We’re both necessary evils, he gets paid better: Food lawyers

Ronald L. Doering, a past president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and counsel in the Ottawa offices of Gowling WLG (Ronald.Doering@gowlings.com) writes in his latest Food in Canada column:

ron.doeringExcept for maybe the Income Tax Act, it’s hard to imagine any area of the law that is more intimately pervasive in the daily lives of Canadians than food law. It regulates the agriculture and food industry, the second largest sector of the Canadian economy. For reasons of health, trade and consumer protection, this large and rapidly growing field has over a dozen specific federal statutes and many more provincial ones that form the basis of thousands of pages of regulations.

The food regulations under the Food and Drug Act are over 400 pages long and the nine sets of regulations under the Canada Agricultural Products Act are even much longer.

And yet, surprisingly, in this country, food law has not been widely recognized as a distinct area of law as it has been in the United States and Europe. We still don’t have a modern comprehensive text in food law. We don’t have a regular reporting service. Our law societies don’t recognize it as a separate area of specialization. Our law schools don’t teach it. Even lawyers who work for food companies don’t think of themselves as food lawyers. But this could all be changing.

One reason for the change is the dramatic growth in the scope and profile of food law over the last 20 years. While Canada got its first food adulteration statute as far back as 1876 and the original Food and Drug Act in 1920, to my mind, the modern era of food law can be traced to the famous 1993 “Jack in the Box” case that graphically showed the world that a young woman’s life could be ruined just by eating a hamburger that had an invisible trace of a little known bacteria. Several other high-profile foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. soon followed.

Twenty years ago this winter, Canada led the world when it brought together 16 programs that had formerly been de­livered by four departments to integrate the whole food chain — seeds, feeds, fertilizers, plant health, animal health, all food commodities including fish — by creating the Canadian Food Inspec­tion Agency (CFIA), a true watershed in Canadian food law. In the years that followed Canada too experienced many major national foodborne illness outbreaks causing many deaths and a flurry of new laws and regulations.

With the growth of food law in the last 20 years came the concomitant explosion of media attention to food issues sensationalizing a whole range of controversial food stories on, for example, pesticide residues, genetically modified foods, the danger of imported food, and mad cow disease. What the poor public mostly got was contradictory nutrition advice and bad science reporting. We saw the explosive growth of the urban foodie movement with its enthusiasm for local, organic and natural, whatever that means. Food stories rode the rising wave of social media. In 1993 a young journalist turned professor started what was probably the world’s first blog on food safety; now Doug Powell’s barfblog has 75,000 direct subscribers in more than 70 countries. When I started this column over 14 years ago many readers told me that it was the first time that they had ever seen the words “food” and “law” together.

Which brings me to what may be another interesting step on the road to recognition for this burgeoning area of practice and study. The Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University has partnered with a nascent group called the Food Lawyers of Canada to host The Future of Food Law and Policy in Canada, Nov. 3 to 4, 2016 in Halifax with the stated purpose of promoting greater understanding and recognition of food law as a distinct discipline (visit foodlaw.ca/halifax2016).

Some years ago a food industry executive said to me: “Because food is so highly regulated, I guess you damn food lawyers are a necessary evil.” I took this as a compliment. We’ve been called worse.

Where’s the leafy greens lobby? Feds to seek listeria, leafy green connections after Dole outbreak

Mike Hornick of The Packer writes that health officials will begin routinely asking listeria outbreak victims if they consumed leafy greens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

lettuce.skull.noroThe addition of leafy greens to the standard federal questionnaire on listeria comes in response to last winter’s outbreak linked to a Dole Fresh Vegetables salad plant in Springfield, Ohio. That outbreak sickened 33 in the U.S. and Canada and was tied to at least one death. Dole stopped production in January and reopened the plant in April.

It was the first reported listeria outbreak in the U.S. associated with leafy greens, and the eighth with fresh produce. All occurred since 2008, according to an Aug. 26 report by the CDC.

“It is unclear whether the appearance of these outbreaks might be attributed to improved outbreak detection, changes in consumer behavior, or changes in production and distribution,” the report says. “Fresh produce processors are advised to review food safety plans and consider incorporating measures to avoid the growth and persistence of listeria.”

In the Ohio centered outbreak, the older questionnaire failed to identify a common source for seven infections reported by Nov. 30.

Then in December and January, eight new or previously interviewed patients or their representatives took part in open-ended interviews or provided shopper card records.

That revealed the connection. All reported consuming leafy greens in the month before the onset of illness.

