‘Absurd you could be fined €800,000 for sending spam email and not for deliberately adding rubbish to food’ Netherlands increases fines

The maximum fines which Dutch food safety inspectors can levy on companies caught meddling with food has been increased from €4,500 to €810,000 following a vote in parliament on Tuesday evening.

netherlands.food.safe‘It was absurd that you could be fined €800,000 for sending spam email messages and not for deliberately adding rubbish to food,’ Labour MP Sjoera Dikkers, who sponsored the motion, is quoted by broadcaster Nos as saying after the vote.

For example, fish processing company Foppen, at the centre of a major salmonella scare last year, was given four fines of just €1,050. Ministers wanted to raise the maximum fines to €81,000 but Dikkers said that was not enough to force companies to keep to health and hygiene rules. The consumers’ association welcomed the change in the law. ‘Consumers have had to deal with food scandals time after time,’ a spokesman said. ‘This has made the need for higher fines painfully obvious.’ Dikkers is also campaigning to have all fines administered by food safety inspectors made public.

Duh files: Doctors don’t always ask about pet-related health risks

According to NPR, if you’re being treated for cancer, an iguana might not be the pet for you.

goat.petting.zooDitto if you’re pregnant, elderly or have small children at home.

Pets can transmit dozens of diseases to humans, but doctors aren’t always as good as they should be in asking about pets in the home and humans’ health issues, a study finds.

And that goes for people doctors and animal doctors. “The fact that they’re equally uneducated is concerning,” says Jason Stull, an assistant professor of veterinary preventive medicine at Ohio State University and lead author of the review, which was published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. “There hasn’t been a great dialogue between the veterinary community, the human health community and the public.”

Amphibians, reptiles, rodents and young poultry can spread Salmonella. Back in 2013 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of an outbreak of a rare strain of Salmonella among people who had pet hedgehogs, and suggested that people lay off cuddling the adorable creatures.

Parasites like giardia and Cryptosporidium cause diarrheal disease and can be spread by dogs and cats. Those are nasty but treatable. Rarer parasites like Echinococcus tapeworms can cause liver failure and death.

People should be sure to let their human health-care providers know that they have pets, Stull says, and let the vet know if there are family members who are at greater risk of animal-borne infections. That includes children under age 5, pregnant women, older people, and anyone with a weakened immune system due to things like chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS or organ transplants.

If you’re intrigued by the notion of Fluffy as disease vector, you’ve got friends at (decent hockey player Scott Weese’) Worms and Germs  blog from the University of Guelph. They’re closely following the new outbreak of canine flu, for example.

At The Ohio State University and partner institutions, researchers have compiled the latest information from more than 500 studies worldwide to make recommendations on how families can minimize the risk of disease transmission by choosing the right type of pet, or by making small changes in how they enjoy the pets they already have.

The review was published in the April 20 issue of CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Beef industry not sold on E. coli vaccine

The beef industry has been slow to adopt an E. coli vaccine that could keep people from getting sick.

e.coli.vaccineMeat companies have been trying to clean up their E. coli problem. Infections are down 30 percent from the late 90s. Still, most E. coli outbreaks are from beef.

An E. coli vaccine has been on the market for years that could reduce the risk of getting sick. It’s not a vaccine for people, it’s a vaccine for cows. But not many cows are getting it.

“I’m not aware of anybody who’s currently giving the vaccine,” said Galen Erickson, a feedlot specialist at the University of Nebraska Lincoln.

There are two vaccines. One is sold in the U.S. by Zoetis, and has been around about 5 years. There’s also a Canadian vaccine from a company called Bioniche (now Telesta Therapeutics).

Zoetis would not release sales information for their U.S. vaccine, but a 2011 survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found only 2.4 percent of feedlots over 1,000 head of cattle used the vaccine.

Neither vaccine has had many takers even though field trials have been promising. Galen Erickson was part of a group that studied the vaccine’s effectiveness.

“For sure, the vaccine that we worked with, which is Bioniche’s vaccine, is very effective with a 60 percent reduction,” Erickson said. “That’s certainly conclusive that it works.”

Erickson says feedlots want to cut E. coli. Some use an anti-microbial feed additive to reduce E. coli numbers. But the vaccines are more effective and Erickson says cattle feeders would use a vaccine if they could afford it.

E. coli vaccines cost $8 – $15 dollars per cow. That may not seem like much, but over time that could swallow up a feedlot’s profits.

“Any time you add even what look like small costs per head, it very quickly takes a sizable chunk out of their profitability,” said Ted Schroeder, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University who recently studied the economics of the E. coli vaccine.

