Chinese meat supplier of McDonald’s and KFC gets the ax

The Chinese outlets of McDonald’s and KFC have stopped using meat from a Shanghai company after a local television news program accused the supplier of using chicken and beef past their expiration date, triggering an investigation by local food safety officials.

UnknownThe program, aired on Shanghai-based Dragon TV on Sunday evening, showed hidden camera footage of workers at a meat-processing facility operated by Shanghai Husi Food using out-of-date chicken and beef to make burger patties and chicken products for McDonald’s and KFC, in some cases scooping up meat that had fallen onto the assembly line floor and throwing it back into a processing machine.

In response, the Chinese units of McDonald’s and KFC both said in news releases posted from their official Sina Weibo social messaging accounts that they had halted use of all products from Shanghai Husi, which is owned by the OSI Group, based in Aurora, Ill.

Of course it’s the top priority; Sysco settles California investigations, reiterates its commitment to food safety

Everyone is concerned about food safety when the shit hits the fan. It’s the top priority.

Sysco Corporation has agreed to settle with the State of California all claims related to its past use of drop sites in the state. The $19.4 million settlement includes a payment of $15 million in penalties, $3.3 million to fund four California Department of Public Health investigator positions for five years, a $1 million donation to food banks across California, and $127,000 in costs.

Sysco-TruckSysco issued the following statement today regarding its commitment to food safety. Bill DeLaney, Sysco’s president and chief executive officer, said:

“Food safety is Sysco’s No. 1 priority, and it cannot be compromised. We sincerely regret that some of our California companies failed to adhere to our long-standing policies related to drop sites. The California Department of Public Health and the county district attorneys received our full cooperation in their investigations of our practices. In addition to the settlement with the state, we have comprehensively addressed our food safety and quality assurance practices in California and across the Sysco enterprise by putting in place the following positive steps:

“First, as we stated in September 2013, we eliminated the use of drop sites across Sysco. Second, we have introduced mandatory, annual food safety training for all employees across Sysco. Third, we are implementing additional and improved food safety reporting, monitoring and compliance controls across our operations to ensure adherence to our policies.”

Food-poisoning pathogen detection speeds up dramatically

New York is on the front lines of detecting foodborne pathogen outbreaks, thanks to a partnership between public health scientists and Cornell researchers.

surveillanceMembers of the Cornell Food Safety Lab, led by food science professor Martin Wiedmann and research associate Henk den Bakker, are helping the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) harness the capabilities and cost efficiencies of next-generation DNA sequencing techniques to rapidly identify strains of salmonella and read the results in a way that could quicken responses to potential outbreaks.

Traditional methods of assessing bacteria samples submitted to public health laboratories, based on pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), often do not deliver the level of precision needed to pinpoint specific strains of pathogens, their relationships to each other and whether they share a common origin – vital information when trying to trace the source of illness outbreaks.

For Salmonella enterica serovar Enteritidis, for instance, 85 percent of isolates can be classified into just five PFGE types, and 40 percent belong to one subtype in particular.

“There’s so little variation in the genome, and when there’s an outbreak, it’s almost impossible to differentiate using that method,” den Bakker said.

By sequencing all 4.5 million base pairs of the bacteria’s DNA using single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPS) in a technique known as rapid whole-genome sequencing, scientists are able to get much more nuanced information.

“This kind of detailed information improves our ability to tell whether outbreaks are isolated, sporadic or part of a cluster, which allows for more thorough epidemiologic investigations,” said NYSDOH collaborator William J. Wolfgang.

The introduction of small, affordable, bench-top, whole-genome sequencing equipment has made it possible for clinical and public health labs to consider adding the technology to their arsenal. The NYSDOH’s Wadsworth Center in Albany, New York, was one of the first public health labs to make the investment – Cornell was able to provide the bioinformatics expertise to enable the lab to make sense of the data it would be collecting and to analyze it quickly.

