It’s all about knowing your supplier (sic); Rancho Feeding Corp. in US charged with selling sick, unfit cattle

A federal grand jury has indicted Rancho Feeding Corp., the Petaluma, California, slaughterhouse at the center of a massive beef recall, for processing animals condemned by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors and processing others that were known to have eye cancer.

Rancho Feeding CorpThe indictment, dated last Thursday, charges Rancho co-owner Jesse J. Amaral Jr. and two workers, foreperson Felix Sandoval Cabrera and yardperson Eugene D. Corda, with 11 felony counts, including distribution of adulterated and misbranded meat, mail fraud and conspiracy. Amaral pleaded not guilty during a Monday morning hearing and was released on $50,000 bail. The status of Cabrera and Corda is still pending.

In a filing Monday, prosecutors informed U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer that Rancho’s co-owner, Robert Singleton, will be indicted on a single count of distributing adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat. The filing says the U.S. Attorney’s Office anticipates that Singleton will plead guilty and cooperate with prosecution of the other Rancho defendants. The main indictment, which does not name Singleton as a defendant, refers to him only as “R.S.”

The indictment alleges that Amaral and R.S. directed employees to circumvent inspection procedures for cows that exhibited signs of epithelioma, including lumps and other abnormalities around the eyes, from mid-2012 until January 2014.

According to the indictment, Cabrera, the foreperson, swapped uninspected cows for cattle that had already passed inspection and were awaiting slaughter. Then employees slaughtered the cancerous cattle and deposited their heads in a gut bin, the indictment says. Employees then allegedly placed the heads from apparently healthy cattle next to the carcasses of the diseased cattle during the inspectors’ lunch breaks.

Employees are also said to have carved out “USDA Condemned” stamps from other carcasses. 

Audits and inspections can suck: UK food watchdog admits chicken factory breached hygiene laws

Roy Stevenson was a senior quality controller for more than a decade at one of the UK’s largest poultry abattoirs, in Scunthorpe, until the end of 2012 when he was made redundant. Owned by the 2 Sisters group, the factory still supplies many leading supermarkets and fast-food chains. After the Guardian investigated this factory and others this year to understand why so much chicken across the industry was contaminated with Campylobacter, Stevenson decided to come forward. He wanted to explain what is was like when he worked there, and why there can be such a gap between what auditors see and what workers feel is the reality on the factory floor

FunkyChickenHiThe government’s food watchdog has been forced to admit that an initial inquiry which cleared one of the UK’s largest poultry processing plants of hygiene failings was misleading.

Instances of chickens being dropped on the floor then returned to the production line, documented by a Guardian investigation into failings in the poultry industry, constituted a “breach of the legislation”, the Food Standards Agency has now acknowledged.

Following the Guardian revelations at the site in Scunthorpe in July, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, asked the FSA to investigate. It rated the factory as good and wrote to the shadow food and farming minister saying there was no evidence of any breaches of food hygiene legislation.

But in an embarrassing climbdown less than a month on, the FSA has written to Labour’s Huw Irranca-Davies admitting it was wrong. It has reviewed the Guardian’s undercover footage showing dirty birds from the floor being thrown back into food production and concluded there has been a serious breach. But it has not issued a penalty, saying the company has assured it the problem has been addressed.

The admission comes as fresh allegations of hygiene failings at the factory emerged, with three former employees making claims about dirty chickens contaminating the production line and attempts to manipulate inspections up to 2012.

Labour said the FSA admission and the new questions over safety raised serious questions about the poultry inspection system in the UK.

But now three workers who have been in charge of quality control at the factory in recent years have come forward claiming it was “an almost daily occurrence” for birds to fall on the floor and be put back into the food chain instead of being correctly disposed of as waste. The company initially denied any instances of this happening.

The sources also claimed that auditors were often hoodwinked, even when their visits were supposedly unannounced, as managers slowed production lines and cleaned up poor practice when they were present. One described his responsibility for ensuring production managers followed the company’s own rules on food hygiene and safety as “a war of attrition”.

chicken.wrap.campyThe three new sources were all employed as quality controllers until 2012 at the Scunthorpe site. Roy Stevenson was in charge of a team of quality assurance technicians and worked at the factory for more than a decade until being made redundant at the end of 2012.

