Vietnam asks to ease seafood restrictions; Brits selling fresh seafood 15 days old

Russia now only allows Vietnamese seafood enterprises with existing contracts to export to the market. This means only 64 of the 102 enterprises that meet food safety standards are allowed to export to Russia because the others have no valid contracts.

fish artThe Nafiqad request came following food safety inspections of Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (FSVPS) last month.

The director of a seafood company that failed to enter into a contract with a Russian importer said it would be easier for the company to find an importer if it were allowed to export to the market.

This was the first time the director visited Russia to seek export opportunities, but he failed to find an importer who would sign a contract.

However, if the company met food safety and technical standards, there was no reason to bar it from exporting to the market, the director added.

Meanwhile, British supermarkets are selling fish which is two weeks old and labelling it as ‘fresh’, an investigation has found.

Fish on sale at the fresh counters of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons was found to be up to 15 days old.

Experts said some samples of cod, plaice, mackerel and haddock were ‘bland’ with ‘little flavour’, and that they could start to taste ‘off’ after just a day in the fridge.

Fish scientist Richard Chivers examined and tasted 14 pieces of fish including samples from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons and an independent fishmonger.

He found that a third of the fish – including some from Morrisons, Asda and Sainsbury’s – was between 12 and 15 days old. 

If you try sometimes, you’ll get what you need: FDA says can’t have it both ways on food safety

Two of the things growers and shippers want to see in new federal food safety rules — flexibility and simplicity — are mutually exclusive according to officials from the Food and Drug Administration.

mick.taylorCoral Beach of The Packer writes the more flexible the rules, the more complicated they have to be. That was the message from FDA’s top food safety staff during a Nov. 21 session in Florida where they fielded questions on proposed rules required by the Food Safety and Modernization Act.

Mike Taylor (right, not exactly as shown), FDA deputy director of foods, and Samir Assar, director of produce safety at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, also said time has not been on the agency’s side in terms of developing the rules.

“It’s an incredibly rapid, very tight time frame were on,” Taylor said, adding that a court order requires the agency to publish the final rule for produce in October next year.

Taylor and other federal officials spent about 90 minutes reviewing the proposed rules and revisions before taking questions during the session, which was sponsored by the Florida Agriculture Department. It was the fifth such state session Taylor and the others have attended since Nov. 6.

(Terrible pretend playing in the video below; and this guy interviewed Nixon.)

 

How would consumers know? Iowa too has an egg problem

Four years ago, Iowa was the focus of unwanted national attention triggered by an outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis that sickened at least 1,800 people and led to the largest egg recall in United States history — more than 500 million eggs.

seasame.street.good.egg.projectAccording to an editorial in the Des Moines Register, then-Gov. Chet Culver proposed a few long-overdue reforms that would have strengthened Iowa’s oversight of the egg industry. Three days later, Gov. Terry Branstad took office.

Since then, not one of the proposed reforms has been enacted.

Federal investigators attributed the 2010 outbreak to the Iowa operations of Austin “Jack” DeCoster, whose company eventually agreed to pay $6.8 million in fines for attempting to bribe a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector and for selling old eggs with false labels.

DeCoster and his son, Peter, have each agreed to pay $100,000 in fines. They are now awaiting sentencing on criminal charges of introducing tainted eggs into the nation’s food supply.

The DeCoster case perfectly illustrates why states must be vigilant in regulating their most important industries — particularly when the public health is at stake.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, DeCoster eggs that were produced in Maine and Maryland were linked to a series of salmonella outbreaks, including one in New York that killed nine people and sickened hundreds more.

New York eventually banned DeCoster from selling his eggs in that state, and Maine and Maryland imposed a variety of restrictions on his business. DeCoster complained about the expense associated with this new regulatory oversight and sold his Maryland operation. He focused his business on Iowa, the nation’s No. 1 egg-producing state, which had no state-imposed requirements for salmonella monitoring.

Even after the federal reforms were enacted, Iowa egg producers were still given advance notice of government inspections. In some cases, the companies dictated the date of their inspections. The egg producers also were allowed to continue to keep secret from inspectors the brand names under which their eggs were sold. They also withheld access to their complaint files and even refused to name company employees. Even now, egg producers are not required to notify state regulators when salmonella is found in their eggs and barns.

‘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.

Dining on a private jet: is catering an issue?

