Campylobacter in petting zoos; we’ve done this

Here’s an example of terrible story-telling.

petting.zoo.handwash.10According to news reporting out of Bilthoven, Netherlands, by VerticalNews editors, research stated, “The significance of petting zoos for transmission of Campylobacter to humans and the effect of interventions were estimated. A stochastic QMRA model simulating a child or adult visiting a Dutch petting zoo was built.”

Our news journalists obtained a quote from the research from National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, “The model describes the transmission of Campylobacter in animal feces from the various animal species, fences, and the playground to ingestion by visitors through touching these so-called carriers and subsequently touching their lips. Extensive field and laboratory research was done to fulfill data needs. Fecal contamination on all carriers was measured by swabbing in 10 petting zoos, using Escherichia coli as an indicator. Carrier-hand and hand-lip touching frequencies were estimated by, in total, 13 days of observations of visitors by two observers at two petting zoos. The transmission from carrier to hand and from hand to lip by touching was measured using preapplied cow feces to which E. coli WG5 was added as an indicator. Via a Beta-Poisson dose-response function, the number of Campylobacter cases for the whole of the Netherlands (16 million population) in a year was estimated at 187 and 52 for children and adults, respectively, so 239 in total. This is significantly lower than previous QMRA results on chicken fillet and drinking water consumption. Scenarios of 90% reduction of the contamination (meant to mimic cleaning) of all fences and just goat fences reduces the number of cases by 82% and 75%, respectively.”

According to the news editors, the research concluded: “The model can easily be adapted for other fecally transmitted pathogens.

For more information on this research see: A Quantitative Microbiological Risk Assessment for Campylobacter in Petting Zoos. Risk Analysis, 2014;34(9):1618-1638. Risk Analysis can be contacted at: Wiley-Blackwell, 111 River St, Hoboken 07030-5774, NJ, USA. (Wiley-Blackwell –; Risk Analysis –

Going to a petting zoo? People need to be a lot more careful than they thought

The other parents hate me.

Even Amy changed her phone ring to the Debbie Downer noise from Saturday Night Live.

I’m Dougie Downer.

Every time there’s a sausage sizzle, I don’t complain, I cook for the kids and their families, and use a thermometer.

People think I’m weird.

The chicken coop at the daycare is still empty. And while no one will say it, I’m sure they blame me for depriving their little ones of chick interaction (and Salmonella).

This is nothing new; I’ve been causing angst or disgust for about 20 years, going with my kids on those field trips to the farm (the oldest of five daughters is 25; I’m ancient).

Besides, Gonzalo Erdozain did most of the work on this petting zoo paper, and he’s got a little one, so he can torment the parents of Roman’s future classmates.

Kansas State University came out with their version of our petting zoo paper and quoted me, as saying “People have to be careful — a lot more careful than they thought.”

Powell is co-author of the paper “Observation of Public Health Risk Behaviors, Risk Communication and Hand Hygiene at Kansas and Missouri Petting Zoos – 2010-2011″ that was published recently in the journal Zoonoses and Public Health.

courtlynn.petting.zooThe paper’s main author is Gonzalo Erdozain, a master of public health student at the Kansas State University who works with Powell. Erdozain, Manhattan, visited numerous petting zoos and fairs in Kansas and Missouri in 2010 and 2011 and found many sanitary problems at the facilities. Article co-authors include Katherine KuKanich, assistant professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University, and Ben Chapman of North Carolina State University.

When visiting petting zoos, Powell said parents need to be vigilant in watching their children and they need to put a health plan in effect for the visit. In Erdozain’s study, he observed children touching their faces after petting the animals, eating or drinking in the petting zoo, eating petting zoo food and sucking on a pacifier while at the zoo. Children were also seen picking up animal feces.

Another factor to watch for is the presence of high-risk animals — those most associated with zoonotic diseases, including chicks, young ruminants like goats, sheep and cattle.

Zoonotic diseases can be passed from animal to human, or vice versa.

Washing hands before and after encountering animals and the animal feed is one of the most recommended method to fight germs and bacteria from the animals and surrounding area of animal pens, Powell said.

“Hand-washing tool selection may also contribute to the success of hand hygiene as a preventive measure, as some outbreak investigations have reported alcohol-based hand sanitizer was not protective against illness, especially when hands are soiled,” Powell said.