Among these, seven reported romaine and six reported spinach, higher than national food consumption estimates of 47% and 24%, respectively. Six patients recalled consuming packaged salad, according to the report.

Dole Fresh Vegetables denied responsibility in two foodborne illness lawsuits that followed the outbreak.

Hepatitis A: Get vaccinated cause you never know when you’ll eat shit

Frozen berries from Egypt, frozen scallops from the Philippines, raw sewage in Detroit, one never really knows when they are going to injest human shit.

hep.aThe City of Detroit is offering preventative vaccinations after two people were diagnosed with Hepatitis A.

Health officials say the two people both came in contact with raw sewage that backed up into a basement.

The Detroit Health Department recommends that anyone who may have come in contact with sewage seek a preventative vaccination.

Contact your primary care physician or go to one of Detroit’s Health Department clinics between Friday August 26 and Friday, September 2. 

Face palm: Jeni’s says its ice cream is ‘absolutely 100 percent safe’

One of my daughters got married on the weekend. I have two grandsons. The Tragically Hip may never play live again (it’s a Canadian thing, but 1-in-3 Canadians watched the concert Saturday night from Kingston).

jauce.weddingMy other 30-year bookmark is my formal and informal interests in the interactions between science and society. In 1997, I co-wrote a book called Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk: The Perils of Poor Risk Communication.

We had a top-10 list of conclusions to be applied in whatever risky business might come along:

  • a risk information vacuum is a primary factor in the social amplification of risk;
  • regulators are responsible for effective risk communication;
  • industry is responsible for effective risk communication;
  • if you are responsible for communicating about risks, do it early and often;
  • there is always more to a risk issue than what science says;
  • always put the science in a policy context;
  • educating the public about science is no substitute for good risk communication practice;
  • banish no risk messages;
  • risk messages should address directly the contest of opinion in society; and,
  • communicating well has spinoff benefits for good risk management.

I watch these microbial food safety risk shitfests, document them in barfblog.com, and sigh-a-sigh worthy of someone who didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

Or maybe I did.

Who knows, at this point.

Following the Listeria-Blue-Bell-ice-cream debacle, some of Ohio-based Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams tested positive for Listeria in April, 2015.

At the time, I applauded Jeni’s CEO John Lowe for the proactive steps they announced after finding Listeria in their ice cream, but also wondered why they weren’t looking before?

Lowe also said, “Finally, let me reiterate: we will not make or serve ice cream again until we can ensure it is 100% safe. Until we know more about reopening, we are going to continue to keep our heads down and to work hard to get this issue resolved. But know this: you’ll be hearing from us soon.”

Sounds like some cookie-cutter MBA approach to crisis.

And no one can ensure 100% safe.

triple.face.palmJeni’s possibly found this out, on Aug. 9, 2016, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fired off a warning letter saying Listeria had again been found in Jan. and Feb. 2016 in their Columbus facility.

“Two of 75 samples were found to have listeria by the FDA’s lab. Those two samples came from:

* The floor adjacent to the prep room, nine feet from a prep table where the base for Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso was being processed and packaged.

* The floor of the wash room by a drain, two feet from a sink used to wash, rinse and sanitize equipment parts, utensils and containers used in production.”

Jeni’s said it took immediate corrective actions and prevented any spread to food contact surfaces or areas around food contact surfaces. It also noted that it has taken more than 2,000 environmental swabs in the past year and listeria has never been detected on food contact surfaces or around food contact surfaces and that its “test-and-hold” procedures, which have been in place for a year, have not turned up a single positive test for listeria.

Dan Eaton of Columbus Business First quotes founder Jeni Britton Bauer, CEO John Lowe and Quality Leader Mary Kamm as jointly writing in a Wednesday blog post“As a result of our sanitation and other food safety procedures, our environmental testing program and our test-and-hold procedures, we can assure everyone that the food we produce is absolutely 100 percent safe.”

Triple face palm, like Neapolitan.

 

 

Campy overestimates: FSA accused of undermining meat industry

Alex Black of FG Insight reports the UK Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) has claimed the Food Standards Agency (FSA) ’appears to continue to undermine the meat processing sector’ with misleading campylobacter figures.

AIMS_LOGO_2008_002An article in The Meat Trades Journal quoted figures published on the Food Standards Agency website stated campylobacter was believed to cause 100 deaths a year.

However, AIMS pointed out the figure was an extract from a FSA funded paper which said ’We could not estimate deaths attributable to foodborne illness, due to the lack of reliable data sources on pathogen-specific mortality rates’.