Their proof of concept was published July 16 in the Centers of Disease Control journal Emerging Infectious Diseases in a paper that uses a case study of a salmonella outbreak in a long-term care facility to demonstrate how the technique could benefit public health labs.

In a regional collaboration, samples collected by the Connecticut Department of Public Health were sequenced by NYSDOH and analyzed by Cornell, and researchers discovered the outbreak was even larger than suspected. In addition to the seven residents identified in 2010 as being sickened in the outbreak, nine additional samples from patients in surrounding communities matched the main strain.

“This suggests a common contaminated source outside the long-term care facility. Knowledge of these cases at the time of the outbreak might have improved the chances of finding the outbreak source, which was never identified,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

The technique is already gaining traction in several other states through the GenomeTrakr initiative sponsored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is providing sequencing equipment, reagents, funds for personnel, and training on the equipment to seven State Public Health Laboratories including New York. In return, the public health labs upload raw sequence data to a centralized site for analysis. Any clusters that appear are reported back to local labs and epidemiologists, allowing for a quick, coordinated response.

The study was partly funded by a grant from the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the FDA and the NYSDOH Wadsworth Center).

Market food safety at retail; Foster Farms finally recalls some chicken 16 months after first Salmonella outbreak

Two weeks ago, Foster Farms poultry producers announced they’d dramatically lowered levels of salmonella in chicken parts — and invested $75 million to do it.

chicken.south.parkNow, Foster Farms of Fresno, Calif., is recalling an undetermined amount of chicken products that may be contaminated with a particular strain of Salmonella Heidelberg.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) requested Foster Farms conduct this recall because this product is known to be associated with a specific illness.

FSIS was notified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of a Salmonella Heidelberg illness on June 23, 2014, associated with the consumption of a boneless skinless chicken breast product. Working in conjunction with CDC, FSIS determined that there is a link between boneless skinless chicken breast products from Foster Farms and this illness after recovering the leftover boneless chicken breast for testing. Lab tests confirmed a molecular match between the Salmonella on the cut-up poultry and strains infecting the patient.

39-gun-to-headThis illness is part of an ongoing outbreak being monitored and investigated by FSIS and CDC. Until this point, there had been no direct evidence that linked the illnesses associated with this outbreak to a specific product or production lot. Evidence that is required for a recall includes obtaining case-patient product that tests positive for the same particular strain of Salmonella that caused the illness, packaging on product that clearly links the product to a specific facility and a specific production date, and records documenting the shipment and distribution of the product from purchase point of the case-patient to the originating facility.

It’s a sad day for epidemiology, with Foster Farms fingered in at least 575 cases of Salmonella Heidelberg since March 2013.

The newly recalled products subject to recall bear the establishment number “P6137,” P6137A” or “P7632” inside the USDA mark of inspection. The chicken products were produced on March 8, 10 and 11, 2014. These products were shipped to Costco, Foodmaxx, Kroger, Safeway and other retail stores and distribution centers in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.

Oversight in private food safety auditing: addressing auditor conflict of interest

Timothy D. Lytton and Lesley K. McAllister write in the 2014 Wisconsin Law Review 289, that private auditing is a significant component of food safety regulation. Typically, manufacturers, retail sellers, and food-service operators require their suppliers to obtain food safety certification from a private third-party auditor paid by the supplier. Auditors’ financial interest in acquiring accounts from suppliers who want the cheapest certification that they can obtain gives auditors incentive to reduce the rigor of audits. This constitutes a conflict of interest between the auditor’s private financial interest and its professional obligation to protect the public from food safety risks. Audit industry insiders and outside observers are well aware of this problem, and various institutional actors — both public and private — have developed oversight mechanisms to address it.

audit.checklistWe analyze the nature and sources of this conflict of interest in food safety auditing, efforts to prevent it, and responses when it occurs. Our focus is on institutional design — organizational structures, administrative routines, and professional norms. Part I of the Article describes how conflicts of interest lead some auditors to be less probing in their inspection of suppliers’ operations and to skew their risk evaluations in favor of suppliers’ desire for cheap certification. Part II of the Article surveys the different oversight mechanisms currently in place or under development that aim to counteract auditors’ incentive to reduce the rigor of audits.