As I cool my heels at the Brisbane airport, reading the latest issue of Corporate Jet Investor (I fly commercial) the question is asked, when you are paying upwards of $8,000 an hour to charter a large-cabin private jet, bad food is something that can no longer be excused.

surely.serious.airplaneDaniel Hulme, CEO of On Air Dining, based at Stansted Airport’s Diamond Hangar says he is concerned about the business aviation industry’s blasé attitude towards food safety; he tells stomach-churning stories about corporate flight attendants that pick up hot food from high-end restaurants only to transport it in the back of a taxi and store it the aircraft’s lavatory before re-heating. But when most private jet flights last less than two hours, it is easy to understand why catering is not being discussed at the dinner table.

Alex Wilcox, CEO of California-based operator JetSuite, says he will happily liaise with local restaurants whenever a passenger requests an inflight meal, but as an operator of short-range private jets, he says: “For those that want a meal on board we will handle that, but it is not a massive issue.”

Likewise, Wheels Up, which operates a large fleet of King Air 350i turboprops, will soon allow its members to book catering using a smartphone app, but David Baxt, president, says that for such short haul flights, passengers rarely request anything more than light snacks.

For VistaJet, which includes much larger private jet types such as the Bombardier Global 6000 in its fleet, the story is very different. “I never understand why business jet operators order catering from the airport; you get plastic trays with a cheese board. It is not what you would do if you were taking friends on a picnic,” says Thomas Flohr, founder and chairman. “Our clients all have favourite restaurants across the world and expect more when they are flying.”

airplane_jiveThe story goes on to say that for Hulme, it is absurd that a multinational corporation could fly its executives on a private jet to an important business meeting, only to risk them spending two days doubled-up in a hotel room with food poisoning.

“I’m surprised that more people don’t get food poisoning. I’m sure it is happening a lot, but people don’t really talk about it,” Hulme says.

“I don’t understand why there isn’t more emphasis on the training of flight attendants to make sure that they all have food certificates, which isn’t a requirement in business aviation, but it really, really should be.”

One veteran charter broker says that he agrees in principal, but feels it is not a big issue: “I have been booking charter flights for 20 years and we have never had a case of food poisoning. In my experience the ground handling companies take this very seriously and only use approved companies.”

An integral part of private jet catering is the relationship between the caterer and the corporate flight attendant, with the involvement of the flight attendant varying greatly from one flight to another. Sophie Fry, a UK-based corporate flight attendant, says: “You take responsibility of everything from sourcing catering and writing menus to buying supplies for the aircraft.”

Foodborne outbreaks: Learning opportunities, regardless of uncertainty, and should not be hidden

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

powell.food.safety.going.publicThere was this one time, about 32 years ago, I was sitting in the kitchen with the mother of my university girlfriend.

She was peeling potatoes for boiling and mashing, and I smugly asked, why are you wasting so much potato?

“Because I don’t have all bloody day and if you’re so concerned, get off your bloody ass and bloody-well help.”

I’ve cooked ever since.

But what the mom and I didn’t know was that those potato skins could be contaminated with nasties like E. coli O157.

Potatoes, carrots, leeks, they’re grown in soil, and poop has various ways of getting into soil, so peeling potatoes should be like handling raw meat – you never bloody-well know what is contaminated and what isn’t.

Be the bug, follow the bug.

The folks at the U.K. Food Standards Agency, whose idea of science-based verification is to cook meat until it is piping hot, have apparently decided that E. coli O157:H7 – the dangerous kind – found on or in leeks, is the consumers’ responsibility.

Almost two months after revealing 250 people were sickened and one died with E. coli O157:H7 phage-type 8 over the previous eight months in 2011, linked to people handling loose raw leeks and potatoes in their homes, FSA decided to launch a campaign reminding people to wash raw vegetables to help minimize the risk of food poisoning.

leek_washNo information on how those 250 became sick and no information on farming and packing practices that may have led to such a massive contamination that so many people got sick, no information on anything: just advice to wash things thoroughly so that contamination can be spread throughout the kitchen.

This outbreak combines two of the central themes of conflict and public trust in all things food: when to go public, and blaming consumers.

Often during an outbreak of foodborne illness there are health officials who have data indicating that there is a risk, prior to the public (although social media is changing that equation).

During the lag period between the first public health signal and some release of public information, there are decision-makers who are weighing evidence with the impacts of going public. Multiple agencies and analysts have lamented that there is not a common playbook or decision tree for how public health agencies determine what information to release and when. Regularly health authorities suggest that how and when public information is released is evaluated on a case-by-case basis without sharing the steps and criteria used to make decisions.

On June 2, 2008, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it was investigating an ongoing multistate outbreak of human Salmonella serotype Saintpaul infections. CDC identified the consumption of raw tomatoes as the likely source of the illnesses in at least two states. By the time the outbreak was officially declared over on August 28, 2008, 1,442 people had been reported infected, at least 286 people had been hospitalized, and the infection may have contributed to two deaths. Despite the early identification of tomatoes as a potential pathogen source, jalapeño peppers were subsequently identified as the major source, with some implication of serrano peppers as well.