Powell said Erdozain’s study found that visitors were five times as likely to wash their hands when a staff member was present. This observation, Powell said, is consistent with a study published last year that showed the importance of a little encouragement.

To help maintain a safe and healthy environment, Powell said petting zoos should constantly remind visitors to wash their hands when exiting the pens. Keeping clean and useful sinks near the exits of all facilities with a stand by attendant would help decrease the likeliness of a widespread illness due to forgetful hygiene, he said.

Strict governmental regulation and enforcement would be one way to ensure this happens but is an unlikely solution. Powell said that it is up to the zoos to help keep watch on what is happening within their pens and to make sure that the proper facilities are in place and are noticeable to visitors — children and adults alike.

“Providing hand hygiene stations, putting up some good signs, having staff supervise, avoiding high-risk animals and logical facility design are easy and inexpensive — and not doing so is inexcusable,” Powell said.

I’m fine with animal interactions; but people, and organizers, should be a lot more careful than they thought. That’s what I told my 3-year-old’s daycare as they prepared for a chicken coop. They hate me.

A table of petting zoo outbreaks is available at

Erdozain G, Kukanich K, Chapman B, Powell D. 2012. Observation of public health risk behaviours, risk communication and hand hygiene at Kansas and Missouri petting zoos – 2010-2011. Zoonoses Public Health. 2012 Jul 30. doi: 10.1111/j.1863-2378.2012.01531.x. [Epub ahead of print]

Abstract below:

Observation of public health risk behaviors, risk communication and hand hygiene at Kansas and Missouri petting zoos – 2010-2011Outbreaks of human illness have been linked to visiting settings with animal contact throughout developed countries. This paper details an observational study of hand hygiene tool availability and recommendations; frequency of risky behavior; and, handwashing attempts by visitors in Kansas (9) and Missouri (4), U.S., petting zoos. Handwashing signs and hand hygiene stations were available at the exit of animal-contact areas in 10/13 and 8/13 petting zoos respectively. Risky behaviors were observed being performed at all petting zoos by at least one visitor. Frequently observed behaviors were: children (10/13 petting zoos) and adults (9/13 petting zoos) touching hands to face within animal-contact areas; animals licking children’s and adults’ hands (7/13 and 4/13 petting zoos, respectively); and children and adults drinking within animal-contact areas (5/13 petting zoos each). Of 574 visitors observed for hand hygiene when exiting animal-contact areas, 37% (n=214) of individuals attempted some type of hand hygiene, with male adults, female adults, and children attempting at similar rates (32%, 40%, and 37% respectively). Visitors were 4.8x more likely to wash their hands when a staff member was present within or at the exit to the animal-contact area (136/231, 59%) than when no staff member was present (78/343, 23%; p<0.001, OR=4.863, 95% C.I.=3.380-6.998). Visitors at zoos with a fence as a partial barrier to human-animal contact were 2.3x more likely to wash their hands (188/460, 40.9%) than visitors allowed to enter the animals’ yard for contact (26/114, 22.8%; p<0.001, OR= 2.339, 95% CI= 1.454-3.763). Inconsistencies existed in tool availability, signage, and supervision of animal-contact. Risk communication was poor, with few petting zoos outlining risks associated with animal-contact, or providing recommendations for precautions to be taken to reduce these risks.

FoodNet Canada not part of surveillance system, but found E. coli-tainted beef that was recalled days after positive test

The federal system designed to keep Canadian food safe to eat failed in December to prevent ground beef contaminated with E. coli from being offered for sale to consumers.

beef.processingCBC News reports that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s December recall of 31,000 pounds of ground beef followed a positive test of a random sample by a federally-co-ordinated public health surveillance program, CBC News has learned. It was not a result of any inspection work performed by the CFIA, whose job it is to prevent tainted meat from entering the marketplace.

The recall also was not widely publicized until the morning of Dec. 2 — three or four days after the “use by” dates of the packaged meat had passed.

That timeline suggests the entire food safety system managed by CFIA failed to either detect E. coli-tainted meat in a federally regulated processing facility or recall the problem batch until after any of the fresh meat had likely been consumed or thrown out.

The details of the recall prompted an angry reaction from NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen.

