Oregon deserves regular, visible grocery inspections

Following up on the series of articles by Tracy Loew about grocery store inspection disclosure in Oregon, her paper, the Statesman Journal, comes out in favor of full disclosure.

image4Good for them.

In Oregon, it is difficult for consumers to learn whether the food at their favorite grocery store is handled safely.

That is the state’s fault.

And that is unconscionable.

The understaffed Oregon Department of Agriculture lags far behind the nationally recommended schedule for store inspections. Even worse, the public cannot easily learn what the inspectors found.

As the Statesman Journal’s Tracy Loew reported last week in stories that should raise legislators’ ire, the Agriculture Department has a huge backlog of grocery store inspections. Some stores have not been inspected for years, even though the federal government recommends inspections every six months.

State agriculture officials say that is because they prioritize inspections based on which activities in the food chain represent the greatest risk to public health and which facilities have a history of problems. That approach sounds defensible from a risk-analysis viewpoint, but it leaves widespread holes in the food-safety system.

The number of serious violations found in grocery store inspections can be astounding. Some — food being sold past the expiration date, food stored at the wrong temperature and food-handling equipment that is unclean — are enough to make the stomach turn.

The Agriculture Department inspection staff is stretched too thin. And some legislators say the situation is not unique to that department.

deli.counterThe 2015 Legislature should undertake a thorough review of inspections conducted by the state’s licensing and regulatory agencies, including:

•Do the inspections serve the purposes for which they were intended?

•Should the inspection process be streamlined? Intensified? Eliminated?

•How are inspections financed, and is staffing appropriate for the workload?

•Are inspection reports promptly posted online, where they are easily available for public view?

For grocery stores, another question desperately needs answering: Should county health departments be given the duty — and the state funding — to inspect grocery stores.

Counties already inspect restaurants. Grocery stores have added delis and other restaurant-style options to meet Americans’ changing lifestyles. For many people, a quick stop at the grocery store has replaced either eating at home or dining out.

In contrast to the backlog in grocery store inspections, about 95 percent of Oregon restaurant inspections are completed on time. The Oregon Health Authority is responsible for those restaurant, cafe and food-cart inspections but delegates that work to counties.

Because grocery stores operate on slim profit margins and face intense competition, it’s in their best interests to have the cleanest, healthiest food handling, display and storage. Some stores have increased their own inspections to compensate for the infrequency of state inspections. That is to their credit.

Still, inspections throughout the food chain are among government’s most important roles. A government inspection report, especially one that the public easily can see, adds clout to the importance of food safety.

It is baffling that the Agriculture Department this year created a database to track inspections and findings but planned the database only for internal management use instead of posting the results online. That suggests misplaced priorities and misunderstanding of the importance of transparency. In contrast, Marion County has an easy-to-use public database of restaurant inspections.

Gov. John Kitzhaber and legislators have a duty to bring Oregon from one of the least progressive states on food-to-table inspections to one of the best. This is an issue of public health, accountability and transparency.

Oregonians should not have to file a public records request and pay a fee for a copy of a grocery store’s inspection report.

Oregonians should not be left in the dark about their neighborhood grocery stores.

Oregonians should expect that their state government ensures their food safety — regularly and publicly.

Get off of my cloud, get out of my restaurant: interfering with public health types in Canada

Toronto food safety inspector guru and friend of the barfblog, Jim Chan (left exactly as shown), writes with Si Le and Paul Di Salvo about the safety and legal implications of getting in the way when an inspector comes to visit.

jim.chanThe full paper is a good read, and available at http://pubs.ciphi.ca/doi/full/10.5864/d2012-015.

This case study outlines an obstruction incident involving a Public Health Inspector (PHI) being obstructed while conducting an inspection. PHIs are empowered by legislation to conduct inspections and investigations without obstruction or hindrance from any person. Managers and employers have a duty to ensure PHIs are able to conduct their work free from harm or harassment.

Previous case law provides an excellent perspective as to what actions constitute obstruction. In the current case, previous case law was used to substantiate the evidence and perspective of the Prosecutor and PHI when prosecuting the offender. To better safeguard PHIs during incidents involving obstructive behaviour, implementing an administrative warning system of problematic premises in addition to working in pairs, when feasible, will ensure inspection services are carried out safely and effectively.


 

Making a pig’s ear of food safety

I don’t care who does meat inspection, as long as the results are available for public scrutiny, preferably at retail. As we have documented, there are problems with government inspections, audits, and no inspections (see below).

restaurant.inspectionTed Genoways, the author of “The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food,” asks in The New York Times, if, thanks to an experimental inspection program, a meatpacking firm produces as much as two tons a day of pork contaminated by fecal matter, urine, bile, hair, intestinal contents or diseased tissue, should that count as a success?