Was the public advisory to avoid raw tomatoes issued too early in the outbreak investigation, despite its intent as a control measure?  Some, including the Florida Tomato Committee may believe so, considering the outcome of the investigation and the substantial impact on the agriculture sector. The estimated economic cost to the tomato industry was more than $100 million in Florida and close to $14 million in Georgia.

In a 1999 news article about a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak, CDC foodborne illness epidemiologist Paul Mead summed up the conundrum that health officials face when reviewing preliminary data during an outbreak investigation: “Food safety recalls are always either too early or too late. If you’re right, it’s always too late. If you’re wrong, it’s always too early.”  Go public too early, and make a mistake, and a corporation or industry’s reputation could unduly suffer. Go public too late, and individuals and businesses may be denied critical information they could use to protect public health.

This balancing act was most recently on display in New Zealand, following 170 confirmed cases of Yersinia pseudotuberculosis and a further 59 suspected but not confirmed cases of infection, apparently linked to lettuce.

By early Oct. 2014, enough people were sick that Food Safety Minister Jo Goodhew was compelled to finger Pams Fresh Mesclun Salad Lettuce and Pams Fresh Express Lettuce, while stressing the list was not initially released because it showed no definitive cause for the illness.

This is a disturbing trend, in that people are demanding microbiological proof when none exists – epidemiology remains a powerful and preventative public health tool.

Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey said a draft report from Environmental Science and Research (ESR) made available the previous week identified lettuce and carrots from a particular supermarket chain as the source.

“Everybody involved in this work, including MPI, ESR, all the public health units and the Ministry of Health, have seen the results of the ESR study, which is quite clear. It is unequivocal and it does name the types of food that have led to this problem and it also names one particular product,” Humphrey told Radio New Zealand.

He claimed MPI asked public health officials to keep the name of the supermarket and the products involved a secret, but he decided to name the vegetables to protect the public.

“[MPI] felt they should work with the industry rather than naming the foods but, of course, that leaves the New Zealand public slightly at risk, in my view.”

Bureaucrats are terrified of discussions of risk.

Within days of the public announcement, dozens of N.Z. Herald readers affected by the illness sent in messages describing what they went through, with many saying they were left bedridden, drowsy and debilitated.

But then the backpedaling started, portraying Living Farms, the producers of Pam’s greens, as victims of a zealous media, and by Nov., epidemiology was dumped in favor of “no Yersinia pseudotuberculosis was detected in any samples.”

Yet internal e-mails under the Official Information Act show the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) was mindful of balancing the risk of further illness against the risk of panicking the public and a loss of trust in the food supply chain.

An email from MPI, dated 1 October, said it considered “there will be greater ongoing positive effect and influence, with lesser risk of negative results, by managing the food safety hazard at the most likely source, ie: with industry.”

public.healthMPI had been visiting farms and retailers to try and pinpoint the source of the bug.

The documents also showed MPI believed the best it could do was inform the public to wash all fruit and vegetables as a precaution.

But, in an email dated 1 October, MPI said it was likely that the suspected vegetables were contaminated with the bacteria internally, rather than just on the surface: “Meaning that washing of the produce by consumers will not afford protection from illness.” This information was not passed on to consumers.

I don’t envy anyone facing bloody accusations. Growers and others would be better served if there were clear, publicly available guidelines for when to go public about foodborne illness. And don’t bloody-well blame consumers unless it is warranted.

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

 DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University. 

Cost of privatizing meat inspection in Australia creeps up as Europe rejects the industry inspection model

I don’t take Food and Water seriously and don’t care who does meat inspection, as long as the results are public.

Chicago_meat_inspection_swift_co_1906But according to ABC, there are doubts the part-privatization of Australia’s meat export inspection regime is working.

Food activist groups in the United States are complaining about contamination in exports, while the European market won’t accept meat that’s not tested by government officers or third parties.

As well, Australia’s largest meat processor has returned to the government system to satisfy market demands.

Since 2011, Australia’s government-run meat inspection service has outsourced the work, seeing up to 200 meat inspectors go from the Agriculture Department, at a cost of $12 million in redundancies.

The new system of Australian Export Meat Inspection Service AEMIS is recognised by the US as equivalent to its own, even though the US has a large federal meat inspector workforce.

But an activist group in America, Food and Water Watch, is accusing Australia of missing contamination, alleging ‘serious food safety violations, traces of fecal matter on meat, and positive tests for E.col.