“That’s not a safety inspection system, that’s actually just a failure,” he said. “If by the time they actually make a recall,  it’s days after the best before date, there’s nothing on the shelf to recall.  

“It’s either been bought, in people’s freezers, been consumed, or the retailer themselves removed it — not because they knew it was unsafe but because the best before date expired and they took it off the shelf themselves.”

The meat was shipped by Cargill Meat Solutions from its Calgary processing plant to Walmart stores across the four Western provinces on Nov. 19 and 20.

That facility is federally inspected, but the systems in place there apparently did not detect any E. coli.

dude.its.beefIn a statement, Cargill said it maintained a “robust food safety program.”

“We are currently reviewing our processing and testing procedures as part of our investigation to determine if any changes are appropriate,” the statement said. 

The CFIA says its investigation is ongoing. It said it was impossible to predict how long that work will take.

“We are taking all necessary steps in order to protect Canadians from the risks posed by E. coli,” the agency offered in a statement.

But those steps appear, in this case, to have not yielded effective results.

Rather, it was the work of FoodNet Canada that revealed some of Cargill’s meat had been contaminated.

The little known organization is a federally-run public health program that performs surveillance for infectious enteric disease caused by bacteria, viruses or other parasitic micro-organism such as E. coli.

It does the work in three so-called “sentinel sites” in Canada, including B.C.’s lower mainland, where it monitors public health, samples water and tests manure from farms where animals are raised for human consumption.

FoodNet also collects random samples of meat and produce from grocery stores, says Dr. Frank Pollari, the program’s manager.

“We’re just trying to see what the end product looks like, what the consumer is getting,” he said. “We randomly select the retailers, and then [staff] go out to those and select the specific package that we get, and they ship it to our labs.”

Recall 3 days after meat tested positive

Pollari says it was one of those samples of Cargill meat from a B.C. Walmart that first tested positive for E. coli.

That early result was sent to the CFIA on Nov. 28. 

That was the first of two consecutive “use by” dates with which the meat had been labelled.

CFIA says it began an investigation immediately. But, the meat was not ordered recalled until after confirmatory test results were known on Dec. 1.

Then the agency asked for a risk assessment to be performed.  The results of that analysis came back late on Dec. 1.

The news release announcing the recall to consumers was dated that same day, but was not sent out by distribution services until the next morning — three full days after the first packages of meat would have begun to pass their best before dates.

In a statement Sunday, CFIA media relations manager Guy Gravelle suggested the recall was the result of a normal process.

steak-groundbeef-istock-300“As a result of the federal system and measures we have in place, the CFIA was able to recall these products based on routine retail sampling,” Gravelle wrote in an e-mail. 

“This food recall was made before any reported illnesses and to date there have been no illnesses.”

But FoodNet, which found the bad meat, is not technically part of the food safety system. 

It is an adjunct — a surveillance program, designed to provide scientific data and public health information to the government and to the food sector.

“Our job is to feed the information back to those who can and do make the difference in putting in interventions,” Pollari said.

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose is responsible for the CFIA, and, ultimately, for FoodNet Canada, as well.

In a statement, her office said, “Canada has one of the safest and healthiest food systems in the world.”

Uh –huh.

Food safety culture has really jumped the shark: Fonterra profit focus damaging says botulism report

Food safety culture was a cool concept to try and talk about all the incidentals in delivering safe food. me, it was when one employee was with another in the bathroom and one left without washing their hands, the culture would support the other employee saying, dude, wash your hands.

But the term was abrogated when Maple Leaf Foods started talking about their culture, rather than offering a clear time-line of who-knew-what-when, making Listeria test results publicly available, and putting warning labels on their deli meats, as Publix has done.

It jumped the shark.

If there’s any further proof required, Fonterra of New Zealand’s response to the latest inquiry on the botulism (not) in raw milk was, “The reason we’re welcoming it, is because it’s hugely important to raise the prominence of the food-safety culture with our food processes here in New Zealand.”


According to media accounts, Fonterra focused on profits at the expense of a food safety culture, damaging New Zealand’s international reputation.

Earlier this year, Fonterra was fined $300,000 for the incident, which saw milk-products pulled off shelves when it emerged they were potentially contaminated with Botulism. 

Fonterra was late in notifying the correct authorities and it caused an international scare, particularly in China, with Fonterra unable to confirm for several days where the products, which had been produced more than a year earlier, were around the world.