Conflict of interest is a structural feature of any system of private standards compliance in which the auditor is paid by the entity being audited. Other prominent examples include securities rating and environmental audits. Our analysis of food safety auditing aims to offer general insights into the comparative strengths and weaknesses of different responses to this problem.

 We wrote, and repeated here, it’s time to change the discussion and the approach to safe food. Time to lose the religion: audits and inspections are never enough.

• 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 for 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?

AIB.audit.eggs• 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

30.aug.12

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.

The sample has been taken, the results are in: now what?

My friend Margaret Hardin, vice president of technical services at IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group wrote an excellent column for Food Safety Magazine this month. Excerpts below:

6714HardinMargaret We spend a considerable amount of our time in the food industry collecting data. Data may be quantitative or qualitative, and may be the result of one or more of numerous methodologies from an air settling plate or a swab to the analysis of a sample using high-performance liquid chromatography for the presence/absence of a chemical of concern. Data could also be from microbial mapping using molecular methods such as genetic fingerprinting.

Data are generally the results of measurements, either objective or subjective, which are designed to evaluate the subject matter in a multitude of ways: sensory, physical, chemical, microbiological or particulate. Such information may be obtained to develop and/or verify raw product specifications (ingredients, supplies, water or air) as well as track suppliers, monitor employee hygiene and/or the processing environment to verify sanitation, develop and verify product shelf life, validate products and processes, or verify finished product food safety and quality specifications.

You have gone to all the trouble and expense to develop objectives, outline the plan, decide where and how to take the sample, evaluate the best available, cost-effective method to employ to test the sample, chosen a laboratory to analyze the sample and then waited for the results, oftentimes with a truck at the loading dock or a vice-president on the phone. The results are in, and the worst thing you can do now is to put those results away in a drawer or store them away on the hard drive. The best thing you can do is to put the data to work for you.



star-trek-dataHopefully, you thought ahead and made wise decisions before you even took the sample so that the results would be meaningful and useful. Now it is time to get down to the business of analyzing, tracking and trending your data. While many factors are involved in food production and process control, having an objective measure will help you manage improvements to determine whether something is getting better or worse. Proactive tracking and trending of data can facilitate a root-cause analysis to discover and understand the originating causes of problems, to track the potential source of contamination to avoid delays in product release or to complete investigations, and to identify areas that can benefit from further investigation or process control. Using your data to lead you through activities, such as performing a root-cause analysis, is much more effective than using the apply a band-aid approach to fix issues. Trending of data is important to demonstrate a state of control to identify problems before they get too big (set alert/alarm/threshold limits), to identify process improvements and to determine whether improvements are effective. Trending of microbiological test results, for instance, can make it easier to spot patterns in your data and better manage the risks associated with your process and products. …

Last but not least, there must be proper documentation of the events from the data through the corrective actions, root-cause analysis and verification that the corrective action(s) was effective. Document a timeline, including the date and nature of the deviation, the action plan, the investigation, the results of the investigation, the corrective actions applied, results of any resampling, training records, new SOPs developed or changed, new equipment or construction and conclusions. This is your chance to tell the story and document it for evidence of process control and for future reference. Unfortunately, the precise root cause is not always easy to determine nor is the precise origin of the deviation always that clear-cut. In fact, there may be multiple sources. In addition, and in an effort to get production up and running again, many changes may be made to the process at one time, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact source of the deviation.

Using your data to work for you through tracking and trending guarantees a favorable outcome for everyone involved—particularly the consumer. And, when used, in the case of environmental monitoring and process control of RTE foods, in conjunction with an aggressive and intensive sampling and testing program, it enables the facility to find and eliminate the root cause and verify the sanitary conditions of the production environment, going a long way toward identifying and minimizing the potential for microbial contamination of product through monitoring and management of suppliers and of the RTE process and production environment.


