Food safety in Lebanon: experts emphasize need for measures after scandals

Lebanon is in need of effective food safety measures in light of the series of food scandals that the country has witnessed, ministries and experts say.

The Lebanese food industry is rife with serious issues, said AUB Professor Zeina Kassaify. “Mislabeling is the key issue and the fact that we don’t have proper law or enforcement mechanism.”“Part of the law says we should be monitoring. … In the U.S. they have the FDA. If they find something that is not up to standard, they penalize people. Here it’s not like that, someone says something on TV and everyone gets outraged without there being any credibility.”

Pierre Abu Nakhoul, an engineer with the Industry Ministry who also carries out inspections, said a lack of resources had hampered monitoring efforts. The ministry must follow up on certain food safety aspects with 2,000 food companies. With the available staff, it could check up on 5-10 each day.

Furthermore, about 30 percent of those food companies are operating without permits, an issue that has also affected food safety monitoring.

The real problem is the overlapping authorities of different ministries with respect to monitoring food processing activities, according to Mounir Bissat, president of the Syndicate of Food Industries.

Tofu yum: liquid effluent, stagnant water and mice infestation found at illegal UK tofu factory

An illegal tofu factory in Erith has been busted by Bexley Council twice in a month after it was found to be infested with mice.

Food safety officers first visited the business, Soy, in Hailey Road on March 18 following a tip-off and found the illegal production of tofu.

The unregistered property was not only operating unlawfully but found to be unhygienic, ridden with mice and full of “stagnant water and liquid effluent”.

tofu.productionThe officers ordered the owners to close it immediately and had the food destroyed.

However last week, officers were suspicious and did a follow up visit with police and discovered the factory still operating.

A Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Order and a food Condemnation Order has since been granted by Bromley Magistrates’ Court for the premises. All food and equipment was seized from the premises.

Bexley Council will now pursue further legal proceedings against the business owners. 

Las Vegas’ Firefly has food safety problems again

In June 2013 Las Vegas’ Firefly Tapas Kitchen and Bar was linked to over 250 cases of salmonellosis. Investigators fingered cross-contaminated chorizo as the likely source. At the time of the outbreak owner Tabitha Simmons was quoted as saying, “It’s just sad because we’ve been vilified and we did not want anyone to get hurt. We certainly weren’t managing our restaurants poorly.” firefly-300x300

Uh huh.

According to Fox 5, Las Vegas health inspectors gave another Firefly location 38 inspection demerit points resulting in a C grade in March.

The owners of Firefly Tapas Kitchen and Bar acknowledged on Tuesday it received a “C” rating when inspectors for the Southern Nevada Health District inspected the eatery at 11261 S. Eastern Ave. in Henderson on March 31.

Of the 38 demerits it incurred, Firefly was flagged for violations including those for handwashing, improper refrigeration of food, food improperly cooked at the proper temperature and failure to properly store food from potential contamination, according to SNHD’s website.

In a statement from Firefly owners John and Tabitha Simmons, the March 31 inspection was random. The owners also said the eatery was cited for 1-day-old expired food in the refrigerator.

The owners went on to say they corrected the violations within hours of the inspection. A subsequent inspection the following Friday, April 4, brought the restaurant’s rating back up to an “A,” the owners said on Tuesday.

Sure looks like they are managing their restaurants poorly, food safety-wise.

Why are inspectors there? Ottawa wants power to fine meat plants for food-safety problems

The Canadian government is proposing to give itself the power to fine meat-processing plants that break hygiene and other operating rules meant to protect human health.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says the regulatory change would restaurant.inspectiongive it another enforcement tool to help protect consumers.

But meat industry representatives and a food safety expert are skeptical. “These proposed new fines demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that Canada’s stringent food safety requirements are being followed,” Lisa Murphy, a CFIA spokeswoman, wrote in an email from Ottawa.

Inspectors already have the power to issue written warnings to companies when problems at meat plants are found. In serious cases, the CFIA can suspend a plant’s licence and shut it down.

The CFIA said the proposed fines range from $2,000 to $15,000 for violations. They could be imposed on a company that was regularly identified for not following food safety rules.

The Canadian Meat Council represents federally inspected meat-packing and processing companies. Spokesman Ron Davidson said such fines are not needed.

“The meat industry does not believe there is a necessity for yet another enforcement tool,” he said.