“The challenge is, I don’t know that anyone knows how much a probability reduction you can get in those recall events, and/or their size, and/or their magnitude by just vaccinating,” Schroeder said. “But it’s on all (the meat packers’) radar screens.”

What is a novel food safety technology? University of Maine researcher gets $5 million to find out

A University of Maine researcher has received a $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to develop the novel approach of using non-thermal technologies to control microbial contamination of low-moisture foods.

cold.plasmaDr. Vivian Wu, a professor of food science at UMaine, will be working as lead researcher on a five-year project that will explore new technologies to better control microbial contamination of low-moisture foods, such as cereals, nuts and spices, without using heat.

“Heat is a very effective way to control microbial contamination, but there are food products that heat just doesn’t work that well,” Wu said, discussing such foods as produce and grains. “We want to develop nonthermal processing techniques to eliminate, to maintain the safety of produce and low-moisture food.”

According to Wu, USDA has been emphasizing produce safety for years, and low-moisture foods are becoming an increasing concern as it comes to food safety and bacterial contamination.

Methods Wu will be examining include the use of cold plasma (ionized atmospheric air), gaseous antimicrobial treatment and multicolored decontaminating lights to sanitize low-moisture foods.


Former student does CanadaGAP

While Heather Gale, executive director for CanadaGAP, earned recognition for her work at the annual Safe Food Canada Symposium earlier this year, it’s technical manager Amber Bailey (the one holding the certificate, nee Luedtke ) that got my attention.

amber.CanadaGAP_exec_awardAmber did her Masters degree with me, graduating in 2002.

I sorta threw her into the Ontario greenhouse project, and she exceled.

Here’s some of her publications.

Powell, D.A., Bobadilla-Ruiz, M., Whitfield, A. Griffiths, M.G.. and Luedtke, A. 2002. Development, implementation and analysis of an on-farm food safety program for the production of greenhouse vegetables in Ontario, Canada. Journal of Food Protection. 65: 918- 923.

Luedtke, A., Chapman, B. and Powell, D.A. 2003. Implementation and analysis of an on-farm food safety program for the production of greenhouse vegetables. Journal of Food Protection. 66:485-489.

Powell, D.A., Blaine, K., Luedtke, A., Morris, S. and Wilson, J. 2001. Risk management and communication: Enhancing consumer confidence in Governing Food: Science, Safety and Trade ed. by P.W.B. Phillips and R. Wolfe. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Montreal, pp. 133-148.

Luedtke, A.N. and Powell, D.A. 2002. A review of North American E. coli O157:H7 apple cider outbreaks, media coverage and a comparative analysis of Ontario apple cider producer’s information sources and production practices. Dairy, Food and Environmental Sanitation, 22: 590-598.

Food safety nonsense from leading Toronto hospital

In 2008, Listeria in Maple Leaf cold-cuts killed 23 Canadians and sickened another 55.

listeria(4)(2)An outbreak of listeria in cheese in Quebec in fall 2008 led to 38 hospitalizations, of which 13 were pregnant and gave birth prematurely. Two adults died and there were 13 perinatal deaths.

A Sept. 2008 report showed that of the 78 residents of the Canadian province of British Columbia who contracted listeriosis in the past six years, 10 per cent were pregnant women whose infections put them at high risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.

The majority — nearly 60 per cent — of pregnant women diagnosed with listeriosis either miscarry or have stillbirths.

In the April 2010 edition of the journal, Canadian Family Physician, the Motherisk team at the previously reputable Toronto Hospital for Sick Children published a piece that said, without any references, that pregnant women need not avoid soft-ripened cheeses or deli meats, so long as they are consumed in moderation and obtained from reputable stores.”


Five years later, the hospital has finally decided to take action.

sick-kids.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxBut not because of bogus advice.

The Hospital for Sick Children has permanently discontinued hair drug and alcohol tests at its embattled Motherisk Drug Testing Laboratory after an internal review “further explored and validated” previous, and as yet undisclosed, “questions and concerns.”

The decision, announced on Friday, comes amid a Star investigation and mounting pressure from critics to shutter the lab, whose hair drug and alcohol tests have been used in criminal and child protection cases across the country, typically as evidence of parental substance abuse.

In March, Sick Kids temporarily suspended all non-research operations at Motherisk, after Lang’s review and the hospital’s review revealed new information, pending the results of Lang’s review, which are expected by June 30.

The hospital has declined to elaborate on the nature of that information. A hospital spokeswoman said on Friday that Sick Kids is not taking media inquiries.

Health Minister Eric Hoskins refused to answer questions on why there is so much secrecy surrounding the problems uncovered at Motherisk and instead issued a statement by email about Lang’s review.

