Food safety in Lebanon: experts emphasize need for measures after scandals

Lebanon is in need of effective food safety measures in light of the series of food scandals that the country has witnessed, ministries and experts say.

The Lebanese food industry is rife with serious issues, said AUB Professor Zeina Kassaify. “Mislabeling is the key issue and the fact that we don’t have proper law or enforcement mechanism.”“Part of the law says we should be monitoring. … In the U.S. they have the FDA. If they find something that is not up to standard, they penalize people. Here it’s not like that, someone says something on TV and everyone gets outraged without there being any credibility.”

Pierre Abu Nakhoul, an engineer with the Industry Ministry who also carries out inspections, said a lack of resources had hampered monitoring efforts. The ministry must follow up on certain food safety aspects with 2,000 food companies. With the available staff, it could check up on 5-10 each day.

Furthermore, about 30 percent of those food companies are operating without permits, an issue that has also affected food safety monitoring.

The real problem is the overlapping authorities of different ministries with respect to monitoring food processing activities, according to Mounir Bissat, president of the Syndicate of Food Industries.

Homemade goods: most Hawaiian lawmakers not in compliance with food safety regulations

State legislators and their staff have been busy whipping up homemade goods for the annual Hawaii Food Bank fundraiser. The effort to raise cash lasts from January to early May and features a variety of fares, from Filipino food to brownies ala mode.   

“Any legislator good with fundraisers often has baked goods from their constituents, so that’s what we find here,” said Rep. Tom Brower.

Hawaii Food Bank fundraiserHowever, unbeknownst to many of the men and women who craft Hawaii’s laws, almost any food sold outside a restaurant or certified kitchen requires a permit.  
“These are short-term events or sales that are going to distribute food to the general public,” explains State Environmental Health Program Manager Peter Oshiro. “Anybody that has or wants to do those types of sales is required to get a temporary food establishment permit from the Health Department.”

Lawmakers organizing the annual drive for the food bank were caught off guard when approached by KITV4 about the need for a Department of Health permit.
“We make the laws here and it wouldn’t be prudent if we didn’t follow the laws that we make, and so it’s all about compliance,” said Vice-Speaker John Mizuno. “I’ll make sure that whenever we send memos at the kickoff of the Hawaii Food Bank fundraising effort, that we attach forms so that offices will know how to be in compliance.”

About 500 temporary food establishment permits are issued by the Health Department every month. Oshiro says the department just wants to make sure that all food is safe.  

Former food safety undersecretary calls BS on media coverage

Dr. Richard Raymond writes in that when it comes to food safety, no wonder it is hard for the public to believe what they hear. Here are four public statements that fell short on honesty and accuracy:

• “Our nations’ food safety system is a hazard to public health.” — President Barack Obama shortly after his inauguration.

• “We are standing on the brink of a public health disaster.” — Congresswoman Slaughter in February, 2014, right after the FDA released its latest National Antibiotic Resistance Dan Aykroyd Plays Julia ChildMonitoring System’s (NARMS) report.

• When farmers use antibiotics, “they do so…under the care of a veterinarian.” — United States Farmers and Ranchers Alliance’s website (USFRA)

• “Salmonella is killed when food is cooked and handled properly. So, people becoming ill from antibiotic resistant foodborne bacteria and not being able to be treated in some manner, is rare if not almost non-existent.” — USFRA website

Number 1 was a good sound bite that played to the media and the change mongers, but totally failed to recognize a food safety system that may have flaws and shortcomings, but for the most part is doing a very good job with the tools given to FDA and USDA to enforce and regulate and it also ignores the dedication of our farmers and ranchers, scientists, trade organizations, packers and processors who toil every day, knowing their work is critical to your and my health.

This was just a shameful slap at tens of thousands of men and women who have chosen a less than glamorous profession, work in harsh conditions at times and try to do it right every day.

Number 2 totally ignored the fact that the latest NARMS report regarding samples of retail meat and poultry for pathogens and antibiotic resistance showed that the drugs of choice for treating foodborne illnesses caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter remain effective with no resistance seen.

It also showed significant declines in resistance in pathogens to flouroquinolones, a class of antibiotic used in human medicine but for all effects and purposes banned from use in animals by the FDA because earlier NARMS reports indicated a rapidly growing resistance that was problematical.

Numbers 3 and 4 mislead and attempt to say “no problem here with antibiotic use in animals.” Two simple facts shoot these quotes down, even as this organization tries to needle.tenderize.crspeak positively for those raising our food.

Simply put, there are a lot of antibiotics being administered in feed and water with zero DVM oversight and supervision. We all know that as a fact.

Salmonella is the number one cause of deaths from foodborne illnesses in this country, accounting for 29 percent of the total deaths. If you read the CDC annual reports you know that fact also. Tell the family members of the 452 persons who died in 2012 that those deaths were “non-existent.”