AIMS head of policy, Norman Bagley, said: “Selectively quoting from its own commissioned report on its own website has once again undermined the excellent work and progress the industry has made on combating campylobacter.

“Stating that campylobacter causes 100 deaths a year is just not based on science and leads to continuing scary, misleading stories being carried in both the trade and consumer media, which once again, undermines our sector.

“This is far from helpful and needs to stop.”

A FSA spokesman said: “We explain on our website that the campylobacter deaths figure is a previous estimate, and that we are continuing to analyse the full impact that campylobacter has.

“We are determining which updated figures to use in the future.”

It ain’t happening at retail: Cut cantaloupe needs to be stored at 4C to control Listeria growth

Cantaloupes, marketed as “Rocky Ford,” were implicated in the U.S. multistate outbreak of listeriosis in 2011, which caused multiple fatalities. Listeria monocytogenes can survive on whole cantaloupes and can be transferred to the flesh of melons.

fresh-cut.cantaloupeThe growth of L. monocytogenes on fresh-cut “Athena” and “Rocky Ford” cantaloupe cultivars during refrigerated storage was evaluated. Fresh-cut cubes (16.4 cm3) from field-grown cantaloupes were each inoculated with 5 log10 CFU/mL of a multi-strain mixture of L. monocytogenes and stored at 4°C or 10°C. Inoculated fresh-cut cubes were also: (1) continuously stored at 4°C for 3 days; (2) temperature-abused (TA: 25°C for 4 h) on day 0; or (3) stored at 4°C for 24 h, exposed to TA on day 1, and subsequently stored at 4°C until day 3. L. monocytogenes populations on fresh-cut melons continuously stored at 4°C or 10°C were enumerated on selected days for up to 15 days and after each TA event. Brix values for each cantaloupe variety were determined. L. monocytogenes populations on fresh-cut cantaloupe cubes stored at 4°C increased by 1.0 and 3.0 log10 CFU/cube by day 7 and 15, respectively, whereas those stored at 10°C increased by 3.0 log10 CFU/cube by day 7.

Populations of L. monocytogenes on fresh-cut cantaloupes stored at 10°C were significantly (p < 0.05) greater than those stored at 4°C during the study. L. monocytogenes showed similar growth on fresh-cut “Athena” and “Rocky Ford” cubes, even though “Athena” cubes had significantly higher Brix values than the “Rocky Ford” fruit.

L. monocytogenes populations on fresh-cut cantaloupes exposed to TA on day 1 and then refrigerated were significantly greater (0.74 log10 CFU) than those stored continuously at 4°C for 3 days. Storage at 10°C or exposure to TA events promoted growth of L. monocytogenes on fresh-cut cantaloupe during refrigerated storage.

Survival and growth of Listeria monocytogenes on fresh-cut “Athena” and “Rocky Ford” cantaloupes during storage at 4°C and 10°C

Nyarko Esmond, Kniel Kalmia E., Reynnells Russell, East Cheryl, Handy Eric T., Luo Yaguang, Millner Patricia D., and Sharma Manan. Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. August 2016, ahead of print. doi:10.1089/fpd.2016.2160.

http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/fpd.2016.2160

Chlorine is good: 4100 sick from NZ water, mayor says chlorination ‘will get a bloody good fight from us’

While his neighbours still suffer from the country’s worst case of mass water contamination, Napier Mayor Bill Dalton says his city will fight to keep chlorine out of its town supply.

bill.daltonLower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace is also rejecting calls for all town water supplies to be chlorinated in the wake of the Havelock North contamination crisis.

About 74,000 Lower Hutt residents from Pomare to Petone drink chlorine-free water sourced from the Waiwhetu aquifer. The rest of greater Wellington’s supply is chlorinated.

In Hawke’s Bay, Napier, Hastings and Havelock North’s town supplies have been chlorine-free but the chemical was added to Havelock North water to treat a campylobacter contamination on August 12, and to the Hastings supply as a precaution last week.

Water treatment engineer Iain Rabbitts said chlorination should be made mandatory to avoid a repeat of the Havelock North crisis, adding, “We knew this was going to happen at some point in one of the unchlorinated supplies in New Zealand and we all hoped it wouldn’t be too bad.”

But Dalton said Napier would resist a move to mandatory chlorination “incredibly strongly because one of the points of difference of Napier is our wonderfully pure, unadulterated water supply”.

