UK restaurateur sentenced to 6 years after peanut allergy death

The owner of an Indian takeaway in North Yorkshire has been found guilty of manslaughter after a customer with a nut allergy was served a meal containing ground peanuts.

food.allergensThe trial was told Mohammed Zaman had cut corners by swapping the thickening agent almond powder for the cheaper groundnut powder, which contained peanuts.

Although the vast majority of restaurants are safe, a number each year are found to have breached laws and guidelines.

Since December 2014, takeaways and restaurants have been required by law to let customers know if any of the 14 most dangerous allergens are ingredients in their food.

They include peanuts, eggs, milk, fish, crustaceans and mustard.

Paul Wilson, 38, who suffered an anaphylactic shock after eating a meal from Zaman’s business, died before the change in the law, but the trial heard he had flagged up his peanut allergy to the restaurant and his meal had been labelled as “nut free”.

Another customer with a nut allergy had to be treated at a hospital after eating at Mr. Zaman’s restaurant three weeks before Mr. Wilson’s death. Like him, she had been assured her meal would not contain nuts, prosecutors said.

Mr. Zaman was convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence in the death of Mr. Wilson, and six food safety offenses. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

indian gardenHe had a “reckless and cavalier attitude to risk,” the prosecutor, Richard Wright, told a jury at Teesside Crown Court.

It marked the first time in Britain that someone has been convicted of manslaughter over the sale of food.

David Pickering, of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), said: “Some [restaurants] will have it in a book, some will give you the information verbally. If they can’t give you it, don’t eat there.”

1900 sickened: DeCosters appeal jail time in Salmonella egg case

Austin “Jack” DeCoster and Peter DeCoster were sentenced April 13, 2015 to three months in prison for introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce after eggs from their Iowa farms were linked to a 2010 national salmonella outbreak which sickened at least 1,900 people.

decostersU.S. District Court Judge Mark Bennett required the father and son to complete a year of probation following prison and pay $100,000 each. The DeCosters’s former company, Quality Egg LLC, was fined nearly $6.8 million.

More than 1,900 people across the country reported getting sick from Salmonella enteritidis linked to tainted eggs supplied by Quality Egg. The companies recalled 550 million eggs nationwide.

Quality Egg pleaded guilty in June 2014 to bribing public officials and misbranding eggs to make them appear fresher.

The DeCosters’s sentences — especially the prison time — were viewed as a warning to other food producers.

Jack DeCoster, 82, of Turner, Maine, and Peter DeCoster, 52, of Clarion, are now trying to get out of their jail time. They filed an appeal April 27, 2015, asking the U.S. District Court of Appeals 8th Circuit to remove incarceration from their sentence.

“They’re arguing that, based upon the type of offense, any sentence of jail time is not appropriate,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan said last week.

Pro-business groups, including the Cato Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers, filed briefs in support of the DeCosters, arguing executives shouldn’t serve jail time for this type of crime.

“If executives can be imprisoned for criminal violations of strict liability laws by virtue of the position they hold within a company, the United States economy would suffer,” attorneys for Cato and the manufacturing association argued. “Executive business decisions would be motivated less by good business principles and more by fear of possible future prison sentences.”

The 8th Circuit heard oral arguments in the appeal March 17 in St. Paul, Minn., and the parties are now waiting for a decision.

Everyone has a camera: Food-safety-in-Oman edition

I’ve long been an advocate of electronics and digital monitoring for improving food safety outcomes.

Video-camera-1024x600But only with clear objectives and limits.

In Oman, cameras have been installed on a trial basis at different restaurants located at tourist spots, butcher shops and slaughterhouses in a bid to maintain hygiene standards.

“The aim is to keep an online tab on food processing,” the ministry said.

Ahmed bin Abdullah Al Shehhi, Minister of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources, said the project enjoys full confidentiality guaranteed by the laws to all of the information including visual and non-visual data of food establishments.