“On the day of the audit, all the lines would be slowed to a minimum where it was pristine,” he claimed. “There would be no birds dropping on to the floor, an auditor would walk round and everything would look lovely, unlike any other day.”

Richard Lingard worked at the factory as a quality controller for a few weeks in 2012 before moving on because he said it was impossible to do the job correctly. A third former quality controller with several years’ experience at Scunthorpe in the recent past, who asked for anonymity, described being regularly undermined and bypassed when trying to enforce hygiene rules.

All three claimed birds fell on the floor regularly because the line speeds were too fast for workers to keep up, and they would then be recycled back into the food chain in breach of company policy. They allege that their efforts to stop this happening were undermined by production staff.

In response, 2 Sisters said audits could not be cheated and it had no way of knowing when unannounced ones would take place.

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

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.

55 kg of rotten meat seized at railway station in India

At least 55 kg of rotten meat products were seized by Food Safety inspectors and Railway officials at the Ernakulam Junction railway station on Monday.

Expired-meatThe packets containing the meat products, including pork items, were sent from Chennai by the Chennai-Allapuzha Express. The expired meat was seized when it was unloaded at the railway station.

According to Railway Protection Force (RPF) officials, they opened the packets when foul smell emanated from them.

“The meat products were packaged as fish. When we opened the boxes, it was found that two of the boxes were containing foul-smelling pork meat. The meat was at least one year old,” the officials said.

Several meat packets, inscribed ‘bacon’, were found to be packed in August 2013.

Mystery of kitchen’s ‘clean bill of health’ in Malta

St Vincent de Paul home for the elderly was “in constant breach” of health and food hygiene regulations and it was difficult to understand how it was given “a clean bill of health” in previous months, a report by the Institute for Tourism Studies has concluded.

St Vincent de Paul home for the elderlyThe report, extracts of which were seen by Times of Malta, also points out that the home for the elderly – the country’s largest – did not have a system to identify and control food safety hazards.

“In view of the fact that no HACCP [Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points or Security System] is in place… one fails to understand how the… kitchen was for the last few months given a clean bill of health,” according to the report, completed on May 30.

On Tuesday Parliamentary Secretary for the Elderly Justyne Caruana announced that the kitchen would be closed down and rebuilt.

Festival vendors need food safety too

Back before kids, Dani and I lived in Kansas for a few months and spent every weekend traveling around the state looking for quirky stuff to do and see.

And fried chicken.

The quest for festivals and attractions took us to Leavenworth and Garden City as well as lesser known spots like Cawker City and Lucas.Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 8.37.03 AM

Our boys are now old enough (and manageable enough) for day trips and we’re going to hit a few events here in North Carolina this summer – and some will have food trucks and concession stands.

Festival food vendors have have been linked to multiple outbreaks in the past including over 800 cases of salmonellosis at the Taste of Chicago and 37 cases of E. coli O157 linked to Folklorama  which led to this research on training temporary event vendors).

According to Greensboro NC’s WFMY, festival vendors aren’t exactly the same as the restaurants when it comes to inspection.

90 percent of food vendors at festivals don’t get inspected by the health department. Here’s why. They serve baked, sweet or frozen items. Bakeries, ice cream parlors and popcorn places aren’t considered restaurants. The department of agriculture regulates them instead. But the health department does inspect mobile food trucks and even push carts. 

James Howell’s hot dog push cart has a perfect 100 sanitation score. “Safety is probably number one and then the product that you use is number two in a business like this.”

Health inspector Paula Cox says just because the food business is on wheels doesn’t mean vendors get to roll on by un-noticed. “It’s a very condensed, mini-inspection – but it still follows the same process that we look for when we’re looking at a larger place. It’s just a smaller menu.”

Push carts are inspected twice a year. But the only day that really matters is the day you eat from one. Paula says watch how the cart operator works:

  • Do they wear gloves when handling food?
  • Do they use utensils to dish out or serve food?
  • Do they have a way to sanitize their hands between food and money handling?

All good stuff for a patron to look for.

