Wales to close only public food safety lab

I’m big on my Welsh heritage as I get older, but not sure I understand this.

hugh.pennigtonUK food safety go-to-person, Groundhog Day’s Hugh Pennington, says the closure of Wales’ only publicly-run food testing laboratory due to cuts mean councils may struggle to respond to another incident like the horsemeat scandal, and that relying on private laboratories could create problems in times of crisis.

Cardiff council said cuts had forced the closure but it would ensure public safety was maintained.

Eight other local authorities also use the laboratory.

It means the councils, like others around Wales, will contract-out the testing to privately-run facilities.

But Prof Pennington, an expert on bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, said: “If you don’t have [a publicly-run lab] you could get into serious difficulties.

Prof Pennington led the investigation into the 2005 E. coli outbreak in south Wales

tipton.slasher.statue“Like horsemeat, where something comes out of the blue and suddenly there’s an enormous issue, the public want it resolved and you have to work out if there’s a public health threat.

“You have to work out what the scale of the problem is and you need some sort of central authority working for the public to do that.

“You can’t do that just by relying on outsourcing all your testing.”

Food safety takes a hit in Danish budget proposal

At a time when a listeria outbreak continues to claim new victims – 13 people have died and a 29th person was confirmed as infected on Thursday – salmonella fears caused an egg recall and a steep increase in MRSA has been recorded, the government’s budget proposal released this week calls for cut in food control funding.

sorenThe government’s budget includes a 139.9 million kroner ($24.8 million) reduction in food safety controls and research. The cuts from a total food security budget of roughly 1.4 billion kroner and would be spread across the next four years. 

The cut was revealed on the same day that a new salmonella scare led to the recall of chilli-flavoured pork chops and just days after the food company Lepo recalled a batch of the popular liver pate spreadleverpostej after the discovery of listeria. 

 According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), measured by capita Denmark has some of the worst food security in the EU. The EFSA ranks Denmark as third worst country when it comes to the number of people infected with listeria, the eighth worst for campylobacter infections and the 11th worst when it comes to salmonella. 

Defense attorney grills former peanut plant manager in trial linked to Salmonella outbreak

Defense attorneys for three people charged in a deadly salmonella outbreak sought to deflect blame and poke holes in the government’s case Tuesday as they questioned a co-defendant, who is a key prosecution witness.

PCA.AIB.certificateThe co-defendant, Samuel Lightsey, was a former manager of a Georgia peanut processing plant blamed in the 2008-09 outbreak. He was indicted along with his former boss, Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell, and two others. Lightsey pleaded guilty in May after reaching a deal with prosecutors.

The 76-count indictment accuses Parnell and his brother, food broker Michael Parnell, of shipping tainted products to customers and covering up lab tests showing they contained salmonella. It also charges Stewart Parnell and the plant’s quality assurance manager, Mary Wilkerson, with obstructing justice.

Tom Bondurant, an attorney for Stewart Parnell, asked Lightsey about his plea agreement, which recommends that he not serve more than six years in prison. He had been facing decades behind bars.

Bondurant then pointed out that the government’s lawyers could ask the judge for further leniency, including no prison time, if Lightsey’s able to “substantially assist” their efforts.

“So the truth alone is not enough. You need a scalp to make this deal work, don’t you?” Bondurant said.

Bondurant asked Lightsey a series of questions to demonstrate that Stewart Parnell had given him considerable authority over the Georgia plant and relied on him.

“You made decisions every day about how to run the plant, didn’t you?” Bondurant said.

“That’s the job,” Lightsey responded.

Bondurant also had Lightsey review audits predating the salmonella outbreak that showed the plant receiving high marks from inspectors and a box of what he said was nearly 4,000 lab reports, of which about a dozen tested positive for salmonella.

Food fraud: It’s what’s for dinner?

David Edwards of the Scientific American Blog Network writes that beef that’s horsemeat, grouper that’s actually tilapia—thins the global economy every year by an estimated $49 billion. That’s a lot of bogus burgers and suspect sushi.  Yet containing the problem is no small task.  Some experts estimate that approximately 5 to 7 percent of the U.S. food supply is affected by food food_fraud_adulterationfraud. Another study found that about 10 percent of the food Americans buy is likely adulterated. The sprawling, complex modern food industry can be difficult to monitor and regulate – making it an easy target.

Food fraud, the deliberate substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food, ingredients or packaging, is not new. For as long as people have sold food to one another and not just grown it to feed themselves, the road to market has been mapped with cut corners. By the 17th century, governments started pushing back, introducing food purity laws to detect, among other things, watered-down milk and bread plumped up with chalk.

But that kind of after-the-fact reaction is not enough to discourage sophisticated 21st century criminals, who are sometimes armed with high tech resources like encrypted websites and who know that they can depend on often lax, inconsistent or ill-defined regulations to raise their odds of getting away with it. Worse still, investigations into the European horse meat scandal of 2013 found that the profit margins available to the more sophisticated and organized criminals are beginning to approach those normally associated with other forms of organized crime.