Davidson wonders why the federal government isn’t seeking to apply such fines to the entire food-processing sector. He suggests Ottawa is out the meat industry.

Rick Holley, a University of Manitoba food-safety expert, said issuing fines won’t make the meat-processing sector any safer.

Holley said the main challenge the government needs to grapple with is ensuring that food-safety inspectors are rigorously trained to a uniform standard — and that the training is ongoing.

“I don’t think that this attempt is going to improve the safety of food in Canada by one iota,” Holley said.

“The real issue here is the performance of the inspectors in terms of appropriately identifying where problems are that are of significant health impact and then doing follow up.”

Allegheny County PA to post restaurant grades

A couple of years ago a colleague at the vet college shared a story with me about restaurant grades. He and his son went into a local sushi place and it was dead – they had no problem getting a seat during the usually busy lunch rush. He asked the manager what was up and she said that business had been down since they had been given a low score during a routine inspection. That made my friend pause a bit; they still ordered lunch and ate, but hadn’t been back. NC_inspection_grades

I guess some folks do make choices based on posted restaurant grades.

Allegheny County Pennsylvania is debating a new restaurant inspection disclosure system, including a magical matrix for what will generate an A, B or C. According to TribLIVE, excellent food handling procedures will net an A, a B represents generally good procedures, and potential risks will generate a C. Tough to evaluate without the specifics – but risk factors matter more to me than “good procedures.”

The county’s Board of Health on Monday will hear initial plans for a program to post A, B or C grades outside restaurants starting in September, said Jim Thompson, deputy director of environmental health. “There will be a significant number of Bs and Cs,” Thompson said.
About half of the county’s 7,200 permitted establishments had at least one violation last year, and about 5 percent have three or more violations, Thompson said.

“The inspection itself is the same. The food regulation is the same, but we are translating what we find into a format that the customers really understand,” said Dr. Lee Harrison, the [Allegheny Board of Health] chairman.

John Graf, owner of The Priory in the North Side and president of the Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, said a C grade posted outside some restaurants would shut them down and B grades could cause confusion among customers.
“Based on the matrixes I’ve seen, a surprising number of restaurants will end up with Bs,” Graf said. “What does a B mean? What does it mean for the customer? Is it safe?”

Joe Bello, executive chef and general manager at The Wooden Nickel Restaurant in Monroeville, said he sees positives and negatives to a grading system. He worries that something unforeseeable or uncontrollable during an inspection could drop a restaurant’s grade unfairly. But he thinks grades could motivate restaurants to pay closer attention to health and safety regulations.

Braden Mackey, 23, of Mt. Washington welcomes the idea of letter grades posted outside restaurants. He typically relies on Internet reviews when investigating restaurants. A grade of C, he said, would not deter him from ordering from a menu.

Arkansas couple arrested for using deer meat at tamale stand

A White County couple was arrested Thursday after reportedly illegally using deer meat in their tamales.

A press release from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stated that wildlife officers arrested the couple on several wildlife violations. The pair allegedly used wild animals, such as deer, to make tamales in their roadside stand.

Fred Thomas Atkins III, 49 and his wife Betty Louise Williams, 28, were arrested at their tamale stand on Arkansas Highway 16 between Searcy and Pangburn. AGFC said the deer.tamalecouple was issued citations for several game violations including buying and selling wildlife. If convicted, Atkins and Williams would face fines up to $5,000 on each count and up to a year in jail. The two were taken to the White County Detention Center in Searcy.

The six-week investigation targeted the couple after undercover wildlife officers sold several deer to Atkins. The wildlife officers also purchased tamales suspected of being made with deer meat. Officers from the White County Sheriff’s Office and investigators with the Central Arkansas Drug Task Force, along with the AGFC, were involved in the investigation.

Capt. Bill Howell of the AGFC said the individuals were gathering as many illegal deer as they could get. “It was not only the wildlife violations that we were concerned about, but also the health concerns. It was a great team effort by several agencies to protect Arkansas’s valuable natural resources and allow the public to safely enjoy them,” Howell said.

Slaughterhouse accused of selling meat from cows with cancer

Rancho Feeding Corp., the Petaluma slaughterhouse that recently recalled 8.7 million pounds of beef, is under criminal investigation by the federal government for killing and selling meat from dairy cows with cancer, according to sources who would only speak on the condition of anonymity.