The agency responsible for enforcing food safety laws has not only approved this new inspection regime but is considering whether to roll it out across the pork-processing industry. Last month, the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture said it wished to see if the pilot program “could be applied to additional establishments.”

The issue was not whether microbiological testing was superior to physical inspection, officials said, but whether self-regulation was sufficient and safe. But in 1997, U.S.D.A. executives approved testing in five pork-processing plants.

By the time the pilot program was fully implemented, in 2004, Hormel Foods Corporation, a Fortune 500 company with headquarters in Austin, Minn., had succeeded in getting its two major slaughter operations included, and had acquired a third. The new inspection system allowed Hormel to increase the speed of its cut lines, just before demand for cheap pork products like Spam soared during the recession. My reporting revealed that Hormel went from processing about 7,000 hogs per shift to as many as 11,000.

But some of Hormel’s own quality-assurance auditors began to raise concerns. Under normal U.S.D.A. guidelines, inspectors manually check the glands in the head of every hog, palpate the lymph nodes to check for tuberculosis nodules, feel the intestines for parasites and the kidneys for signs of inflammation or hidden masses. A former process-control auditor from the Austin plant told me that, by 2006, the line was running so fast that he doubted the lone U.S.D.A. inspector could do more than visual checks.

Chicago_meat_inspection_swift_co_1906Then, last year, the U.S.D.A. inspector general reported on the hazard analysis project. The findings were damning. Enforcement of food safety protocols was so lacking at the five plants participating that between 2008 and 2011, three of the five were among the 10 worst violators nationwide (of 616 pork processors).

Philip Derfler, deputy administrator of the inspection service, promised a further investigation. That report was finally posted last month. Remarkably, it painted the new inspection program as a success — though much of its data suggested otherwise. From 2006 to 2010, for example, fecal contamination was consistently higher than in standard plants, often much higher.

In 2011, however, the program changed from allowing meat inspectors to decide which carcasses to inspect to a computerized system that set the sampling schedule and recorded results electronically. The system failed repeatedly that year, rendering all data unusable. Inspectors also reported failures in 2012 and 2013 that sent at least 100 million pounds of uninspected meat to market.

Despite this, in 2013, the rate of contamination recorded by the new computer system appeared low enough for the inspection service to declare victory. The new report said the number of serious violations was “exceedingly small.”

In fact, over the course of the study, contaminated carcasses were found in the experimental plants at a rate of about five to seven animals per 10,000 processed, with little variation over time. That may sound low, but given the volume of production and the weight of market hogs, it means that an operation the size of Hormel’s would “approve” about 4,000 pounds of contaminated pork a day.

The American public must be assured that high-volume production — and profits — have not been put before food safety.


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.

Proper cleaning and sanitizing matters; so does correcting infractions

Restaurants I want to eat at have some common attributes: tasty food, decent value and a good food safety culture. Food safety culture isn’t about having a training program – it’s about identifying hazards, understanding how to manage them and when deficiencies are pointed out, reacting by addressing problems.

I avoid places that have trouble responding to the help that local public health regulatory folks provide. Everyone can have a bad day, but having two or three consecutive inspections and not correcting the issues is a trend that says more about what an operator values.JS51071999

According to GetHampshire.com, Woodys Take Out received a formal caution by local regulators after not heeding inspectors’ warnings to address their food safety activities.

The offences, noted during visits on October 23 and November 3, included a lack of effective cleaning and disinfection of the premises and equipment such as chopping boards, handles and taps.

Food handlers were also found to not have been suitably trained in food hygiene procedures and demonstrated a poor understanding of effective cleaning.

There was also a failure to implement required food safety management systems.

The director of the company – which has branches in Farnborough, Aldershot, Blackwater and Yiewsley – accepted the cautions, admitting the offences on behalf of the company.

As part of this action, the takeaway voluntarily closed for one day to ensure that the premises were brought up to the minimum standard required by law.

Good cleaning and sanitizing takes having the right equipment, staff that know how to do it and an organizational value system that ensures it gets carried out. Dirty utensils and cutting boards in the prep area can lead to cross-contamination risks.

‘Accepting and turning blind-eye to violations must end’ Changing food safety culture in Lebanon

Ministers stressed on Saturday their support to the food safety campaign waged by Health Minister Wael Abou Faour, considering it a necessity to end the chaos in Lebanon.

hassan-bahsoun-(3)“Establishing a food safety association would end such a crisis on the long term,” Agriculture Minister Akram Shehayeb said during a meeting between several ministers and the Economic Committees at the Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture in Beirut’s Hamra area.