More than Canada would admit: Denmark says ‘serious errors’ in handling of Listeria outbreak with 12 dead, another 12 sick

Denmark’s food safety watchdog made “serious mistakes” in its handling of a listeria outbreak linked to the death of 12 people, the country’s government has said.

ITALY-G8-G5-AGRICULTURE-FARMFood minister, Dan Jørgensen, has blasted the food authorities, Fødevarestyrelsen, over its handling of the Listeria outbreak that has claimed the lives of 12 people in Denmark over the past year.

A Fødevarestyrelsen report has showed there were serious errors in its handling of the case and concluded that it should have carried out its investigation into the source of the outbreak, Jørn A Rullepølser, more quickly and effectively.

“When it is proved there is a direct connection between the food products and deaths, the authorities should immediately launch a thorough investigation of the specific company,” Jørgensen said in a press release. “That hasn’t happened quickly enough, which is lamentable.”

Holding auditors blameless

The N.Y. Times writes an editorial about financial auditing, but use imagination and substitute food safety audit.

audit.checklistMatthew Goldstein of The Times reported this week that an arbitration panel of three former judges has found no basis for a malpractice claim against Ernst & Young, the auditor of Lehman Brothers. The panel held that Lehman and its former executives were “more culpable than EY” for accounting maneuvers that misled investors about the firm’s financial condition before its catastrophic collapse in 2008.

Translation: When it comes to cooking the books, not being as guilty as someone else is the same as being blameless. That sounds appalling, and it is. But it echoes a misguided law from 1995 that set an exceedingly high bar for holding outside auditors liable — along with corporate management — for accounting fraud, a law that has encouraged slippery audits.

Even worse, the arbitration panel acknowledged that Ernst had “some hard data” about what Lehman was up to. What was unclear, the arbitrators said, was whether Ernst “had a duty” to review some of Lehman’s management decisions. But to even raise that question is flabbergasting. If an auditor is not reviewing management decisions that are reflected in the books that are being audited, it can hardly be said to be performing an audit.

Ernst has argued all along that Lehman’s accounting tactics, deceptive or not, complied with generally accepted accounting principles. That may be so, but it is a dubious defense for one of the biggest firms in a profession that is presumably based on integrity.

The problem is larger than Ernst and goes beyond this specific case, which was brought by the holding company charged with recovering and selling Lehman’s assets and paying off creditors. The big auditing firms are virtually never the first to uncover and publicly report financial frauds; credit for that goes to the press, whistle-blowers, hedge funds, independent research firms, bankruptcy trustees or regulators. With each failure by auditors to sound warnings, it becomes increasingly clear that the investing public is being shortchanged when it comes to the reliable information it needs to make sound investing decisions.

AIB.audit.eggsAmong many needed reforms is a revamped system in which audits are paid for not by company management, but by fees that companies pay to a public entity for the purpose of financing audits. In the near term, the Securities and Exchange Commission should require audited statements to be signed by the lead auditor, rather than merely affixing the firm name.

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.

UK row as horsemeat file shelved

The official report into the causes of the horsemeat scandal has been shelved until at least the autumn, prompting criticism that the government is not doing enough on food safety.

horse-hamburgerThe inquiry by Chris Elliott, professor of food safety at Queen’s University Belfast, was announced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 16 months ago and was to have been completed by the spring. It is expected to highlight the impact of spending cuts on frontline enforcement and inspection in the food industry.

But sources have told the Guardian that its publication has been blocked amid government concerns that the public would be frightened by the idea that criminals were still able to interfere with their food.

Elliott said in December that the food sector had become a “soft touch” for criminals who knew there was little risk of detection or serious penalty and that the response of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) was insufficiently robust. He has also called for a new police force to combat food crime, saying the risks were so great that a dedicated unit staffed by senior police detectives was needed.

Use of social media to identify foodborne illness — Chicago, Illinois, 2013–2014

An estimated 55 million to 105 million persons in the United States experience acute gastroenteritis caused by foodborne illness each year, resulting in costs of $2–$4 billion annually (1).

social.media.likeMany persons do not seek treatment, resulting in underreporting of the actual number of cases and cost of the illnesses (2). To prevent foodborne illness, local health departments nationwide license and inspect restaurants (3) and track and respond to foodborne illness complaints. New technology might allow health departments to engage with the public to improve foodborne illness surveillance (4). For example, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene examined restaurant reviews from an online review website to identify foodborne illness complaints (5). On March 23, 2013, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and its civic partners launched FoodBorne Chicago (6), a website (https://www.foodbornechicago.orgExternal Web Site Icon) aimed at improving food safety in Chicago by identifying and responding to complaints on Twitter about possible foodborne illnesses. In 10 months, project staff members responded to 270 Twitter messages (tweets) and provided links to the FoodBorne Chicago complaint form.