“The independent review is ongoing and we have confidence in the work that is being carried out by the Honourable Susan Lang,” he said.

Sick Kids recently temporarily reassigned medical oversight of Motherisk, which also counsels pregnant women on which medications are safe to take, amid questions from the Star about the ties between Motherisk director and founder Gideon Koren and the drug company Duchesnay.

The questions related to the lack of disclosure of the funding Motherisk receives from Duchesnay in a booklet for pregnant women co-written by Koren and featured on the Motherisk website, which heavily promotes the use of Duchesnay’s drug Diclectin to treat morning sickness.

Me being a good Australian citizen: Queensland Health should make investigations into food poisoning outbreaks public

In The (Brisbane) Courier-Mail this morning:

In 2013, at least 50 people, mainly children, became ill with E coli O157 at the Ekka.

claudia.e.coli.petting.zoo.may.14Follow-up in the form of a publicly released formal report following an investigation? Nothing.

Queensland Health has been warned repeatedly about Q fever outbreaks at the Ekka related to the birthing of goats. Again, follow-up? Nothing.

In 2013, at least 130 people, including 55 nursing home patients, were stricken by norovirus in Ipswich and on the Sunshine Coast. Follow-up? Nothing.

In November 2013, at least 220 people were felled by salmonella and one was killed at Melbourne Cup functions, all linked to raw egg-based dishes served by Piccalilli Catering. Follow-up? Nothing. I even wrote to then health minister Lawrence Springborg and received no response. I guess he was busy with Parliament.

In January this year, at least 130 diners were stricken with salmonella after dining at Brisbane’s Chin Chin Chinese Restaurant. Dozens were hospitalised. Follow-up? Nothing.

Last month, 250 teachers contracted salmonella at a conference and an additional 20 people were sickened on the Gold Coast from the same egg supplier. Follow-up? Nothing. Though, to be fair, Councillor Krista Adams, Brisbane City Council Lifestyle Committee chairwoman, was on ABC radio on Monday saying the Queensland Health investigation into the matter was ongoing.

As a food safety professor in Canada and the US who relocated to Brisbane four years ago to support my French professor wife, I look at these outbreaks and wonder: what does Queensland Health do? What does Safe Food Queensland do? I believe in science, however fallible it may be, and my church is the (ice) hockey arena.

I also believe in public disclosure, especially because these investigations are conducted on the Queensland tax dollar. These are hopelessly ineffective agencies, and I’ve seen a lot of agencies, but these are the worst, especially in terms of public disclosure. Not the people, but the structure and confines in which they work for a pay cheque.

Now we’re told that hundreds of Brisbane restaurants, cafes, bakeries and caterers operate below legal safety standards.

Brisbane City Council says it is waging war on shoddy operators in light of a jump in food poisoning outbreaks.

That’s a war of attrition.

sorenne.hockeyaug.14Instead, Brisbane, and Queensland, could make a few changes to hold the food purveyors accountable.

Mandate training; make restaurant inspection disclosures mandatory, rather than voluntary; and create a culture that values microbiologically safe food.

I was coaching an ice hockey game on the Gold Coast on the weekend and the restaurant we went to afterwards was advertising a petting zoo, at the restaurant.

This is a microbiologically horrible idea. Same with zoos at schools and in malls, such as the one at Fairfield.

Queensland is on track to record its worst year on record for salmonellosis, which has infected more than 2500 people, mostly in the southeast, since the start of the year. The state is also recording spikes in other gastrointestinal illness cases, such as campylobacter (1993), cryptosporidiosis (604) and yersiniosis (180).

Data from the council’s Eat Safe star-rating system shows almost 10 per cent of Brisbane’s 6000-plus food operators operate below legal safety standards.

Queensland taxpayers deserve answers to some basic questions about all of the aforementioned outbreaks: How did the outbreak occur? Was this commodity sourced from a food safety-accredited supplier? Did handling by the caterer contribute to this outbreak? What is Queensland Health’s policy on use of raw eggs in dishes to be consumed raw? Is this policy enforced? Is the investigation closed and, if so, why and when was it closed? Will an outbreak investigation report be created and publicised? Why was the previous update erased from the department’s website and on whose authority? What is its policy on making information public?

This isn’t CSI, with its groovy UV lights that make great television but lousy science. Publicly release all surveillance data on raw eggs in Queensland (or Australia), publicly release the menu items at the Brisbane Convention Centre and Grocer & Grind, on the Gold Coast, where two of their own chefs got sick, and tell chefs to stop using raw eggs in dishes they must craft from scratch, such as aioli or mayonnaise. This is nothing new and we have been documenting the problem for years because it is a global food safety embarrassment. The solutions are there. It’s time for leadership.