The union representing the remaining 200 Australian Government meat inspectors says the members are worried.

This is the song that never ends: Regulations for sale of raw milk being considered in Ireland (paid for by taxpayers)

Regulatory standards for the sale of raw milk are being examined by the Irish Department of Agriculture, following years of uncertainty over the sale of the milk, which is not pasteurized.

SB_SongThatNeverEnds-eBookNative.480x480-75The department banned the sale of raw cow’s milk in 1996 over concerns about the health risks but EU hygiene legislation in 2006 legally permitted it.

Once the implications of EU legislation were realised, some farmers began to sell raw milk again but in 2011 the government said it would ban the sale of the milk on the advice of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

However, last year, the Department of Health received legal advice stating it could not introduce secondary legislation under the Health Acts and it told the Department of Agriculture it was a matter for it to decide whether to introduce the primary legislation required.

Asked if it was planning to bring this legislation forward, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture said the department was “currently assessing the options available to it to counter the risks associated with the sale of unpasteurised milk for direct human consumption”.

He said a particular option being considered was the introduction of specified regulatory standards to apply to the sale of raw milk. He did not give a time frame for the introduction of such standards. The spokesman said unpasteurised milk could contain disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli O157, salmonellosis and brucellosis.

(This is not satire) 363 sickened in multistate outbreak of human Salmonella infections linked to live poultry in backyard flocks (final update)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports:

  • This outbreak appears to be over. However, live poultry, including those kept in backyard flocks, remain an important cause of human Salmonella infections in the United States. More information about Salmonella from live poultry and the steps people can take to reduce their risk of infection is available.
  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA total of 363 persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Infantis, Salmonella Newport, or Salmonella Hadar were reported from 43 states and Puerto Rico.

o   33% of ill persons were hospitalized, and no deaths were reported.

  • Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback findings linked this outbreak of human Salmonella infections to contact with chicks, ducklings, and other live poultry from Mt. Healthy Hatcheries in Ohio.

o   73% of ill people reported contact with live poultry in the week before their illness began.

  • Findings of multiple traceback investigations of live baby poultry from homes of ill persons identified Mt. Healthy Hatcheries in Ohio as the source of chicks and ducklings.

o   This is the same mail-order hatchery that has been associated with multiple outbreaks of Salmonella infections linked to live poultry in past years, including in 2012 and 2013.

  • CDC’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) laboratory conducted antibiotic resistance testing on Salmonella isolates collected from 11 ill persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Infantis or Newport. Of the 11 isolates tested:

o   Two (18%) were resistant to tetracycline.

o   Nine (82%) were susceptible to all antibiotics on the NARMS panel.

  • Mail-order hatcheries, agricultural feed stores, and others that sell or display chicks, ducklings, and other live poultry should provide health-related information to owners and potential purchasers of these birds prior to selling them. This should include information about the risk of acquiring a Salmonella infection from contact with live poultry.

chicken.south.parko   Read the advice to mail-order hatcheries and feed stores and others that sell or display live poultry.

  • Consumers who own live poultry should take steps to protect themselves:

o   Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where these birds live and roam.

o   Do not let live poultry inside the house.

o   Learn about additional recommendations to protect yourself and your family from Salmonella infections. These recommendations are important and apply to all live poultry, regardless of the age of the birds or where they were purchased.

Stay at home, thoroughly clean: Pennyslvania hospital implements improvements after norovirus affects 19 staffers

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recently improved its virus-detection process after a state Health Department investigation revealed the room of a patient suffering from norovirus in April was inadequately cleaned amid an outbreak among nurses there.

vomit.toiletThe Health Department report was based on an investigation completed in May after 19 nursing staffers working in the same unit fell ill with norovirus – a highly contagious but generally nonlife-threatening gastrointestinal bug that causes vomiting and diarrhea.

The report found that the room of a patient suffering from the virus in the same unit on the weekend of April 5-6 had not been properly cleaned with bleach as required by the hospital’s infection-control policy. All but three of the affected staffers had developed symptoms between March 11 and March 23, before the inadequate cleaning, according to the report.

The report said hospital procedures also were not properly followed in early March when a patient’s mother displayed norovirus symptoms March 8 while visiting. “There was no documented evidence that [Infection Control] was notified of this incident,” the report said. Whether that patient room was adequately cleaned is unclear in the report.

The Health Department investigation also found that staffers who were out sick with norovirus were not instructed to follow hospital protocol of staying home until they were symptom-free for 48 hours until March 27 – after the majority of the affected staff already had been ill. Only three additional staffers fell ill after that date, the report said.

vomit.infosheet.oct.08