The Salmonella pathogen class also causes over 1 million illnesses per year in the United States. That fact cannot be waived off with a toss of a hand and a web page declaration, especially after the recent Foster Farms related outbreak that sickened over 500.
We have been making steady progress in making our meat and poultry safer, especially since the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that caused the entire industry to declare food safety a non-competitive arena.

Headline seekers and grabbers do not help the movement to continue to improve. Using logic, common sense and science as the movers and shakers will produce a safer food supply.

Listeria lawsuits question food safety audits

Lawsuits filed by victims of a 2011 Listeria outbreak that killed four New Mexicans and severely sickened a fifth raise questions about the effectiveness of food safety inspections required by many retailers.

The New Mexico victims were among 33 people killed nationally by bacterial infections linked to cantaloupes grown at a farm in Colorado, making it one of the deadliest outbreaks of food-borne illness in U.S. history.

A focus of the five New Mexico lawsuits, and dozens of others in the U.S., is a California food safety auditing firm, PrimusLabs, that gave the Colorado cantaloupe packing Cantalope_300operation a score of 96 percent and a “superior” rating just weeks before the outbreak, the lawsuits contend.

The New Mexico lawsuits, filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, also name Walmart Stores, where the families say they purchased the tainted cantaloupes, and Frontera Produce, a Texas-based produce distributor.

A contractor hired by PrimusLabs inspected Jensen Farms in July 2011 and gave the cantaloupe packing operation the superior rating, allowing it to continue selling cantaloupes, the lawsuits contend.

In September 2011, health officials announced a multistate Listeria outbreak that ultimately infected 147 people in 28 states, including 15 in New Mexico. Later that month, federal and Colorado health officials inspected Jensen Farms, finding 13 confirmed samples of Listeria strains linked to the outbreak.

PrimusLabs Corp. is seeking dismissal of a civil case filed against the audit firm by cantaloupe growers Eric and Ryan Jensen, placing blame on the brothers and distributor Frontera Produce.

Even though an audit in July 2011 — conducted by BFS for PrimusLabs — gave the Jensens packing shed a score of 96 out of 100 and a “superior” rating, PrimusLabs contends the Jensens should not have assumed their cantaloupes were “fit for human consumption.”

PrimusLabs described the audit as “non-descript” in court documents. The audit company contends it did not create a risk that otherwise did not exist and that there is no reason to think Jensen Farms would have not shipped cantaloupe if it had received a poor audit score.

“If Jensen wanted to protect consumers from its products, it could have contracted with some third party to conduct the requisite environmental testing and inspection,” PrimusLabs states in court documents.


What we found when investigating the audit issue, long before this 2011 outbreak, was:

• food safety audits and inspections are a key component of the nation’s food safety system and their use will expand in the future, for both domestic and imported foodstuffs., but recent failures can be emotionally, physically and financially devastating to the victims and the businesses involved;

• many outbreaks involve firms that have had their food production systems verified and received acceptable ratings from food safety auditors or government inspectors;

• while inspectors and auditors play an active role in overseeing compliance, the burden jensen.cantaloupefor food safety lies primarily with food producers;

• there are lots of limitations with audits and inspections, just like with restaurants inspections, but with an estimated 48 million sick each year in the U.S., the question should be, how best to improve food safety?

• audit reports are only useful if the purchaser or  food producer reviews the results, understands the risks addressed by the standards and makes risk-reduction decisions based on the results;

• there appears to be a disconnect between what auditors provide (a snapshot) and what buyers believe they are doing (a full verification or certification of product and process);

• third-party audits are only one performance indicator and need to be supplemented with microbial testing, second-party audits of suppliers and the in-house capacity to meaningfully assess the results of audits and inspections;

• companies who blame the auditor or inspector for outbreaks of foodborne illness should also blame themselves;

• assessing food-handling practices of staff through internal observations, externally-led evaluations, and audit and inspection results can provide indicators of a food safety culture; and,

• the use of audits to help create, improve, and maintain a genuine food safety culture holds the most promise in preventing foodborne illness and safeguarding public health.

Audits and inspections are never enough: A critique to enhance food safety


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.

U.S. food-safety audit gives Canada low grade, calls for better meat oversight

Despite what some Canadian academics, government and industry types say about the safety of Canadian meat, the U.S thinks it sorta sucks.

This is nothing new.

But does matter to cattle ranchers who rely on trade with the U.S.

According to a report in the Globe and Mail, a U.S. audit of Canada’s food-safety system calls on the federal regulator to strengthen oversight of sanitation and the humane handling Chicago_meat_inspection_swift_co_1906of animals at meat-slaughtering plants.