He did not want the city serving up the type of chlorine-tainted water other cities, such as Auckland, had to endure, he said.

dumbass“The first thing we do when we’re heading north is we pick up heaps of bottles of water because we don’t drink the water up in Auckland because it bloody stinks.

“If the Government turns around and tries to play the heavy hand, then they’ll get a bloody good fight from us.”

The only thing bloody about this scenario are the asses of the sick from constant pooping.

Marty Sharpe of Stuff also writes it now appears all but certain that a routine test of the Havelock North water supply showed it was clear of E.coli when it cannot have been.

The same test procedure is used by councils around the country, and its apparent failure in Havelock North may result in a reappraisal of whether current testing standards are robust enough.

Those questions are likely to form part of the government inquiry into the outbreak, announced on Monday.

Hawke’s Bay District Health Board chief executive Kevin Snee said on Monday that a survey of the 4500 residents affected by the campylobacter outbreak revealed they were most probably first exposed to the bug through their drinking water about Saturday, August 6, and that their symptoms first started showing on Monday, August 8.

But a routine test by Hastings District Council of the water supply on Tuesday, August 9, came back clear, showing no sign of E.coli. The test takes 24 hours, so the results came on Wednesday.

If they had shown positive at that point, the water system would have been chlorinated immediately.

The next routine test, on Thursday, August 11, came back on Friday as positive for E.coli. By that stage it was clear from DHB records that there was widespread illness in the area, and the decision was made to chlorinate.

E.coli, a common gut bacterium in warm-blooded animals, is used as an indicator of the contamination of water by excrement. It indicates there may be other pathogenic bacteria such as campylobacter.

Public Health Services drinking water assessor Peter Wood, who is in Hawke’s Bay working on the outbreak, said there could be situations of “sheer dumb luck” when E.coli was present in the water but not detected.

3200 sick with Campy in NZ town: Govt to hold inquiry into Havelock North water contamination

As the number of sick people increased to 3,200 in Havelock North, New Zealand, a town of 13,000, focus has shifted to the source of the Campylobacter in the water supply, particularly a mushroom farm.

emersonAn investigation into a previous contamination in Havelock North’s water supply has found earthworks on a neighboring mushroom farm may be to blame.

The government will hold its own independent inquiry into the contamination of Havelock North’s water supply, it has announced.

I served on the inquiry after the Walkerton E. coli O157:H7 outbreak killed seven and sickened 2,500 in a town of 5,000.

My second daughter is getting married on Saturday, she was 10 when Walkerton happened, and we were and still are close friends with some of the families involved.

Cute grandson (I used to have hair like that).

All the news, it just repeats itself.

Safe water is a public health priority.

It’s all over now: Another UK E. coli O157 mystery with hundreds sick

There’s a reason the Britain’s contribution to global cuisine is mushy peas and mad cow disease.

mushy.peasI get the UK is a small island, sinking in all kinds of animal shit, but tell us what you are doing for on-farm food safety?

And don’t answer with some bogus certification scheme.

Beginning in December 2010, a subtype of E. coli O157, began sickening Brits and resulted in over 250 sick with 80 hospitalizations, four with hemolytic uremic syndrome, and one death.

Dr. Andrew Wadge, chief scientist at the Food Standards Agency was reported as saying “This outbreak is a timely reminder that it is essential to wash all fruits and vegetables, including salad, before you eat them, unless they are labeled ‘ready to eat’, to ensure that they are clean. It is also important to wash hands thoroughly as well as clean chopping boards, knives and other utensils after preparing vegetables to prevent cross contamination.”

This advice is of limited use. Maybe a 1-log reduction use.

But it blames consumers.

The outbreak was linked to the handling of raw leeks and potatoes, and a public warning was given – reportedly months after a guidance had been issued the food industry on reducing the risk of E. coli cross-contamination.

In Nov. 2015, the BBC reported the number of people infected with E. coli across England rose by more than 1,000 over the previous year.

Public Health England figures show there were 39,604 from September 2014 to September 2015, compared with 38,291 for the same period the year before.

Another mysterious affliction.

Now, once again, the PhD health types are baffled by an outbreak of E. coli O157 in the UK that has sickened at least 161.

Those same health-thingies do say the likely cause of the outbreak was imported mixed salad leaves.

The last recorded case of the bug was on July 5 and now PHE has declared the outbreak over.

People are being urged to remove any loose soil before storing vegetables and thoroughly wash all vegetables and salads that will be eaten raw unless they have been pre-prepared and are labelled ‘ready to eat’.

Because the Brits have a long history of blaming consumers for something that should be controlled on the farm.