Surely some mistake: US catfish rule exemplifies government waste

David Acheson, president and CEO of The Acheson Group LLC, a global food safety consulting firm, writes in Forbes that last week was a sad day for food safety in the United States as the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) published a final rule on the inspection of catfish.  This new rule exemplifies government waste, the politics of food safety and the inherent dysfunction between the FDA and the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service.

airplane.shirleyThis story goes back to 2008 when the Farm Bill transferred regulatory authority for the safety of catfish from the FDA to the USDA.  But why would this change in regulatory authority happen? Was FDA doing a bad job with regulating catfish? Was catfish such a high risk food that it needed the continuous inspection approach of the USDA?  Did FDA feel the need to off load some inspectional responsibilities because the Agency could not cope with the workload.   The answers are no, no and no. So why the move?

To date neither Congress, FDA nor USDA have come up with a sound reason as to why this move was made.  So why was this decision made? To the best of my understanding the decision was based on the belief that US catfish farmers would be better protected from overseas competition by putting all catfish regulation under USDA.  Being regulated by USDA will consume more time and resources for those that slaughter and process catfish. It will require more effort by the industry to be responsive to the on-site and shift by shift inspections of USDA. But if one assumes that this more severe and costly oversight can be met by the domestic producers but might be too much for those importing catfish, then maybe there is an economic advantage to the domestic catfish growers in that the foreign suppliers will just give up and stop importing catfish to the US. 

Can’t keep food safe without the right tools (and using them): Atlanta food truck edition

Part of having a good food safety culture is having all the right tools. But making food safe takes more than having the tools; folks actually have to employ risk reduction practices.

According to, an Atlanta food truck failed an inspection after not having handwashing sink and water.hand-washing

Employees at The Corner Hot Foods Service in Atlanta need a sink inside the portable facility where they can wash up while prepping food.

They’ve been going next door into Bims Liquor Store and using a restroom sink instead, said a Fulton County health inspector.

The mobile food service unit is also missing a three-compartment sink to wash, rinse and sanitize dishes. The only sink inside was blocked by a container of food during the recent routine inspection.

Points were also taken off because the food service facility does not have its own water supply, though it is a fixed unit that does not move. The unit should be connected to the city of Atlanta water system, but is instead getting its water through a hose coming from the liquor store, the inspector said.

But do they wash their hands?

Good managers help keep food safe

A good food safety culture (a term as ubiquitous as Drake’s Hotline Bling) is really about having all the staff in an organization know what hazards are associated with the food they make/handle from the owner, to management, to the front line staff. And when someone is sick, or gets fired, whoever steps into the role as a replacement. Managers have to know what’s needed to keep food safe – and ensure their staff are actually doing it.

KTNV has a great video of a poor inspection that tells the story of a poor food safety culture.

Inspectors found visibly dirty food contact surfaces, old food debris on the can opener and meat slicer and a dirty ice machine. There was also heavy debris on the floor under kitchen equipment, a badly stained cutting board, and no hair restraints for food handlers.

“A lot of things I didn’t know,” said temporary manager Angela Liu. She says she’s not used to overseeing the kitchen staff and admits she didn’t check everything the night before their unannounced inspection.

Inspectors also found a full handsink leaking dirty water. And food in the prep table not protected from contamination. Angela takes us back to show us what is now a much cleaner kitchen.

She says the owner made it clear that he never wants to see another “C” grade.

And then this excellent dialogue happens.

Angela: If C again, they all lose their job.

Darcy: That’s it. Everyone’s job’s on the line.

She shows us how everything is now labeled and double-covered to keep inspectors happy and customers healthy.

Darcy: It’s about food safety.

Angela: Yeah, food safety. Right. It’s very serious. Oh, my god. (she pauses to swat away a fly buzzing around her face.)

Darcy: You don’t want a fly in here, do you?

Beef contaminated with E. coli caught before leaving Montana meat plant

Livestock officials say an equipment malfunction allowed E. coli to survive in beef at a Montana meat plant.

carcass.cow.cleanMeat Inspection Bureau Chief Gary Hamel will report to the Board of Livestock on Monday that contaminated ground beef was identified during a weekly sampling in early June and destroyed. He says none of it was shipped to consumers.