Efforts to zap bacteria in food are slow to catch hold

The nuclear energy that Frank Benso uses to kill bacteria in fruit and oysters has won widespread support from public health officials and scientists, who say it could turn the tide against the plague of foodborne illness.

0408_bananafood_mainThe Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of radiation to wipe out pathogens in dozens of food products, and for decades it has been used in other developed countries without reports of human harm.

But it has barely caught on in the United States. The technology — called irradiation — zaps bacteria out of food and is highly effective, but for many consumers it conjures up frightening images of mutant life forms and phosphorescent food.

Benso, who opened Gateway America 18 months ago, also knows his new venture pits him against the nation’s growing buy-local, back-to-nature movement that shuns industrial food processing.

“Those naysayers better throw out their microwaves, because that is irradiation,” Benso said, standing in his 50,000-square-foot irradiation facility.

Dozens of scientific studies have shown that irradiated food is safe for human consumption, and that no radioactive material has leaked outside any U.S. plant, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The three forms of energy that can be used — gamma rays, electron beams and X-rays — can virtually eliminate bacteria in minutes. All this has prompted the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and dozens of other groups to endorse its use.

Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, blames an “anti-science movement” for the public resistance. He is frustrated with the federal government for endorsing irradiation but then not educating the public as it has with childhood immunizations and water fluoridation.

They had one of those, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority; government reinvents wheel

The New Zealand government is to set up an independent food safety advice group to recommend regulatory changes in the wake of last year’s global recall of dairy products over a false botulism scare.

barf.o.meter.dec.12The Food Safety and Assurance Advisory Council was one of 29 recommendations from the Government Inquiry into the Whey Protein Concentrate Contamination Incident released in December last year, Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye said Wednesday.

“At the moment there is no independent group that looks at the whole of New Zealand’s food safety and assurance system and is able to provide high-level independent advice and risk analysis,” Kaye said in a statement.

“This council is being set up to do this and will report to the director-general of the Ministry for Primary Industries. It will provide a valuable sounding board for new ideas and contribute to raising consumer and market confidence in New Zealand’s food,” she said.

She also expected the six-member expert panel to identify current and future trends, risks and issues that may impact on the country’s food safety and assurance system.

Dairy giant Fonterra pleaded guilty in a New Zealand court last month to four food safety-related charges connected to global recall of whey protein concentrate over the false botulism scare, which happened in August last year.

Fonterra is also fighting a civil case brought by French food giant Danone, which is claiming compensation of 350 million euros (483.59 million U.S. dollars) for the scare.

Universities blinded by rankings and scientific gobbledygook

It’s bad enough that public institutions like Kansas State University use public funds to promote crap.

As a parent of four university daughters, I’ve seen the debt they’ve accumulated and the crap they’ve been sold.

Crap1But it’s bigger than public institutions – the foundations of science are for sale, to the highest bidder.

I tend to be the reviewer journal editors go to when they sense crap – I have a ridiculously large rejection rate because I know bullshit when I read it.

Tom Spears of the Ottawa Citizen says he’s just written the world’s worst science research paper: More than incompetent, it’s a mess of plagiarism and meaningless garble.

Now science publishers around the world are clamouring to publish it.

They will distribute it globally and pretend it is real research, for a fee.

It’s untrue? And parts are plagiarized? They’re fine with that.

Welcome to the world of science scams, a fast-growing business that sucks money out of research, undermines genuine scientific knowledge, and provides fake credentials for the desperate.

And even veteran scientists and universities are unaware of how deep the problem runs.

When scientists make discoveries, they publish their results in academic journals. The journals review the discovery with independent experts, and if everything checks out they publish the work. This boosts the reputations, and the job prospects, of the study’s authors.