Stacy Finz and Carolyn Lochhead of the San Francisco Chronicle cite sources as saying Rancho allegedly bought up cows with eye cancer, R UMAX     SuperVista S-12  V2.0 chopping off their heads so inspectors couldn’t detect the disease and illegally selling the meat.

Although it’s against federal law, experts say eating the meat isn’t likely to make people sick. So far, no one has reported becoming ill from eating the meat.

The criminal investigation hasn’t just affected Rancho. Private cattle producers, who use the company for custom slaughtering, have also been swept up in the recall, leaving the shelves with a dearth of local, natural and high-end beef on the shelves.

Bill Niman, arguably one of the most respected cattlemen in the gourmet meat business and former owner of Niman Ranch company, said he used Rancho to slaughter 427 head of cattle and is complying with the recall. He said it’s causing him to hold back about 100,000 pounds of beef from the market and that he stands to lose as much as $400,000. He said his beef has nothing to do with the alleged tainted meat.

But in an abundance of caution, the U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to make sure none of the cancerous meat co-mingled with healthful beef.

Rancho officials could not be reached for comment; the plant has voluntarily shut down and is in escrow with new buyers.

“Rancho, we’re told, was slaughtering them, somehow after hours or in other ways where the inspector didn’t know about it,” the source said. “Because the carcass looked good, (Rancho) mixed it back in with other beef that it sold under its label.”

James Cullor, professor of population health and reproduction at the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis, said cows suffering from eye cancer aren’t necessarily dangerous to eat, but he doesn’t recommend it. It would be possible that the cancer had spread to other parts of the animal’s body, Cullor said.

“If I’m out on top of Mount Everest and have a cow (with eye cancer) and I’m hungry, I’m going to cook her well and deal with getting down the mountain,” he said. “But if I’m here in this country, I will choose to not consume the animal. I wouldn’t feed the animal to my grandchildren.”

New Zealand council alarm at food stall risk

Food stalls at the Chinese Lantern Festival, Pasifika, Diwali and other major events will be nearly unregulated for food safety under a major law reform, says Auckland Council, which is concerned about the potential for large-scale food poisoning.

Council officials say legislation before Parliament which introduces new food safety regulations would exempt small vendors serving tens of of meals at large events.

They made the comments as submissions resumed on the long-awaited Food Bill, which was first introduced to Parliament in 2010.

The bill stalled amid speculation that it would put an end to sausage sizzles and cake stalls, introduce crippling costs for small horticultural producers, and give multinational corporations more control over New Zealand’s food sources.

The Government amended the bill in 2012 to address some of these problems and ensure that small-scale sellers such as farmers’ markets and fundraising stalls would not be captured by the law change.

Auckland Council said it supported most of the changes, but it was worried small vendors would be exempted from controls on food safety at large events such as the Chinese Lantern Festival, attended by more than 100,000 people.

Environmental health team leader Alan Ahmu told a select committee yesterday that officials were not concerned about school fairs or fund-raisers.

Wait, what? Little kids are one of the more vulnerable populations for foodborne illness.

I spent 16 hours this weekend becoming a level 1 coach for ice hockey in Australia, building on the 32 or so hours in Canada, at least 5 years behind the bench, and decades of experience, all because parents expect the best for their kids.

So why wouldn’t they expect the best for their kids at school?

Instead of moaning about why certain groups or people should be exempt from food safety rules, make it mandatory, and figure out the best way to folklorama.infosheet.10provide information to people (hint – it won’t be found in government).

If a minimal level of competency is required to coach hockey, a minimal level of competency should be required to make food for other people.

Investigating the potential benefits of on-site food safety training for Folklorama, a temporary food service event

Mancini, Roberto1; Murray, Leigh2; Chapman, Benjamin J.3; Powell, Douglas A.4

Source: Journal of Food Protection®, Volume 75, Number 10, October 2012 , pp. 1829-1834(6)


