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.

Food safety used as union trump card, to no effect, and public discussion of food safety hits new low in Canada

It’s a recurring story, one that Jim Romahn has reported on for decades: the good meat gets exported, the inferior stuff stays at home.

audit.checklist-241x300It’s the same with Australian seafood, unless you know where to buy.

According to Canadian union thingy Bob Kingston, cuts to Canada’s food inspection programs have created a double standard, where meat sold to Canadians is not as well inspected than that destined for export.

“Lives are at risk, [there’s] the real likelihood that people will die. And I hope they wake up to this.”

At a news conference in Edmonton today, Kingston said since January, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has quietly rolled back inspections at meat plants in northern Alberta. Increased inspections were put in place following a 2008 listeriosis outbreak tied to Maple Leaf Foods products, which resulted in 22 deaths.

“There’s no public debate. There isn’t even an industry debate about what’s going on. It’s the rollback of those commitments to protect Canadians,” he said.

He said the CFIA has cut the presence of inspectors in facilities from five days a week to three – but only in plants that produce meat for the domestic market. The presence of inspectors in plants inspecting for export have stayed the same.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, a University of Guelph professor who studies food safety, said the changes do not mean Canadian meat is less safe to eat.

“I don’t think the health of Canadians has been compromised,” he said.

“Canadian-destined meat doesn’t get less attention. It just gets different attention.”

He said given the CFIA’s resources, the agency’s changes are the “right way” to approach inspections. Reducing inspections of plants making domestically bound meat was done because the government has confidence in those facilities. Putting resources towards protecting exports is a vital task, he argued.

Charlebois don’t know much about food safety.

Keith Warriner, director of the food safety and quality assurance program at the University of Guelph, who knows more, said the implication that the meat sold in Canada is unsafe is “a little bit of scare-mongering.”

He said the union’s argument, that fewer inspectors inherently means people are at risk, isn’t true. 

“If you had a policeman on every corner, yes, crime might go down,” he said. 

“But the better thing is, isn’t it, to instill into people not to commit the crime in the first place.”

Warriner pointed to events like the 2012 E. coli outbreak centred around beef from the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., which sickened over a dozen people. He said in that case, the plant had enough inspectors, but that they were not doing the work properly. 

He said a much better solution is to get the meat industry to “take ownership” of food safety.

“You can’t test your way to food safety. You can’t inspect your way to food safety,” he said.

Instead, Warriner would like to see most of the inspection duties being handled by the plants themselves, with federal inspectors looking over a company’s internal inspection records.

Yes, we wrote a paper about that:

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.

New Zealand closes online fish market

Bored suburbanites like to dabble in risk, and I never understood the term black market, other than it was offensive.

UnknownMinistry for Primary Industries (MPI) compliance officers today terminated an operation against four groups in Auckland who were selling seafood.

MPI compliance officers supported, by the NZ Police, executed search warrants on five South Auckland properties that were identified, from a Facebook page, selling seafood to the public.

MPI compliance officers are talking to ten people in relation to the operation. Investigations are continuing with a view to laying charges under the Fisheries Act.

MPI Compliance Director Dean Baigent says compliance officers learned that a Facebook page was being used for one-off sales of seafood in Auckland and that the page had more than 400 followers.

MPI has been monitoring these groups and has received numerous reports from the public of this illegal activity.

Portland TV investigative report details food safety issues at Foster Farms in 2014

Kyle Iboshi, Senior Investigative Reporter at KGW TV reports that USDA inspection reports that were acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request (below, exactly as shown) detail multiple violations at a Kelso, WA Foster Farms processing plant in 2014. Foster Farms’ chicken was linked to over 630 cases of salmonellosis between 2011 and 2014.

The reports, dated from March to September 2014, show 40 separate violations of food safety rules at the Kelso plant during the six month period.foster-farms

“There were multiple times when food safety problems were identified and then not addressed,” said Christopher Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America in Washington D.C.

Reports show on July 9, 2014 an inspector found fecal material on a raw chicken.

“The fecal material was found on the inside left hip/thigh area consisting of dark green creamy material,” wrote the government inspector.

“You shouldn’t have fecal matter on chickens,” said Waldrop. “That presents a risk to consumers because they could get sick if they consume that chicken or other chickens that were processed at the same time.”

“Foster Farms is committed to the highest levels of food safety and regrets any illness that may have previously been associated with any of its products,” wrote the company in a statement to KGW. The company declined requests for an on-camera interview.

“We really need to know what is happening in these plants,” said Waldrop.

Foster Farms Inspection Reports

Walk the talk: Role of animal husbandry, food safety, MC officials criticized in India

The role of officials of the Animal Husbandry Department, Food Safety Standard (FSS) and Municipal Corporation (MC) is under the scanner for giving a free run to a Shoghi-based private slaughterhouse. Two recent joint inspections during the bird flu scare has exposed that the slaughterhouse is not being run as per FSS norms as reports have pointed out blatant shortcomings there.

2015_2$largeimg08_Feb_2015_224402323The six-member team’s report of the slaughterhouse, run by the Goels Food World, Shoghi, which is with The Tribune, revealed that the slaughterhouse was compromising on health and hygiene as 20-30 dead birds were lying on the dirty floor. Also, the slaughterhouse had no rendering facility.

Besides, the staff used no protecting gears and the effluent treatment facility was non-functional. It had no veterinarian to conduct the ante-mortem and post-mortem of the birds and cull the dead or unfit birds, the inspection revealed. Though the slaughterhouse was being run since 2006, the unit was registered as a food technology unit.

The inspection was carried out on August 6, 2014, and followed by another inspection on December 27, which found similar shortcomings.

The report also exposed the paperwork being done by the government agencies. The six-member team included officials from the Animal Husbandry Department, MC, veterinary officers, Pollution Control Board, but no official from the Directorate of Health and the FSS was involved.

Neither the MC-run slaughterhouse here nor the private slaughterhouse was quarantined for bird flu, as mandated under the FSS rules and WHO norms for bird and swine flus, revealed health experts.

The Municipal Commissioner, Shimla, said they had issued a notice to the private operator to stop the unethical practice of selling uncertified meat in the municipal limits after the joint inspection report pointed out the shortcomings at the slaughterhouse. “We have set up a modern slaughterhouse and monitor it daily but we cannot check the private one directly as it falls outside the limits of the corporation,” he added.

Mancini: Food safety at home

Rob Mancini writes:

There’s a lot of talk about food safety in the home.

mancini.kitchen.2Because the majority of meals consumed are at home.

In 2005 I hosted Kitchen Crimes, a television-based series that promoted food safety at home, from dirty sponges to mice poop on countertops, we’ve seen it all. I always inform the public to use a diluted concentration of bleach to water in efforts to wash produce, countertops, and so on without validating the procedure.

From my experience, 100ppm of a diluted bleach solution means absolutely nothing to the home chef and more often than none, an excessive amount of bleach is used.

There are three important factors to consider when looking at food safety at home: hand washing; the use of a digital tip-sensitive thermometer and understanding proper internal temperatures; and, avoid cross-contamination.