Food safety is more complex than a cupcake

William L. Hatfield, LEHP, PG, director of Environmental Health for the Boone County Department of Public Health in Rockford, Illinois, writes in this opinion piece that the intent of the public health codes is to prevent illness and injury to the public through preventative actions.

vanilla-cupcake-3The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Understandably, a large part of state and local codes involves the food industry.

In the food industry, inspections of food facilities, food production/storage and food personnel have been the preventative actions most beneficial to the public health. The inspections are intended to be conducted across the board whenever food is being offered to the general public regardless of age, income, intent of the operation or the political viewpoint of the operator.

There has been a lot of publicity recently involving a young person being required to comply with existing food codes to sell cupcakes. Rather than the focus being on the potential danger to the public of food products, the discussion became the age of the operator, entrepreneurship and government regulation.

- The age of the operator is irrelevant. The primary issue remains public health and safety; that is why the codes require a permit, which reimburses the taxpayer for inspection costs. If this young entrepreneur had wanted to operate a taxi service, no one would question the fact that a driver’s license would be necessary and that driving laws would have to be followed. That’s because everyone recognizes the potential danger to the public when it comes to traffic safety.

On the other hand, the general public is not as aware of the dangers involved in food production. Were these cupcakes prepared on a kitchen counter where the baby is changed, the cat is allowed to jump up and the parakeet flies overhead? Were eggs used in the recipe and were they candled grade “A” eggs or from the neighbors chickens? Were proper hygiene practices followed? Were proper techniques utilized to protect from cross-contamination of allergens, etc. Failure to ensure that these types of potential hazards are addressed can cause consumers to be exposed to foodborne illnesses, hospitalization and death.

- Entrepreneurship should be encouraged. However, part of being an entrepreneur is learning what the rules are concerning your selection of products or services. There are many, many products that can be sold with no potential danger to the public and would not require inspections and inspection-related permits. An individual could sell pencils, homemade craft products or offer a personal service such as lawn mowing, etc. Even with these products and services, it’s a good idea to check with local authorities to determine if there are rules to observe.

- Government regulation is not the issue. Most regulations are put into place because they have a decided impact upon public health or safety. The state food code, which came into effect in 1975, was determined to be necessary by our elected legislators to ensure that food being offered to the general public meets a minimum standard for wholesomeness and sanitation.

Regulatory exemptions are not the answer. Carving out exceptions to a long-standing law that was based upon recognized sanitation practices that protect the public from foodborne illnesses accomplishes nothing. In fact, each time an exemption is allowed, the overall protection intended by the original law is weakened. As a result, the code becomes unnecessarily convoluted and complex to the point that both the public and enforcement agencies are confused. Enforcement then is perceived to be selective, which is opposed to the intent of the original law.

The real solution to this type of issue is to remain focused upon the original intent of the legislation and only make those changes that are in harmony with that intent. If evidence and justification exists to deem cupcakes, for instance, to be nonhazardous and constitute no risk to the public, that product should be exempted so that anyone is able to produce and sell them anywhere at any time without regulatory oversight.

Shouldn’t it apply every day? Dubai issues food safety instructions during Ramadan

All the food outlets that intend to display or sell food outside their premises should get prior approval from the department.

20140521_Ramadan-in-Dubai-2014In preparation for the Holy Month of Ramadan, Dubai Municipality has come up with a comprehensive plan along with stringent instructions to the owners of food establishments who plans to sell snacks outside shops during Ramadan.

The instructions issued by the food control department have been directed to all restaurants, cafeterias, sweet shops, bakeries and catering companies functioning in Dubai.

Khalid Sharif, Director of the Food Control Department said, “This year we have assigned a team of experienced food inspectors to ensure food safety for all preparing to observe the Holy Month. All the food outlets that intend to display or sell food outside their premises should get prior approval from the department.”

“Food establishments such as restaurants and cafeterias must co-operate with the department by adhering to the rules and regulations which are made to ensure safety and to avoid any possible risks to human health during the Holy Month,” he added.

Canadian meat inspectors to inspect Canadian meat inspectors

If food safety audits and inspections couldn’t get worse, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is bragging that it is creating Inspection Verification Teams to oversee the performance of Canada’s food safety system.

larry.health.inspectorI thought inspectors were supposed to do that?