Folklorama in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, is a 14-day temporary food service event that explores the many different cultural realms of food, food preparation, and entertainment. In 2010, the Russian pavilion at Folklorama was implicated in a foodborne outbreak of Escherichia coli O157 that caused 37 illnesses and 18 hospitalizations. The ethnic nature and diversity of foods prepared within each pavilion presents a unique problem for food inspectors, as each culture prepares food in their own very unique way. The Manitoba Department of Health and Folklorama Board of Directors realized a need to implement a food safety information delivery program that would be more effective than a 2-h food safety course delivered via PowerPoint slides. The food operators and event coordinators of five randomly chosen pavilions selling potentially hazardous food were trained on-site, in their work environment, focusing on critical control points specific to their menu. A control group (five pavilions) did not receive on-site food safety training and were assessed concurrently. Public health inspections for all 10 pavilions were performed by Certified Public Health Inspectors employed with Manitoba Health. Critical infractions were assessed by means of standardized food protection inspection reports. The results suggest no statistically significant difference in food inspection scores between the trained and control groups. However, it was found that inspection report results increased for both the control and trained groups from the first inspection to the second, implying that public health inspections are necessary in correcting unsafe food safety practices. The results further show that in this case, the 2-h food safety course delivered via slides was sufficient to pass public health inspections. Further evaluations of alternative food safety training approaches are warranted.

Food safety inspectors shut down Netherlands mussel trader

Food safety inspectors have stopped a shellfish trader in Zeeland from exporting 47 tonnes of mussels after it failed to take action over two food poisoning incidents in England and Switzerland.

A small quantity of the mussels, which were exported to Ireland, are also being recalled, mussels-500the food safety body NVWA says.

In November, the same company was at the centre of another recall after several people became ill in England after eating mussels containing biotoxins, a poison common in shellfish. Those mussels came from Ireland but had been sold by the Dutch company.

The company was aware of the problem but did not register it with the authorities in time, food safety inspectors say. In December there was a second incident involving mussels in Switzerland. 
Those mussels, said at the time to be of Danish origin, turned out to be from the same Irish consignment as in the English food poisoning case.

Food inspectors have now effectively closed down the trader pending a full investigation and possible criminal charges.

U.S. food-safety audit gives Canada low grade, calls for better meat oversight

Despite what some Canadian academics, government and industry types say about the safety of Canadian meat, the U.S thinks it sorta sucks.

This is nothing new.

But does matter to cattle ranchers who rely on trade with the U.S.

According to a report in the Globe and Mail, a U.S. audit of Canada’s food-safety system calls on the federal regulator to strengthen oversight of sanitation and the humane handling Chicago_meat_inspection_swift_co_1906of animals at meat-slaughtering plants.

The findings from the tour of seven food-processing facilities, two laboratories and five Canadian Food Inspection Agency offices in the fall of 2012 were kept confidential until recently.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture declined to release the report earlier to The Globe and Mail, which requested it through U.S. access to information law. The findings were published last month on the department’s website.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency received an “adequate” rating, the lowest of three scores that are meted out to countries deemed eligible to export food to the United States. The designation means Canada will be subject to more robust audits and its food exports will undergo more inspections at the U.S. border than those of countries whose food-safety systems were rated “average” or “well-performing.”

Canada’s food-safety system faced heightened scrutiny after 23 people died in an outbreak of listeriosis linked to a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto in 2008, and E. coli contamination in 2012 at the former XL Foods facility near Brooks, Alta., led to the largest meat recall in Canadian history.

The federal government has revamped oversight of the CFIA, transferring responsibility to the Health Minister from the Agriculture Minister in October. The true effect of that change – whether it is substantial or cosmetic – remains unclear.

The U.S. review reveals that auditors found sanitation issues, including flaking paint and rust on pipes and overhead rails, at a pig-slaughter facility in Langley, B.C. Problems were also observed at the former XL cattle-slaughter plant, then temporarily shut down amid the E. coli outbreak in which 18 people fell sick with potentially deadly bacteria.

On their Nov. 2, 2012, visit to XL, auditors noted greasy spots on several conveyor belts in the boning room, which could have led to contamination. Among other issues observed was dust on protective trays under ventilators and blowers, also a contamination concern.

“There are always issues with audits, but overall, the audit findings were very good,” Tom Graham, director of CFIA’s domestic inspection division, said of the 2012 audit.

The CFIA plans to add extra oversight to its inspection program. The agency will establish a permanent inspection verification office in the spring, Mr. Graham said. The new office, which was recommended in an independent review of the XL contamination, will review inspection activities at food plants.

Keith Warriner, a food-science professor at the University of Guelph, thinks additional oversight of inspectors is a good idea. He said the XL recall and the listeriosis outbreak highlighted weaknesses.

“The common feature of those [cases] is that the CFIA weren’t applying the rules. They were turning a blind eye, and that was more so in the case of XL Foods,” Dr. Warriner said. “You need to have this [new] inspection service to make sure the inspectors are applying the regulations.”