Dr Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety in Canada and the US who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia

Illegal Chinese meat imports in Holland

Police and food safety inspectors have raided two business premises and two private homes in Zuid-Holland province in an investigation into illegal meat imports from China.

la-fi-mo-china-cofco-20140228-001There has been an EU-wide ban on importing most types of meat from China for human consumption since 2002 because of concerns about drug residues. Officials seized ‘hundreds of boxes’ of meat and meat products during their search, as well as documents and files. The meat is now being tested, the inspectors said in a statement on Wednesday. The investigators are also trying to establish how the meat was brought into the country and what has happened to previous shipments.

Meat (and science) mythologies

My latest for Texas A&M’s Center for Food Safety:

HomePage_Soliloquy_powellsworld_aprilOn September 11, 1998, the journal Science published a paper by Cornell and U.S. Department of Agriculture science-thingies that concluded the key to reducing E. coli O157 in cattle was to feed them hay instead of grain beginning five days before slaughter.

The PR writers and journalists had a hay day, saying “a simple change in cattle diets in the days before slaughter may reduce the risk of E. coli infections in humans” or this N.Y.Times headline, “E. coli bacteria can be eliminated from cattle, researchers find.”

Food safety isn’t that simple.

Science isn’t that simple.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota wrote in 2007 that the frequently cited Cornell study, was “based on a study of three cows rotated on different diets and for which the researchers did not even test for E. coli O157:H7. Unfortunately, the authors extrapolated these incredibly sparse results to the entire cattle industry.”

In 1998, I helped Dale Hancock of Washington State University anchor an evidence-based response that was also published in Science, but the damage was done.

In the subsequent 17 years, the data on cattle feeding and E. coli risk has been a mess, and open to citation to prove one’s pre-existing viewpoint – that’s why the Internet exists.

As my former Canadian and Kansas colleague David Renter wrote in Sept. 2006,

powell.food.safe.apr.15“Cattle raised on diets of ‘grass, hay and other fibrous forage’ do contain E. coli O157:H7 bacteria in their feces as do other animals including deer, sheep, goats, bison, opossum, raccoons, birds, and many others.

“Cattle diet can affect levels of E. coli O157:H7, but this is a complex issue that has been and continues to be studied by many scientists.  To suggest switching cattle from grain to forage based on a small piece of the scientific evidence is inappropriate and irresponsible.”

Simplistically attacking one facet of livestock production may be politically expedient, but instead provides a false sense of security and ignores the biological realities of E. coli O157:H7. In 1999, for example, 90 children were felled at a fair in London, Ont. The source was a goat at a petting zoo.

Although there have been numerous outbreaks of shiga-toxin producing E. coli involving other ruminants – sheep, deer, goats, elk — the critics and the fashionably fashionable keep going back to cattle, especially feedlot cattle.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently joined the food pornographers at the N.Y. Times, and endless organic propaganda by saying – 17 years after the original, unrepeated study — that grass-fed beef is safer.

There is no evidence to prove this.

There’s some social media amplification going here, just like with the anti-vaxxers and raw milk fans.

I’m not sure how to address all the allegedly scientific nonsense that is out there.

I used to be a proponent of take it head on, but over time, it got tiring. Data has never convinced anyone who didn’t want to be convinced.

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety at the University of Guelph in Canada and Kansas State University in the U.S., who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.



Top-10 kingpin in borders of your hometown: Canada has world-class food safety system?

It’s been 10 years since I left Canada.

And the longer I’m away, the cuter it becomes: I want to send the country a fruit basket.

Stuart Smyth, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s bioresource policy, business and economics department, said “Canada has one of the top, if not the top, food safety systems in the world. Other countries look to our regulatory system as a model of food safety. Many developing countries just don’t have the fiscal resources to have the level of quality and control that we do in Canada to ensure that the food products that are available for purchase in our grocery stores are as safe as they possibly can be.”

Smyth’s assessment mirrors that of a 2014 Conference Board of Canada report, which ranked Canada’s food safety performance first among 17 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The report, which surveyed the country’s ability to assess, control and mitigate risks, cited a low number of reported food-borne illnesses and recalls as a reason for the top billing.

Nosestretcher alert: Smyth said a regular food safety issue in Canada is related to organic foods.

“Thousands of cases a year of food illness are triggered from organic products,” he said. “It’s largely due to the process of them using manure slurry as fertilizer and coming down to improper household food preparations in terms of making sure that they’re properly washing organic food.”

That is complete manure slurry.