Further testing showed that the risk of botulism never existed, although the false alarm prompted a review of New Zealand’s food safety system.

The last of a series of independent reports was released today, and the inquiry, led by Queen’s Counsel Miriam Dean, found a number of errors were made. 

While food-safety protocols were in place, the culture of care around food safety had not been fostered.

Problems dated back to May 2012, when Fonterra reworked some of its concentrated whey using temporary pipes and hoses at the Hautapu plant in Waikato in a way not approved by regulators, which increased the risk of bacteria. were cleaned using a caustic (rather than acid) solution, which failed to eliminate all contamination.

The report also found that having notified the ministry, days late in August 2013, Fonterra had no well-prepared group crisis plan to implement, including crisis communications (particularly in social media).

“Fonterra took until 18 August to trace all the affected products, a seriously deficient effort.

“Fonterra did not effectively co-ordinate its actions with those of the ministry, Danone and the Government during the crisis,” the report said.

The Ministry for Primary Affairs did not escape unscathed.  

“The ministry had no single, coherent (or reviewed or rehearsed) crisis plan for a food incident that it could implement straight away after receiving notification of C. botulism.

But Dean noted the ministry’s response was hampered by Fonterra’s late notification and overstating the certainty botulism, as well as Fonterra’s drawn-out and deficient tracing.

Dean described the incident as a “watershed moment”. 

“Fonterra realized in a most profound way that food safety was the one thing without which it was impossible to achieve any other company priority, whether continued sales and profits, a sound reputation, strong consumer confidence or a secure future on the world stage,” she said.

Labour immediately called for an independent food safety authority (New Zealand used to have one; good folks).

“It’s the only way that we can ensure the very highest levels of food safety and an independence that reassures our customers in the international market,” primary industries spokesman Damian O’Connor said.

New Zealand needs a “world-leading” food safety regime, he said. “This report has been a sad indictment of what has taken place… The culture, right from the farm through to the market-place has to improve.”

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings acknowledged the report and said the co-operative would study its findings and recommendations.

“Food safety and quality are our number one priority. At the time of the recall, we did what was right based on the evidence we had. It was subsequently confirmed that the recalled WPC80 did not present a health risk.”


Stop the nonsense about culture: Food producers should truthfully market their microbial food safety programs, coupled with behavioral-based food safety systems that foster a positive food safety from farm-to-fork. The best producers and processors will go far beyond the lowest common denominator of government and should be rewarded in the marketplace. should pay attention.

I coach hockey in Australia, where 5-year-olds and 10-year-olds are on the ice at the same time, and I say, pay attention. Because that 10-year-old can wipe you out.

Just like some unexpected bug or a false positive.

Culture is nice, but pay attention and serve your consumers the data to back up the bullshit statement that every food CEO makes during an outbreak: food safety is our top priority.

Stop making people barf.

And it was nice the work of me and Chapman and our collaborators was cited throughout the report.

Government Inquiry into the Whey Protein Concentrate Contamination Incident


Six months have passed since the Inquiry began stage two of its examination of New Zealand’s biggest food safety scare. That scare, as most people will vividly remember, was sparked by suspicion that infant formula and possibly other products, too, were infected with botulism-causing C. botulinum. In this final stage, the Inquiry has looked closely at the causes of the incident, together with the responses by Fonterra and the Ministry for Primary Industries and the roles of others. The distance of time has enabled the Inquiry to take a considered view of just how it was that the extraordinary events came to pass. At all times, it has endeavoured to do so through the lens of food safety, including its examination of the state of readiness of key participants to respond to unfolding events. The contributions of those who assisted, from providing documents, briefing papers and written submissions, to participating in long interviews, are gratefully acknowledged. All were prepared to review the events in question openly and honestly. The Inquiry is particularly appreciative of the assistance from