“Minister Abou Faour created a positive shock through his campaign,” Environment Minister Mohammed al-Mashnouq told reporters.

He stressed that all violators should be held accountable.

“The stance adopted by Abou Faour isn’t personal,” Mashnouq said, pointing out that the culture of accepting and turning a blind-eye to violations must end.

For his party, Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon, who previously rejected the health minister’s tactics in announcing the names of institutions violating food safety measures via new conferences, said that “Abou Faour’s measures shed the light on a huge problem.”

Economy Minister Alain Hakim said that the “state has long neglected the food safety case,” warning that the scandal will have an impact on the country’s economy.

Industry Minister Hussein al-Hajj Hassan called on ministers not to point fingers regarding the food scandal but to assume responsibilities in order to reach integration.

Abou Faour vowed to continue the campaign, stressing that “protecting citizens doesn’t oppose the country’s economy.”

Authorities Friday shut down more slaughterhouses, restaurants, supermarkets and other retailers selling contaminated food as part of a crackdown launched last week on food establishments violating safety and sanitation standards.

Tripoli’s slaughterhouse was closed Friday by the Internal Security Forces in line with a decision taken by north Lebanon Governor Ramzi Nohra.

The decision came after he received a Health Ministry report listing changes that needed to be made for the slaughterhouse to conform to health standards.

The report said livestock must be hanged during slaughter and not laid on the ground and that the abattoir should also be equipped with refrigerators and storage units to separate meat.

Food safety issues shut Irish shop

A closure order was served on a New Ross shop due to a grave and immediate risk to the public’s health.

farmpak.irishtownFarmpak, located at 68 Irishtown, was visited by environmental health officers, accompanied by Gardaí, on the afternoon of Thursday, October 23 and the premises was closed later that day on foot of a food safety investigation.

Owned by Laurence Murphy, the premises has been operating for a number of years and the area outside the shop is a ‘hang out’ area for teenagers in recent times.

Gayle Carroll, services contract manager with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland said environmental health officers were in attendance on October 23 to serve a closure order. She said the officers operate under contract to the FSAI.

Ms Carroll said the order was served due to a grave and immediate danger to the public’s health.

Commenting on recent closure orders, FSAI chief executive Prof Alan Reilly said that vigilance is always required in relation to food safety and that the legal onus is on food businesses to act responsibly and ensure that the food they serve and sell is safe to eat.

Villagers in China ordered to alert authorities if they hold outdoor banquets

Villagers holding banquets with more than 40 guests in Zhoukou, Henan province, will have to inform the authorities in advance in a bid to combat food poisoning, it has been reported.

banquet.china.inspectionSome critics have said the new policy discriminated against rural residents while others warned it would be difficult to enforce and would have little impact, according to the Dahe Daily newspaper.

Holding outdoor banquets for occasions such as weddings and funerals is customary in rural China. The size of the feasts varies from a few dozen guests to several hundred. Now the authorities will keep records of rural communal banquets and send supervisors to ensure food safety, according to the new directive posted on the Zhoukou municipal government’s website.

The directive requires organisers to report the time and location of the banquet, number of guests and identity of the chefs to officials in charge of food safety one day before the event, if more than 40 guests are expected.

India slams notices on over 80 eateries in Kolhapur

The district Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) on Saturday issued ‘improvement’ notices to 85 eateries in the city and nearby areas for not complying with Food Safety Management regulations. 

IMG_0015According to the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and Rules and Regulations, 2011, hotels and food stalls must comply with norms related to maintaining hygienic conditions while preparing and serving food to the customers. 

In their raids on establishments over the past week, FDA officials observed that food safety norms – like wearing gloves, using clean vessels to prepare food, clean premises and clean drinking water served to customers – were not followed at these 85 establishments. 

Blood-covered cardboard and rat droppings found at UK supermarket sentenced for food hygiene offences

Rat droppings on pallets of bottled water and cardboard covered in blood were just some of the shocking finds made at a supermarket in Slough.

The director and manager of Marwa Superstore in High Street have been fined and banned from managing food businesses after pleading guilty to a string of food safety offences.

marwaAppearing at Slough Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, September 25 the owner of the store, Noor Al-Huda Ltd, company director, Raghad Kadham, and day-to-day manager, Mahdi Bourhan, were all fined and ordered to pay costs.

The offences included failure to keep food in a manner which protected it from contamination, failing to keep the premises clean, and failing to have procedures in place to keep the premises free from pests.

All three were also prohibited from being involved in the management of any food business with immediate effect.

Slough Borough Council food safety manager Ann Stewart said: “Marwa clearly haven’t learned their lessons because, despite repeated warnings and food safety rating of zero, a lot of the problems we found were similar to the ones that led to its closure two years ago.