Hamel says a water machine used to clean cow carcasses at the facility was clogged and could not reach a high enough temperature to kill pathogens.

The machine was fixed and the bureau increased inspections at that facility.

UK minister says cut food safety audits

George Eustice, DEFRA’s newly appointed Minister of State, told the British Meat Processors Association’s annual conference in London that  meat manufacturers – and food businesses at large – must be freed from the “burden” of audits.

Eustice argues the need for fewer audits was one of the key findings to come out of Professor Chris Elliott’s report into 2013 horsemeat scandal. By the end of 2015 the government hopes to have finalised a strategy that paves the way for fewer inspections from both retailers and government agencies.

audit.checklistBut could it backfire?

Consumer trust in food safety is at an all time low

Thanks to wholesale media coverage of some notable cases of food fraud and breaches of food safety, we are living in an age of major consumer scepticism. The public wants to see tighter regulations on the food industry and it’s easy to see how the call for reduced audits could be perceived as a step backwards, not forwards.

It’s a stance that’s difficult to begrudge. Little has been done to ratchet-up traceability and safety measures since horsegate.

One thing that most food businesses agree on is the need for food safety procedures to be more streamlined. Paper-based checks are easy to falsify, annoying to complete and time-consuming to review. Eustice appeared to recognise as much when he noted that a greater use of technology must be central to any plans to reduce the incidence of audits.

Any government strategy to remove unnecessary burdens from food businesses will be warmly received. But food businesses must remember their obligation of safety to the end consumer. Technology that offers cloud integration presents the opportunity for food businesses to share safety data with one another on an open platform, paving the way towards transparent food chains.

Inspections and audits are not synonymous with safety. Beyond sharing data amongst companies, share it with everyone – especially consumers.

Three years ago, a group of us came out with a paper we could all (mostly) agree with and got it published. The main points were:

  • 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;
  • sunnybrook-auditorthere 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


Food Control

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


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.

Don’t argue with the vet: FSA wins judicial review on safety of carcass

The UK Food Standards Agency has won a Judicial Review brought against it by the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) and Cleveland Meat Company Limited, a slaughterhouse operator based in Stockton on Tees. The two organisations had gone to court in attempt to overturn a ruling by an FSA veterinary contractor that a beef carcase was unfit to enter the food chain.

septicaemiaThe FSA’s Meat Hygiene Inspector had noticed three abscesses in the offal of the carcase, and the Official Veterinarian agreed that the beef was unfit for human consumption due to the likelihood that the animal had been suffering from pyaemia (a form of septicaemia). The food business was then required to dispose of the carcase as animal by-product.

The slaughterhouse owner did not accept this decision and this led to the action by the owner and AIMS to pursue a Judicial Review on the question of whether there is a right of appeal against an Official Veterinarian’s assessment of the fitness of the meat.

The Judge rejected the arguments of AIMS and Cleveland Meats and concluded that the FSA had acted lawfully. He agreed with the stance of the FSA that there was no legal right of appeal on decisions taken about whether meat is fit to enter the food chain after slaughter, which must be taken by Official Veterinarians under European law. In his summary, the Judge pointed out that safety measures like these are in the public interest, and are appropriate for public safety and instilling confidence in meat production.

Rod Ainsworth, Director of Regulatory and Legal Strategy at the FSA, said: ‘It’s very disappointing that AIMS and Cleveland Meats chose to pursue this unnecessary legal action. Our vets make judgements every day about whether meat is suitable to enter the food chain, and they do this based on their professional expertise for the sole purpose of protecting the public. Food businesses may not always like the decisions that are made, but as the failure of this Judicial Review demonstrates, those decisions are not open for debate. The Judge agreed that our staff must be able to take action to ensure food is safe.’

Tasmanian government defends food safety standards that closed state’s only organic dairy

Elgaar Farm at Moltema in the Meander Valley stopped producing milk, cheese and yoghurt in July last year after a routine inspection by the Tasmanian Dairy Industry Authority (TDIA).

Elgaar Farm at MoltemaThe regulatory body identified a number of issues with the factory, which uses traditional European production methods, the farm’s owner Joe Gretschmann said.