Starting this month, six teams of three inspection verification officers will begin conducting targeted verifications at federally registered food establishments such as slaughter and meat production facilities. The verifications will focus on areas critical to the inspection and production of safe food, such as plant sanitation and the effectiveness of a company’s response to food recalls. An additional four teams will be operational by the fall.

As announced in June 2013, the Government of Canada has committed $16 million over three years to establish the Inspection Verification Teams. Their activities are over and above regular inspections conducted every day in facilities across Canada. Existing front-line CFIA inspectors will continue to conduct specified daily tasks to verify that food safety requirements are being met while the Inspection Verification Teams have a broader oversight role.

Worthy sentiment: food safety before profit

Dave Watson of the Unison Scotland blog writes:

Protecting the consumer and quality Scottish food brands needs proper regulation and a new Food body that puts food safety before company profit.

Chicago_meat_inspection_swift_co_1906I was giving evidence this morning to the Scottish Parliament Health Committee on the Food (Scotland) Bill. This Bill creates Food Standards Scotland to take over the work of the UK-wide Food Standards Agency in Scotland, and establishes new food law provisions.

UNISON welcomes the devolution of this work from a UK body that has a mixed record in protecting consumers. It has all too often fallen into the deregulation lobby and tamely surrendered to the pressures from some meat producers for faster production at the expense of food safety. We hope that a Scottish body will recognise that protecting the brand requires independent inspection, so that the consumer can have confidence in the product. It was encouraging to hear Tesco making similar points this morning.

A key test will be to ensure that meat inspection is not handed over to the companies as many of the producers would wish. A company meat inspector is inevitably placed in an impossible conflict of interests position.

There is a good example of deregulation currently in front of MSPs with an EU proposal to introduce visual only inspection of pig carcasses. This means the 37,000 abscesses and tumours spotted by meat inspectors are likely to be missed in future and minced into our sausages and pies. The health risks may be low, but this is a quality issue. Something the FSA thinks is nothing to do with them. I trust MSPs grasped what the FSA said on that point this morning and ensure that quality is a concern.

There is a welcome strengthening of the regulatory powers in areas such as administrative fines and a duty to report. However, all the legislation and regulation in the world is useless if it is not enforced – a common theme in evidence this morning. The numbers of local authority Environmental Health Officers and staff dealing with food have been cut by 20% and food sampling is down by a third. Putting an out of date inspection report on a restaurant door is pointless. The preventative and education work that the industry welcomes is also being reduced because of staffing cuts.

The legislation is very light on staffing issues, you would think inspection was carried out by robots! Staff transfers are relegated to the Financial Memorandum when the Cabinet Office rules say they should be in the legislation. There are also no provisions for Staff Governance, something the new body would benefit from.

There may well be a reduced demand for pies and and sausages in the MSP canteen today and our latest info graphic makes the point visually. Let’s hope our MSPs recognise that food safety and quality is everyone’s business.

School food safety has improved, Dubai food inspectors say

The quality and safety of school meals has greatly improved in recent years, say Dubai Municipality food inspectors.

The authority had focused on improving the standards of suppliers and catering companies, and said it was pleased with the results.

dubai.school.lunch“Suppliers know that if they do not comply with the regulations we will not give them a licence to supply to schools,” said Sultan Al Taher, head of food inspection at Dubai Municipality.

“But overall I’m happy with how they have responded to meeting our requirements, and the level is much better than it was 15 to 20 years ago.”

He said food-safety standards would not be compromised despite Dubai’s expansion in recent years, and its continued growth as it geared up to host Expo 2020.

Ayesha Al Mukhayat, senior food health officer at the municipality, said there had been a significant improvement in standards at Dubai schools.

“Our focus is on the suppliers of food products to schools in the emirate,” said Ms Al Mukhayat. “We work with them to make sure they meet our standards, particularly in how they store hot and cold foods.”

The principal food-inspection officer at the municipality, Bobby Krishna, said: “We want to encourage healthier eating in schools but that comes with its own challenges in terms of keeping food safe.

“Things like fresh fruit and vegetables are healthy but they must also be consumed sooner. In general, processed foods can keep longer because they are cooked but raw fruit and vegetables should be eaten sooner.”