The findings from the tour of seven food-processing facilities, two laboratories and five Canadian Food Inspection Agency offices in the fall of 2012 were kept confidential until recently.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture declined to release the report earlier to The Globe and Mail, which requested it through U.S. access to information law. The findings were published last month on the department’s website.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency received an “adequate” rating, the lowest of three scores that are meted out to countries deemed eligible to export food to the United States. The designation means Canada will be subject to more robust audits and its food exports will undergo more inspections at the U.S. border than those of countries whose food-safety systems were rated “average” or “well-performing.”

Canada’s food-safety system faced heightened scrutiny after 23 people died in an outbreak of listeriosis linked to a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto in 2008, and E. coli contamination in 2012 at the former XL Foods facility near Brooks, Alta., led to the largest meat recall in Canadian history.

The federal government has revamped oversight of the CFIA, transferring responsibility to the Health Minister from the Agriculture Minister in October. The true effect of that change – whether it is substantial or cosmetic – remains unclear.

The U.S. review reveals that auditors found sanitation issues, including flaking paint and rust on pipes and overhead rails, at a pig-slaughter facility in Langley, B.C. Problems were also observed at the former XL cattle-slaughter plant, then temporarily shut down amid the E. coli outbreak in which 18 people fell sick with potentially deadly bacteria.

On their Nov. 2, 2012, visit to XL, auditors noted greasy spots on several conveyor belts in the boning room, which could have led to contamination. Among other issues observed was dust on protective trays under ventilators and blowers, also a contamination concern.

“There are always issues with audits, but overall, the audit findings were very good,” Tom Graham, director of CFIA’s domestic inspection division, said of the 2012 audit.

The CFIA plans to add extra oversight to its inspection program. The agency will establish a permanent inspection verification office in the spring, Mr. Graham said. The new office, which was recommended in an independent review of the XL contamination, will review inspection activities at food plants.

Keith Warriner, a food-science professor at the University of Guelph, thinks additional oversight of inspectors is a good idea. He said the XL recall and the listeriosis outbreak highlighted weaknesses.

“The common feature of those [cases] is that the CFIA weren’t applying the rules. They were turning a blind eye, and that was more so in the case of XL Foods,” Dr. Warriner said. “You need to have this [new] inspection service to make sure the inspectors are applying the regulations.”

My food safety year

The only job I ever wanted was to be a professor. I can do lots of things, but like my dad and uncle used to tell me, just make sure you’re really good at whatever you do.

I followed this girl to Australia, because she got a job at a uni that was much better for her.

Kansas State let me work remotely for about a year, since all my teaching and research were on-line, and then decided I had bad attendance at faculty meetings and didn’t hold aldi_surfing_santa_ham_1their hands during tea, and fired me.

When I received confirmation of the firing in April, I was in Kansas and thought a few bottles of bourbon would help me through. When I tried to clean up the next day, I had withdrawal issues and ended up in hospital followed by two weeks at the rehab resort.

It was rough on Amy, her being in Australia.

I worked in the kitchen, mainly cleaning dishes, but the woman who ran the kitchen had microbial food safety down; I couldn’t stump her and she had her thermometer on her uniform.

On the day I left, I told the 100 or so drunks, pill, meth, coke and glue addicts I would rather talk with them than any colleague I knew at my university (other than Dean Ralph).

Full professor, I got nothing. I didn’t even get paid for the last three weeks I worked, jon.stewart.competence.13because no one had bothered to tell me when I was fired. I chaired a MS student’s defense, and I wasn’t even employed.

Excellence in education.

I floated around for a few months, then got a gracious offer to join a private firm, but after three months, I resigned. It wasn’t me. I’m not a vice-president of anything.

When Kansas State president Kirk Shultz writes, as he did yesterday in response to a restrictive Kansas policy on social media use, “Disagreements are part of almost any family, but at the end of the day we always find ways to resolve our differences,” I just sigh, and don’t care anymore. People can believe what they like.

I’m back to my focus on food safety. The stuff that makes people barf. Happy surfing Santa.

Followup after recalls a problem for Canadian food inspection agency, auditor finds

It’s sortofa repetitious Canadian thing: a bunch of people get sick and some die, an investigation is carried out, problems are noted, the bureaucrats say they’ve already fixed things and everyone goes back to sleep until the next outbreak.

So it’s not surprising the auditor general says the largest meat recall in Canada’s history – that would be the E. coli O157 outbreak last year bureaucratlinked to the former XL Foods in Alberta — exposed serious shortcomings at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The latest report from auditor general Michael Ferguson says the food inspection agency struggles to follow up on routine recalls and to manage major files, such as the one last year at XL Foods.

Ferguson’s team found widespread confusion among agency officials during emergencies.

