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

30.aug.12

Food Control

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

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713512004409?v=s5

Abstract

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.

 

Feces, mold and salmonella found by CFIA before 2014 Country Ribbon licence suspension

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency identified serious concerns about sanitation and the safety of chicken produced by a Newfoundland processing operation before temporarily suspending the company’s licence last fall.

country.ribbon.chickenCBC News used access to information to obtain documents that shed light on problems found by federal inspectors at the Country Ribbon facility in St. John’s.

The 600 pages of records show that, before the suspension, inspectors with the CFIA — the federal agency that regulates food safety — found feces on chicken parts, and mold and dried blood on equipment.

Country Ribbon operates a large-scale processing operation near Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John’s. The facility employs more than 300 people and processes more than 10 million chickens annually.

The operation ground to a halt over the October Thanksgiving weekend in 2014. 

At the time, top Country Ribbon officials said the company’s licence was suspended because it wasn’t making improvements required by CFIA quickly enough.

As trouble mounted, a CFIA inspector stopped the plant’s slaughter operations.

Country Ribbon began processing chickens again after the company promised to fix the problems. But in the days and weeks that followed, inspectors continued to find other issues, such as mold on fixtures and equipment, and unacceptably high levels of salmonella.

One day, a random inspection found fecal contamination on a chicken thigh.

“The inspector had all parts condemned from the contaminated pan,” the inspection report noted.

Weeks later another inspection said fecal matter was found on a chicken wing.

Good reg, lousy enforcement: Why USDA inspection means little

Consumer Federation of America (CFA) today released an in-depth analysis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) primary meat and poultry food safety regulatory program. The report found that while the program has resulted in benefits to public health, further progress has been hindered by gaps in the program and by a legal challenge which has constrained robust action.

restaurant.inspectionThe program, known as the Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (PR/HACCP) regulation, was implemented following the 1993 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses and deaths linked to undercooked hamburgers sold at Jack in the Box restaurants in the northwestern United States. The PR/HACCP regulation, which went into effect in 1998, requires meat and poultry plants to develop food safety systems in which plants take steps to identify and prevent contamination of meat and poultry products.

CFA’s report, titled “The Promise and Problems of HACCP: A Review of USDA’s Approach to Meat and Poultry Safety” traces the history of USDA’s implementation of the PR/HACCP regulation and identifies gaps which have hindered the ability of the regulation to fully protect consumers.

Specifically, the report cites two examples of ongoing problems which have not been adequately addressed in the 17 years since the regulation first took effect:

Too often plants have failed to develop effective food safety plans while USDA has failed to adequately identify problems with those plans.

Plants are repeatedly cited for reoccurring food safety violations with little consequence.

These gaps have continued to occur and have often been identified in the wake of large, nationwide foodborne illness outbreaks, yet the problems have not been adequately addressed.  CFA recommends that USDA develop better approaches to reviewing plant food safety plans, including requiring that plants be required to prevent specific pathogens; and that USDA establish clear procedures to address reoccurring violations and when to take increased enforcement action.

The report also identifies how a court case brought against USDA by meat processor Supreme Beef in 1999 has hindered how USDA enforces its food safety regulations. In particular, the court case (Supreme Beef v USDA) limited the ability of USDA to enforce its regulations, effectively barring the government from shutting down a plant which fails to meet safety standards for Salmonella. Consumer groups have argued since that Congress should provide USDA with explicit authority to set and enforce food safety performance standards.

“USDA needs to provide better assurance that plants are reducing contamination of meat and poultry products and that the agency is effectively enforcing its regulations,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at Consumer Federation of America. “Enforceable standards would allow the agency to take decisive action when a problem is first identified rather than after an outbreak has already occurred.”

Summary

In a new report, the Consumer Federation of America traces the history of USDA’s approach to meat and poultry safety regulations. The analysis of this food safety program, known as Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (PR/HACCP), identifies gaps which have hindered the ability of the regulation to fully protect consumers. 

Findings

The analysis cites two examples of ongoing problems which have not been adequately addressed in the 17 years since the regulation first took effect:

Too often plants have failed to develop effective food safety plans while USDA has failed to adequately identify problems with those plans. 

Plants are repeatedly cited for reoccurring food safety violations with little consequence.

Conclusion and recommendations for FSIS

Develop a better way to evaluate plants’ HACCP plans.

Require plants to identify pathogens most commonly associated with particular meat and poultry products as hazards likely to occur and address them in their HACCP plans

Establish clear procedures and repercussions for reoccurring violations

Frequently and routinely update performance standards that are based on improving public health outcomes

Seek authority from Congress to set and enforce performance standards for pathogen reduction

Improve FSIS sampling programs to target riskiest facilities and products

Iowa editorial says egg conviction insufficient

Iowa egg producers Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son, Peter, stood in a Sioux City courtroom April 13 and were sentenced for their role in the nation’s largest egg-related salmonella outbreak.

egg.dirty.feb.12That outbreak, which sickened at least 56,000 people (2,000 confirmed) and led to a record-setting recall of more than half a billion eggs, stands as one of the worst cases of corporate negligence in Iowa history.

At the hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Bennett said the DeCosters “created a work environment where employees not only felt comfortable disregarding regulations and bribing USDA officials, but may have even felt pressure to do so.”

Given the magnitude of those crimes, and the tens of thousands of people who suffered as a result, the sentence that was handed down seems seriously lacking: The DeCosters were each fined $100,000 and sentenced to 90 days in jail, with a year of supervised release.

But the fact is, it’s not often that corporate executives are held criminally responsible for their companies’ actions, even when the nation’s food chain is poisoned. Most cases are resolved with corporate fines, and in this case the DeCosters’ Quality Egg had to pay almost $7 million in fines, restitution and forfeitures.

What’s more worrisome than the 90-day sentences is the fact that the DeCosters flouted federal regulations for years without ever being caught. The regulatory system that is supposed to prevent — not simply respond to — violations of food-safety regulations failed us completely. It wasn’t until consumers started becoming ill that investigators took any sort of meaningful action against the DeCosters.

According to federal authorities, the company deliberately and routinely provided false paperwork to an independent auditing firm that periodically inspected the plant and reviewed the company’s records to ensure the eggs were safe. On the eve of each impending audit, workers were given blank, signed audit forms and told to fabricate data for the reports. This went on for at least three years, at a time when the DeCosters were producing more than 1 million eggs per day.

For at least eight years, Quality Egg regularly shipped its customers eggs that were labeled with falsified processing dates and expiration dates to conceal the fact that the eggs were old. According to court records, this mislabeling of DeCoster eggs “was a common practice, and was well known among several Quality Egg employees.”

In 2010, federal inspectors conducted on-site visits to the company’s egg-laying facilities and feed mill. Inside, they found frogs; wild birds; a chicken skeleton; mice, beetles, maggots and flies; and manure that was piled to the rafters inside one building. Salmonella contamination was pervasive and widespread “throughout the entirety” of the Decosters’ Wright County egg operations.

On at least two occasions, Quality Egg officials bribed a USDA inspector to overlook regulatory violations — in one case, paying $300 from the company’s petty cash account.

Given the DeCosters’ long history of alleged regulatory violations related to salmonella outbreaks, the minimum wage, pollution, workplace safety, animal cruelty, child labor and the hiring of undocumented immigrants, government regulators should have been particularly vigilant in their oversight of this family’s Iowa operation. But they were not.