Stop kissing small turtles: 133 sick from four multistate outbreaks of human Salmonella

Since 2015, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, multiple states, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine have investigated four separate multistate outbreaks of human Salmonella infections linked to contact with small turtles.

turtle.kissIn the four outbreaks, a total of 133 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella were reported from 26 states between January 16, 2015 and April 8, 2016:

  • 38 ill people were hospitalized, and no deaths were reported;
  • 41% of ill people were children 5 years of age or younger; and,
  • epidemiologic and laboratory findings linked the four outbreaks of human Salmonella infections to contact with small turtles or their environments, such as water from a turtle habitat.

Since 1975, the FDA has banned the sale and distribution of turtles with a shell length of less than 4 inches in size as pets because they are often linked to Salmonella infections, especially in young children.

Small turtles should not be purchased as pets or given as gifts.

All turtles, regardless of size, can carry Salmonella bacteria even if they look healthy and clean. These outbreaks are a reminder to follow simple steps to enjoy pet reptiles and keep your family healthy.

It’s not simple or so many people wouldn’t get sick – so many little kids.

The outbreak is expected to continue at a low level for the next several months since consumers might be unaware of the risk of Salmonella infection from small turtles. If properly cared for, turtles have a long life expectancy.

News amplification: Mad cow disease far greater impact on beef purchases than E. coli

In December 2003, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) was discovered in the United States. This food safety event received extensive media coverage and prompted changes in regulatory controls.

bse.cow.may.16Using a panel selection model, we show that prior to December 2003, ground beef recalls had no impact on household purchases of ground beef, even for households that were located in the recall-defined geographic areas. However, we find robust evidence that the 2003 BSE event caused a change in the way people view and respond to recalls of ground beef, a change that persisted for at least two years following the BSE event.

The average impact of a ground beef recall in the post-BSE period is a 0.26 lb per person reduction in retail purchases of ground beef. A decline in purchases of this magnitude would result in over $97 million in losses to the beef industry in a two-week period following a nationwide recall.

This dwarfs the economic impacts of directly removing recalled beef from supply chains and provides FSIS increased regulatory power due to higher overall industry costs associated with food safety violations.

Changes in U.S. consumer response to food safety recalls in shadow of a BSE scare

Mykel Taylora, H. Allen Klaiberb, Fred Kuchlerc

Food Policy, Volume 62, July 2016, Pages 56-64, doi:10.1016/j.foodpol.2016.04.005

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306919216300239

FSSAI adds restaurant hygiene to its menu

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has turned its attention to restaurants, eating joints and hotels to enforce hygiene standards.
A sub-group consisting of industry bodies like the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) and the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI) and the FSSAI have been formed to amend rules that govern safety standards at eating establishments.

Food-Safety-and-Standards-Authority-of-India-FSSAIThe sub-group was formed following a meeting last week in New Delhi among the FSSAI, NRAI, FHRAI as well as popular fast-food companies like Yum! and hotel groups like Taj and ITC.

FSSAI Chief Executive Officer Pawan Kumar Agarwal, while confirming the development to Business Standard, said enforcing food safety standards at eating places was a must.

“Hotels, restaurants and eating joints need an FSSAI licence to operate but food safety standards are not necessarily met. We wanted to get a sense of what the industry’s view was on the subject and whether they were open to the idea of stringent enforcement,” Agarwal said.

Olympic-sized food safety issues for Rio

Lina Tran of Eater writes that Rio de Janeiro 2016 kicks off in less than three months, and everyone knows feeding Olympic athletes is one of the most exciting aspects of the Games.

chapman.auditRio has constructed a kitchen the size of a football field (American football, that is) and a dining room two times that, the Associated Press reports. The kitchen will prepare 60,000 meals each day for over 18,000 athletes, coaches, and staff.

The dining hall will house five all-you-can-eat buffets accommodating different tastes and diets: Brazilian, Asian, International, Pasta and Pizza, Halal and Kosher. Diners have a spectrum of international breakfast options, including congee, miso soup, and natto.

Food safety is a crucial strategy for an operation of this size, and steroids in animal meat, meant to improve lean growth, can cause false positives in drug testing of athletes. “To assure that our ingredients are free of steroids and other kinds of chemicals, we are making sure our suppliers have all the certificates that are demanded by our national food and drug agency,” says Marcello Corderio, Rio’s director of food and beverages.