The factory’s pasteuriser failed to meet recently upgraded industry standards, but Mr Gretschamann believed there was never a risk to public health.

He said he believed his business was the victim of a “severe bureaucratic issue”.

Several weeks ago Elgaar launched an online fundraising drive to upgrade its factory, with the aim of reopening by the end of August.

Consumers have so far donated $165,000 of the $250,000 the owners say they need by the end of this month.

The reopening would still need the approval of the TDIA.

In a statement the TDIA said it had met with representatives from Elgaar and they were aware of what they needed to do to meet standards.

“Operators that meet these requirements are then able to be licensed,” is said.

“At this stage, Elgaar or its representatives do not have a new licence application before the authority for consideration.

“If they do apply, the application will be assessed in line with the standard procedures.”

Primary Industries Minister Jeremy Rockliff said the regulations were necessary to protect the state’s brand.

“Food safety is critical to protecting the health of Tasmanians and maintaining confidence in our dairy products,” he said.

FDA approved, so it’s OK: Lee’s Sandwiches recalls more meat: 440K pounds of chicken, beef & pork products

Except the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t inspect meat: the U.S. Department of Agriculture does.

rodney-back-to-schoolAnd this is just the Pinto defense.

USDA has now doubled Lee’s Sandwiches meat recall from over 200K pounds to more than 440K pounds.

CBS San Francisco explains that the first recall of chicken, beef and pork products from the company started on May 20. Whereas, the second recall concerns products that were produced before May 26, states the USDA.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) added three additional products that are subject for recall to the previous list on its official website.

The official FSIS report reads: “LQNN, Inc., operating as Lee’s Sandwiches has been processing products from federally-inspected establishments and re-packaging them without the benefit of inspection. Products produced without inspection present potential of increased human health risk.”

Addressing its customers, LQNN writes, “We also would like to assure the public that the implicated products were produced in an FDA regulated facility and that the leadership of LQNN is confident that the products being recalled all meet the food safety standards of the company and were manufactured using ingredients and processes that meet the requirements of the FDA.”

Increased inspections mean little: FDA unaware of Listeria in Blue Bell plant before outbreak

I’ve always told my daughters, whenever someone says, “trust me,” immediately do not trust them.

Do-Not-Trust-MeTrust is earned by actions, not words.

Amidst reports that Listeria-contaminated Blue Bell ice cream is selling well on Craiglist and other Internet markets, U.S. Food and Drug Administration types said they were never told of repeated findings of Listeria at a Blue Bell Creameries facility before an outbreak linked to the ice cream turned deadly.

Results of a Food and Drug Administration investigation released last week showed the company had found 17 positive samples of Listeria on surfaces and floors in its Oklahoma plant dating back to 2013. The FDA said Friday that it “was not aware of these findings” before doing its own inspection this year.

“Although Blue Bell’s testing did identify Listeria, the company did not further identify the strain to determine if it was pathogenic,” FDA spokeswoman Lauren Sucher said.

Which is why all test results should be public.


Playing chicken: ‘Flout rules deceive public’

According to an editorial in the St. John’s Telegram in Newfoundland (that’s in Canada), documents show an appalling disregard for public health and safety Country Ribbon chicken processing facility in St. John’s. They also show the length some companies will go to flout the rules and deceive the public.

borat.chickenIn October 2014, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) ordered the to shut down.

At the time, Country Ribbon’s CEO said the problem was a minor paperwork issue related to its “hazard analysis and critical control points program.”

“We’ve made a lot of improvements in our program, but there were some improvements to the written part of our program and the administration that CFIA wanted to see, and they set a deadline for us to have those completed,” Ian Pittman told The Telegram.

But according to documents obtained by the CBC, inspectors found a recurring lack of sanitation and presence of salmonella on subsequent visits leading up to the October closure.

Given such damning revelations, most businesses would go out of their way to apologize to customers for failing to meet adequate safety standards.

Instead, Pittman opted to send an astoundingly dismissive statement to CBC.

“There is no new information to add since the resolution of the matter last fall,” he said.

“(We) remain committed to continuing to provide safe, quality products to our customers.”

If they really are committed, it appears that may be a first.