illness: prioritizing prevention; strengthening surveillance and enforcement; and improving response and recovery.

Why wait for government? Mechanically tenderized meat labels delayed in US until at least 2018

The best food providers don’t wait for – or hide behind — government.

That’s why Costco already labels meat that is mechanically or needle tenderized.

needle.tenderize.crOther retailers should do the same.

For those waiting for government, a labeling rule which would require packages to provide cooking instructions for the mechanically tenderized meat, had to be finalized by Dec. 31 in order for it to take effect before 2018 under separate requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Philip Brasher writes in Agri-Pulse that FSIS first proposed the labeling for mechanically tenderized meat in June 2013 out of concern that consumers aren’t cooking the meat properly to eliminate pathogens. The meat is tenderized with knives and needles that can drive bacteria inside the product.

However, the meat industry strongly opposes the labeling requirement and USDA officials did not send the final rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review until Nov. 21. The regulation remains pending at OMB. Under FSIS labeling regulations, the labeling rule could have taken effect as soon as 2016 only if it had been cleared by OMB and approved by USDA by Dec. 31.

The meat industry has argued that the meat doesn’t pose a significant risk and that the special cooking instructions aren’t warranted. In comments filed with FSIS in October 2013, the American Meat Institute said that antimicrobial measures instituted by processors assure that the meat is safe.

The Costco label says the meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Corbo said the final FSIS rule is likely to offer consumers an option to the 160-degree minimum: Cook the meat to 145 degrees and let it stand for least three minutes. The meat will continue to cook internally for the three minutes even though it is no longer on the heat source. 

Food safety scientists double up on ground beef testing this summer

As grilling season heats up, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is enhancing our food safety testing program for ground beef.  While FSIS has a range of safeguards to reduce E. coli in ground beef, this summer we will begin new testing to improve the safeguards against Salmonella as well.  Salmonella is commonly found in ground beef and, in fact, caused an illness outbreak in January 2013 in six states.  Salmonella is an especially difficult bacteria for food safety experts to address because it is so prevalent in almost all food sources.

ben-newRecognizing that we need more information about the prevalence of Salmonella in ground beef to better prevent food-borne illness, FSIS is “super-sizing” our pathogen testing program to include Salmonella every time our laboratories test for E. coli in samples of ground beef and ground beef sources. Because the samples taken for E. coli testing are much larger than those we have taken in the past for Salmonella, there is higher likelihood that we will be able to detect the bacteria if it is present.

Once FSIS has collected enough data about the prevalence of Salmonella in ground beef, we will create a new standard to encourage ground beef processors to strengthen their Salmonella controls, resulting in safer products and fewer foodborne illnesses.  The data collection process will take some time, but it is critical that the new standard is supported by meaningful data.  Of course, we will continue to analyze any positive samples for multi-drug resistance and specific serotypes to determine whether they are contributing to human illnesses.

Salmonella is the most urgent issue facing FSIS when it comes to protecting consumers and it is why we developed our Salmonella Action Plan.  This plan details our strategy for reducing the number of Salmonella-related illnesses, and this enhancement to our sampling and testing programs is part of that comprehensive effort.  

Ag dept. delays start for additional E. coli testing

The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service announced on Feb. 8 it is extending the implementation date for routine sampling of six additional shiga-toxin producing E. coli serogroups (O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145) for 90 days, according to the North American Meat Processors Association. The date was extended from March 5 to June 4.

NAMP says the extension was granted to give extra time to establishments so they could validate their test methods and detect these pathogens prior to entering the commerce stream.

Initially, FSIS plans to sample raw beef manufacturing trimmings and other raw ground beef product components both imported and produced domestically, plus test the serogroups’ samples.