Certificates? Paperwork? Really? Do better. You can’t test your way to safe food, but any program requires some sort of verification, whether it’s testing or a pair of eyes on the production facility. Not just paperwork.

Listeria: Is zero tolerance consistent with risk-reduction

Tom Karst of The Packer writes it doesn’t seem quite right that many fresh produce processors aren’t testing for listeria on food contact surfaces in their facilities. Aren’t belts and other parts of a processing plant that touch product an important place to look for pathogens that might be present on food? 

listeria4Yet, that is the way it is, based on industry’s evaluation of Food and Drug Administration Guidance. Because any finding of listeria on food contact surfaces could result in an immediate recall situation, many in the industry believe the FDA’s zero-tolerance policy inhibits companies from testing food contact surfaces. 

The FDA is considering changing some of their guidance on listeria testing. Industry experts a new version of the guidance by late this year or early next year.  Perhaps the FDA will give more flexibility for companies to test for the listeria species – indicating the presence of the family of bacteria, but not necessarily the dangerous Listeria monocytogenes strain. Perhaps the FDA will establish a tolerance level for Listeria monocytogenes, though that doesn’t seem likely.

Karst got some standard answers from government spokesthingies, but got a more proactive answer from Martin Bucknavage, a Pennsylvania State University Department of Food Science food safety extension specialist, who said fresh produce and other food companies have to do a better job of understanding the presence of listeria within their operations and take stronger corrective actions. Most of the testing now being done for listeria is pre-operational and on nonfood contact areas, which he said has limited use.

“They have got to get more proactive and get rid of it,” he said. “I think it is time to batten down the hatches, get aggressive on sampling and put this thing to bed.”

But will it make fewer people barf? Chipotle hires more food safety expertise

Reuters reports that David Acheson, a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and David Theno, a food safety consultant and former Jack in the Box executive who is credited with fixing food safety at the fast-food chain following a deadly E. coli outbreak in the 1990s, have joined the payroll at Chipotle Mexican Grill.

chipotle.burrito.vomitThey join James Marsden, a former meat science professor at Kansas State University, and Mansour Samadpour, chief executive of IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group.

That’s a lot of egos in one sandbox.

Or as friend of the barfblog, Don Schaffner, a food science professor at Rutgers University, told Reuters,“If I had to put together a dream team to fix something, you could do a lot worse,” But, he added, “I’ve begun to wonder a little bit about too many cooks. Each of those guys is going to have a perspective on what to do to fix the problem.”

Spokesman Chris Arnold confirmed the consultants were retained last year but would not say when or detail their duties. He did say Marsden, as executive director of food safety, would have “primary responsibility for our food safety programs.”

Expanding its complement of food safety experts is part of Chipotle’s effort to rebound from a spate of disease outbreaks – including E. coli, salmonella and norovirus – last year that crushed sales, repulsed customers and slashed $6 billion off its market valuation.

“We have committed to establishing Chipotle as an industry leader in food safety, and we have assembled an extremely capable team to help us achieve that goal,” Arnold told Reuters.

chipotle_ad_2Chipotle declined to make members of the team available for interviews.

Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, said he expected the group’s focus “would likely be more on food safety preventive controls and less on food testing.”

Chipotle’s initial response emphasized testing ingredients for pathogens with the goal of stopping any source of illness from getting into its restaurants.

Acheson criticized the Chipotle for relying too heavily on that one approach. “I’m not a believer that you can test your way to safety,” he told Reuters in early December.

At the time, he said the focus should be on improving food sourcing and handling practices, including how suppliers are approved, “how they are leveraged in terms of training, storing, handling, and preparing of food.”

Arnold said Chipotle continues to work with the IEH testing firm. Its more recent changes have focused on food preparation. For instance, Chipotle said on its latest earnings call that it had started blanching bell peppers in an effort to kill germs.

family.guy.diarrheaThe chain also has cut some small suppliers. Kenter Canyon Farms said it lost business providing oregano to Chipotle through a third-party distributor.