During the XL Foods recall, for example, the company received multiple calls from agency officials who apparently didn’t know that their responsibilities shifted during the emergency.

The report says all those calls created confusion and added to the company’s already considerable workload during the crisis.

There was further confusion after the agency ordered one distributor to recall products from a date that was not part of the recall.

So why not make food producers publicly accountable, rather than to a bloated agency, and market food safety at retail that can be verified.

Promote microbiologically safe food? Report makes case for digital connection with consumers

People said I was crazy at Masters and Johnson … wait, that’s a Woody Allen movie.

But 10 years ago, whenever I asked for verification of something, my students would tell me in a sardonically hipster manner, Dr. professor, there’s this thing …(pregnant pause for effect or sneer) it’s called Google.

Today, people can use smartphones in New York City and Beijing to get restaurant inspection reports for those that care.

Americans can get lots of information about their food already – sustainable, local, natural, organic, animal friendly, dolphin-free – but nothing about microbial safety.

And some companies are better.

They should brag.

The technology is already available for those who want to push their investment in food safety.

Unfortunately, most of what consumers see is rewards programs, and recall notices.

Tom Karst of The Packer writes that a new report, “Six Degrees of Digital Connection: Growing Grocery Sales in an Omnichannel World” concludes supermarkets may yield higher sales if they invest in digital connections with consumers.

Published by Barrington, Ill.-based Brick Meets Click, looks at the business case for investment in digital connections with shoppers.

Not a stirring endorsement, but in a study of more than 22,000 shoppers from six U.S. retail banners, there was a strong relationship between the number of digital connections and whether a customer is likely to be a primary shopper (who does a majority of grocery spending with that retailer). Digital connections include e-mail, websites, texting, social networks, mobile and online shopping.

I have no idea if the study is valid.

But if supermarkets can electronically connect with so many shoppers, that sounds like an opportunity to market food safety.

A lot of shoppers care about food safety.

Entire food system should be accountable for outbreaks

Arresting the Jensen brothers without indicting anyone else in the food system is like arresting Richard Eggers to curb the excesses of the global financial crisis.

Eggers, a 68-year-old Des Moines resident, who gained national attention after being fired by Wells Fargo & Co. in July 2012, was featured on the Colbert Report (video below for North Americans) in a segment satirizing the federal government’s failure to jail a cantaloupesingle high-level banker who helped precipitate the global financial crisis.

Eggers was fired after the nation’s largest bank by market value learned that he had been arrested 49 years ago for putting a cardboard cutout of a dime in a Carlisle laundry machine. He is one of an estimated 3,000 low-level bank employees who were fired last year under employment regulations meant to deter the kind of high-level excesses that helped precipitate the global financial crisis.

The Jensen’s case is far more serious, involving the death of 33 people and sickening 143 from Listeria in cantaloupe in 2011, but focusing on the farmers who received stellar audit reports lets the system off the hook.

And the system is at fault.

The nation’s food safety system, especially for produce, is a patchwork of third-party audits, personal assurances, and profit before protection.

The government – the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – says it’s sending a message, but it’s sending the wrong one.

Eric Jensen, 37, and Ryan Jensen, 33, were accused of six counts of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce and aiding and abetting.

The Jensens should be held accountable, as should everyone else in the food system, including the auditors that gave the Jensens a big thumbs up and the retailers who rely on paperwork in the absence of evidence. Going after the weakest link only displays a decrepit and ineffectual system.

Some companies – to their credit – are going beyond the paper trail and using their own staff along with outside expertise to build a credible food safety system; some companies really are better.

And they should brag about it.

Because as a consumer, I have no way of knowing whether one cantaloupe was raised, harvested, packed and shipped more hygienically than another. Retailers insist all food is safe, but weekly outbreaks, especially with repeat offenders, shows the system is broken.

(Meeting government standards implies no sort of microbial food safety; that is a tactic to deflect responsibility, what some call the Pinto effect.)

The FDA may be flexing its tiny muscles against the weak kids, but is doing nothing visible about that troubled third-party system in food, where the company selling the food is paying the auditor to approve the safety of the food.

The best producers won’t rely on government and will get ahead of the food safety curve.

My new job

Amy says I haven’t looked happier.

She hadn’t really seen what it was like when me, Chapman, Wilson and others would swoop in on a food safety crisis and focus our abilities and solutions. always got a bit of a thrill out of that.

But now, I get the chance again in my new role as vice-president of communication for IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group.

I was attracted to Mansour’s message and offer because of his willingness to combine food safety risk assessment, management and communication – the version of risk analysis I’ve been promoting for 20 years; failure at one means failure at all.

And food safety is global; so is IEH.

I will be based in Brisbane but on call 24-7, just like the good old days.