the core participants: Fonterra, the ministry, AsureQuality, AgResearch and Danone. The Inquiry is indebted to Kelley Reeve, Ned Fletcher, Sally Johnston and Annette Spoerlein as the secretariat and to Simon Mount as legal advisor; also our scientific advisor, Dr Lisa Szabo, chief scientist of Australia’s NSW Food Authority, and our independent peer reviewer, Professor Alan Reilly, chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. We cannot thank Peter Riordan enough for his enormous contribution in assisting with the writing of this report. Also, Susan Buchanan for editing and proofing; Jacqui Spragg as designer; Jill Marwood and Maria Svensen for secretarial and administration assistance; and finally staff at the Department of Internal Affairs. As with the first stage, it was a pleasure to work with them all. It took this incident to raise awareness that food safety cannot be taken for granted. Lessons learned from the incident provide an opportunity for all participants in the dairy food safety system – and indeed wider – to step up and meet the challenges ahead. Consumers expect no less. But the Inquiry hopes that this final report can draw this particular chapter to a close, in the knowledge that all participants will continue to work together to ensure New Zealand remains a world leader in dairy food safety.


The news in August 2013 of potential Clostridium botulinum contamination made global headlines. In New Zealand, it was received with something approaching disbelief, in part because the country prided itself on exporting food of the highest quality. The truth is, our food was, and still is, safe, wholesome and among the best in the world. But the botulism scare, as many call the WPC80

incident, led to a review of the dairy industry’s food safety framework, a matter dealt with in the Inquiry’s first report. That report concluded that the

regulatory framework was fundamentally sound, but recommended improvements. Underlying many of these was the idea that the dairy industry must anticipate future risks as well as counter existing known threats. Now, in stage two, the Inquiry has turned to a detailed examination of what began with a simple breaking of a torch lens in a Waikato dairy factory and ended in the recall of millions of product items. How did something so insignificant come to have

consequences so enormous? This report answers that question. The Inquiry is tempted to describe the account as fascinating – and certainly it is likely

to be so for those at arm’s length from New Zealand’s biggest food safety incident. However, for those involved, or who felt its serious financial repercussions, the word grim might be more apt. Between the torch breakage on 1 February 2012 and Fonterra’s notification of C. botulinum on 2 August 2013, numerous people made decisions that, one by one, added their small contribution to the building momentum of events. Sometimes, those events seemed to take on a life of their own, but they were entirely avoidable – if a strong food safety culture had thrived in the workplace. Some readers will wonder why the various individuals involved did not heed the warning signs or take the precautions that were so apparent afterwards. But to yield to that temptation would be to underestimate the complexity of the events and also to undervalue the good intentions of all those involved (many of whom, the Inquiry can vouch, worked days on end after the crisis broke, trying to regain control of the situation). key immediate causes are relatively easy to determine (although the findings on pages 7-8 give a comprehensive list). They are:

• The Hautapu plant’s improvised reprocessing of WPC80, without a risk assessment and in breach of its risk management programme

• The Fonterra research centre’s encouragement of C. botulinum testing without sufficiently considering its purpose, justification and potential implications

• The decision to approve “toxin testing” without appreciating that this meant authorizing C. botulinum testing

• Fonterra’s failure to advise both the Ministry for Primary Industries and its customers much sooner of a potential food safety problem. The direct causes do not tell the whole story. Wider factors had an influence on the crisis as a whole. Identifying those enabled the Inquiry to understand more fully why the incident happened and to compile a lessons section especially for the industry (see pages 10-11).

Contributing factors included:

Organisational pressures: Fonterra’s workplace culture exhibited an entrenched “silo” mentality that robbed the company of some of the cohesion so vital in an organisation of its size. Both internal and external pressures also contributed to missed opportunities to correct the course of events. Communication, both within and between parts of the organisation, was often unclear – symbolised most starkly by a manager’s unwitting authorisation of C. botulinum testing. And there was also a lack of adequate escalation procedures to deal with possible food safety problems.


Testing: Fonterra and AgResearch, the research institute that tested Fonterra’s WPC80 samples, approached this work from different perspectives.

Communication lacked the precision and formality that might have halted testing or shifted it to a diagnostic laboratory and produced a different result.

Readiness: The ill-prepared inevitably pay a heavy price in a crisis. Fonterra was not ready for a crisis of this magnitude. It lacked an updated, wellrehearsed crisis plan to implement, as well as a crisis management team that could spring into

action. The ministry also lacked a single, coherent food incident plan to implement straight away.

fonzi.jump.the.sharkResponses: The WPC80 incident had a long and largely unobserved prelude, followed by a short, very public conclusion. The second phase placed most of the main participants in the crisis, but particularly Fonterra, under intense pressure to act swiftly, decisively and in concert. This did not always happen. Partly, the underperformance was the result of insufficient preparedness and partly, Fonterra’s tracing problems.