Many journals now publish only online. And some of these, nicknamed predatory journals, offer fast, cut-rate service to young researchers under pressure to publish who have trouble getting accepted by the big science journals.

In academia, there’s a debate over whether the predators are of a lower-than-desired quality. But the Citizen’s experiment indicates much more: that many are pure con artists on the same level as the Nigerian banker who wants to give you $100 million.

Last year, science writer John Bohannon sent out a paper with subtle scientific errors and showed that predatory journals were often failing to catch them. The Citizen covered his sting, published in Science magazine.

Estimates of their numbers range from hundreds to thousands.

To uncover bottom-feeding publishers, the simplest way was to submit something that absolutely shouldn’t be published by anyone, anywhere.

My short research paper may look normal to outsiders: A lot of big, scientific words with some graphs. Let’s start with the title: “Acidity and aridity: Soil inorganic carbon storage exhibits complex relationship with low-pH soils and myeloablation followed by autologous PBSC infusion.”

Look more closely. The first half is about soil science. Then halfway through it switches to medical terms, myeloablation and PBSC infusion, which relate to treatment of cancer using stem cells.

The reason: I copied and pasted one phrase from a geology paper online, and the rest from a medical one, on hematology.

I wrote the whole paper that way, copying and pasting from soil, then blood, then soil again, and so on. There are a couple of graphs from a paper about Mars. They had squiggly lines and looked cool, so I threw them in.

Footnotes came largely from a paper on wine chemistry. The finished product is completely meaningless.

The university where I claim to work doesn’t exist. Nor do the Nepean Desert or my co-author. Software that catches plagiarism identified 67 per cent of my paper as stolen (and that’s missing some). And geology and blood work don’t mix, even with my invention of seismic platelets.

I submitted the faux science to 18 journals, and waited.

Predators moved in fast. Acceptances started rolling in within 24 hours of my submission, from journals wishing to publish the work of this young geologist at the University of Ottawa-Carleton.

First came the Merit Research Journal of Agricultural Science and Soil Sciences, which claims it sent me to “peer review” by an independent expert in the field who gave me a glowing review. It laid out my article and was ready to post it online 48 hours after submission — for $500.

That’s cheap. The going rate at genuine journals is $1,000 to $5,000.

I didn’t pay.

There are seven more acceptances from the International Journal of Science and Technology, Science Journal of Agricultural Research and Management, the International Journal of Current Research, Science Park, Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Research (actually based in Jordan), American Journal of Scientific Research, and International Journal of Latest Research in Engineering and Computing. Yes, “Latest.” Makes you wonder what other kind there is.

Several others are still considering and a couple are silent and appear to have shut down.

Only two turned me down, for plagiarism. And one of these will turn a blind eye and publish anyway if I just tweak it a bit.

Emblem of the King Arthus from Monty Python and the Holy Grail 1975 Graham ChapmanThe acceptances came embarrassingly fast. A real journal needs weeks at the very least to ask reviewers — outside experts — to check an author’s work.

I wrote back to one of these publishers explaining that my work was “bilge” and the conclusions don’t stand up.

The journal wrote right back offering to tweak a few passages and publish anyway. And by the way, it asked, where’s the $500?

At the University of Saskatchewan, medical professor Roger Pierson wonders how can scientists trust the journal system to share knowledge.

“Basically you can’t any more,” he said, except for a stable of well-known journals from identifiable professional societies, where members recognize ethical work is in all their best interests.

He had just spent time with the committee that oversees tenure and promotions at his university.

“We had three cases where people had published things in what were obviously predatory journals, and they didn’t think anything was wrong with that.

“The reality though is that these (fake journals) are used for promotion and tenure by people who really shouldn’t be there. The world is changing fast … It’s a big problem.”

And taxpayers wonder if the university system is broken.

I don’t know of a better system than vigorous and brutal peer-review, but universities are rapidly becoming redundant in their quest for meaningless metrics.

And for any university to claim they are global, geography shouldn’t be a factor.