A total of 193 complaints of possible foodborne illness were submitted through FoodBorne Chicago, and 133 restaurants in the city were inspected. Inspection reports indicated 21 (15.8%) restaurants failed inspection, and 33 (24.8%) passed with conditions indicating critical or serious violations. Eight tweets and 19 complaint forms to FoodBorne Chicago described seeking medical treatment. Collaboration between public health professionals and the public via social media might improve foodborne illness surveillance and response. CDPH is working to disseminate FoodBorne Chicago via freely available open source software

FoodBorne Chicago tracked Twitter messages using a supervised learning algorithm (7). The algorithm parsed tweets originating from Chicago that included “food poisoning” to identify specific instances of persons with complaints of foodborne illness. The geographic boundaries used by the algorithm also included some neighboring Chicago suburbs. However, follow-up inspections were conducted only at restaurant locations within the city limits. Tweets identified by the algorithm were reviewed by project staff members for indications of foodborne illness (e.g., stomach cramps, diarrhea, or vomiting) from food prepared outside the home. Project staff members provided feedback on whether each tweet fit the criteria, enabling the tweet identification algorithm to learn and become more effective over time.

communication.context.13For tweets meeting the criteria, project staff members used Twitter to reply. For example, Tweet: “Guess who’s got food poisoning? This girl!” Reply: “That doesn’t sound good. Help us prevent this and report where you ate here (link to Foodborne Chicago and a web form to report the illness).” The information in submitted forms went directly into the Chicago 311 system that handles all requests for nonemergency city services. Descriptive statistics were used to evaluate FoodBorne Chicago over its first 10 months of use and to compare the results of complaint-based health inspections of food establishments resulting from FoodBorne Chicago use with health inspections of food establishments based on complaints not submitted through FoodBorne Chicago. The comparisons did not include reinspections or routine inspections not based on a complaint.

During March 2013–January 2014, FoodBorne Chicago identified 2,241 “food poisoning” tweets originating from Chicago and neighboring suburbs. From these, project staff members identified 270 tweets describing specific instances of persons with complaints of foodborne illness. Eight of the 270 tweets (3.0%) mentioned a visit to a doctor or an emergency department. A total of 193 complaints of food poisoning were submitted through the FoodBorne Chicago web form. However, project staff members were not able to track how many of the 193 came from persons led to the form via Twitter and how many came from persons who visited the FoodBorne Chicago site on their own.

Of the 193 FoodBorne Chicago complaints, 19 (9.8%) persons indicated they sought medical care. The complaints identified 179 Chicago restaurant locations; at 133 (74.3%) locations, CDPH inspectors conducted unannounced health inspections. These 133 inspections amounted to 6.9% of the 1,941 health inspections of food establishments prompted by complaints during the study period. Of the 133 FoodBorne Chicago–prompted health inspections, 122 (91.7%) inspection reports identified at least one health violation, compared with 91.8% of inspection reports following complaints filed outside of FoodBorne Chicago during the same period.

Of the 133 FoodBorne Chicago–prompted health inspections 27 (20.3%) identified at least one critical violation, compared with 16.4% of the 1,808 inspections not prompted by FoodBorne Chicago. Critical violations indicate an “immediate health hazard” resulting in a high risk for foodborne illness. Critical violations must be fixed while the inspector is present or the restaurant fails inspection, has its license suspended, and is closed.* Twenty-nine restaurants (21.8%) reported via FoodBorne Chicago had at least one serious violation compared with 27.8% of restaurants not reported via FoodBorne Chicago. Serious violations indicate a “potential health hazard” that must be corrected within a timeframe determined by the health inspector, typically 5 days. If the serious violation is not fixed on re-inspection, the license is suspended, and the business is closed. Overall, at least one critical or serious violation was found in 37.6% of inspections prompted by FoodBorne Chicago and 37.2% of inspections from other complaints during the same period.

Some differences were noted in the distribution of specific violations between FoodBorne Chicago inspections and other complaint inspections. For example, 13.5% of FoodBorne Chicago inspections resulted in (critical) violation 3 (i.e., food not stored at appropriate temperatures), compared with 8.2% of other complaint inspections (Table). In addition, 14.3% of other complaint inspections reported (serious) violation 18 (i.e., food not protected from contamination), compared with 6% of FoodBorne inspections.

A total of 21 (15.8%) of the 133 restaurants reported through FoodBorne Chicago failed inspection and were closed; an additional 33 restaurants (24.8%) passed with conditions, indicating that serious or critical violations were identified and corrected during inspection or within a specified timeframe. Of the inspected restaurants with complaints not reported through FoodBorne Chicago, 25.8% failed and 14.2% passed with conditions. During the study period, among all restaurants inspected, FoodBorne Chicago–prompted inspections accounted for 4.3% of failed inspections and 11.4% of pass with conditions inspections.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Jenine K. Harris, PhD, Raed Mansour, MS, Bechara Choucair, MD, Joe Olson, Cory Nissen, MS, Jay Bhatt, DO

http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6332a1.htm?s_cid=mm6332a1_x

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.