“When that whole scandal happened with the E. coli, when they revamped their food safety. They cut ties with a lot of growers,” said Mark Lopez, sales director for the farm.

Chipotle’s Arnold said the chain would continue to support smaller farms, and has committed to spending $10 million to help them meet its standards. But he said the company has noted that it may be difficult for “some of our smaller suppliers to meet our heightened food safety standards.”

Doering: Label raw milk cheese

Ronald L. Doering, BA, LL.B. MA, LL.D., a past president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and now counsel in the Ottawa offices of Gowling WLG, writes in his Food in Canada column that the science keeps piling up.

ron.doeringIt is not safe to consume raw milk and its products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced studies that show again that pathogens from raw milk including tuberculosis, diphtheria, typhoid, Salmonella, Listeria, and many other bacterial infections make it unsafe for human consumption. A comprehensive study was released last month by Belgian authorities that concluded that “raw milk poses a realistic health threat due to possible contamination with human pathogens.” Interestingly, the same study found that there was “no substantial change in the nutritional value of raw milk or other benefits associated with raw milk consumption,” but that’s a story for another day. And, of course, the unfortunate proof keeps coming, with hundreds of outbreaks, many deaths and thousands of illnesses just in the last few years due to raw milk and raw milk cheese.

Just because raw milk and raw milk cheese are not as safe as if they were pasteurized doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be banned. That is why regulations around the world are so inconsistent. The sale of raw milk is illegal in Scotland, but legal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (indeed our future king will drink nothing else, a fact that could be used by both sides of the debate!). South of the border the states are roughly evenly divided, but interstate commerce is banned. Raw milk and most raw milk cheeses are banned in Australia but legal in New Zealand. In Canada, the sale of raw milk directly to consumers is prohibited by a variety of provincial provisions and it is a federal crime to sell unpasteurized milk under B.08.002.2(1) of the Food and Drug Regulations.

Canada continues to allow the sale of raw milk cheeses aged over 60 days, but provides this clear warning: “Health Canada’s ongoing advice to pregnant women, children, older adults and people with a weakened immune system is to avoid eating cheese made from raw milk as it does present a higher risk of foodborne illness than pasteurized milk cheeses. If consumers are unsure whether a cheese is made from pasteurized milk, they should check the label or ask the retailer.”

raw-milk-cheeseWhen I first wrote about this issue three years ago I pointed out the regulatory absurdity of the last sentence in the Health Canada (HC) warning. There is no requirement to label and most retailers have no idea if the cheese is made from raw milk, and have no means to determine if it is. At the time I received an informal response to my article from a senior official advising me that before moving to mandatory labelling, HC was going to partner with FDA to do a risk assessment of raw milk cheese, focusing specifically on the risk of illness from Listeria monocytogenes. The results of this risk assessment were released last summer: “The risk of listeriosis from the consumption of soft-ripened cheese made from raw milk is substantially larger than that for consumption of soft-ripened cheese made from pasteurized milk and the 60-day aging regulation actually increases the risk of listeriosis for consumption of raw milk cheeses.” The risk was found to be from 50 to 160 times greater. This resulted in HC issuing a Voluntary Guidance to manufacturers that included suggestions to industry to do regular testing of both the raw milk and the cheese and that “Manufacturers should consider labelling their products with the words ‘made from raw or unpasteurized milk’ on the front panel display and/or in the list of the ingredients.”

The Guidance document seeks feedback from stakeholders before developing new “policy and/or regulatory options.” Here’s mine, again: stop the bureaucratic dithering and do what the Americans, Brits and Europeans have already done – make it mandatory for all manufacturers to label their raw milk cheeses. It’s useless, as they say, to try to reason someone out of something they didn’t reason themselves into, so if we can’t stop people from consuming raw milk and its products, then let’s at least ensure that it is not consumed unknowingly particularly by children, the elderly or expectant mothers. HC now requires unpasteurized juice to be labelled. Who’s against mandatory labelling of raw milk cheese?