With a single phone call on 2 August, the ministry was confronted with a raft of public health, trade, market access, tracing, infant formula supply and media problems. Many aspects of its response deserve credit, especially its decision to put public health first and urge a recall, knowing that more definitive test results would be weeks away.

Its decision-making, however, could have been more rigorous and science-based. All parties could also have co-ordinated better during the crisis.

Tracing: This was an undeniably complex task. The 37.8 tonnes of WPC80 manufactured in May 2012 had, by August 2013, made their way into thousands of tonnes of products in various markets.

Nonetheless, Fonterra’s tracing efforts were, for different reasons, seriously deficient. That, in turn, hampered both the ministry and Fonterra’s customers in their tracing of the affected production. Fonterra’s initial estimate was well off

the mark. It would take the company a further 16 days, and numerous amendments, before it arrived at a final, conclusive figure that enabled all

suspected production to be identified.

Food safety culture: A food safety programme and a food safety culture are entirely different. One is concerned with documentation and processes, the other with employee behaviour and a top-to-bottom commitment to putting food safety first.

The Inquiry has explored this in detail, because if Fonterra had possessed a strong food safety culture, this incident would probably not have happened.

But good can come out of bad. The WPC80 incident has spurred Fonterra into a series of comprehensive changes, from boardroom to factory floor, especially aimed at strengthening food safety and quality and crisis management capability. The ministry, too, has taken matters swiftly in hand. During the past 12 months, it has created a regulation and assurance branch devoted more or less solely to food safety. No one now can be in any doubt about where responsibility for food safety sits.

The ministry is also preparing a new crisis response model for implementation in 2015.

All those changes are welcome and will put the ministry and the country’s biggest dairy company on a better footing in the event of another food safety incident (as well as protecting consumers and New Zealand’s economy and reputation).

Other changes may follow, too. This report contains recommendations specifically for consideration by the Government and the ministry, which would, among other things, strengthen scientific expertise, auditing, crisis planning and non-routine reworking procedures. The report also draws lessons from the WPC80 incident that could be useful for the dairy industry and wider food manufacturing sector. These would strengthen the food safety cultures, manufacturing processes and crisis planning of other companies, as well as clarify laboratory testing processes.

But perhaps the most important lesson here is one of attitude. As United States food safety expert Debby Newslow puts it: “We can no longer learn

from our mistakes; we cannot allow mistakes to happen. In today’s world of food safety, we must be proactive and prevent mistakes from occurring.”

Food safety and worker safety are inextricably linked

Peter O’driscoll, director of the Washington-based Equitable Food Initiative at Oxfam America, writes in this letter to The New York Times regarding, “Protect Those Who Protect Our Food” (Op-Ed, Nov. 13), to say that Jacob E. Gersen and Benjamin I. Sachs make an excellent point about the importance of worker training and benefits to prevent foodborne illness: Food safety starts at the hands of the workers who harvest and prepare what we eat. But in addition to regulations to protect workers and the food supply, we need a fresh, collaborative approach to the challenge.

California Central Valley Farming Communities Struggle With DroughtForward-thinking companies like Costco Wholesale and Bon Appétit Management have joined forces with growers, farmworker unions and consumer groups to develop a new certification program that incentivizes workers in the produce industry to make food safety a priority at the point of harvest.

This multi-stakeholder strategy is good for consumers, companies and workers alike, and could well be applied to the other high-risk sectors of the food economy that Mr. Gersen and Mr. Sachs identify.

Ellen K. Silbergeld, a professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland, writes that Gersen and Sachs perpetuate the idea that workers are responsible for much of the burden of foodborne illness in the United States.

Workers are part of a chain of pathogen transmission that begins on farms (both crop and livestock); moves into slaughter and processing plants where little is done to reduce pathogen carriage on animals, carcasses and products; and then moves finally to wholesale and consumer markets. During this process, after the so-called hazard control point, workers are exposed to these pathogens as they make our food.

Research by us and others demonstrates that worker safety and food safety are inextricably related. The fragmentation of authority among the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, along with recent regulatory changes in oversight, obscure the real origins of these risks as well as opportunities to control them.

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: 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.