Too much monkey business: Brisbane’s restaurant inspection sucks, city councillor’s parents fined for food safety breaches

The restaurant inspection system in Brisbane is hopeless beyond belief.

For a cow town that wants to profit from tourism rather than coal and cattle, they are beyond stupid about it.

At least we got good folks to coach the little kids in hockey.

The disclosure system is voluntary. If a restaurant gets two-stars-out-of-five, for example, they don’t put up the sign.

How is it that Toronto, LA, NYC and hundreds of other places figured out how to make restaurant inspection disclosure mandatory, yet Brisbane and most of Australia go on a faith-based system – which usually involves someone blowing someone.

According to the Courier Mail, the parents of a Brisbane city councillor have admitted breaking food safety laws enforced by the council, with inspectors finding cockroaches “happily living” in the carvery they run in a city foodcourt.

Paddington councillor Peter Matic’s parents Milovan and Milena Matic were slapped with fines after a council health inspector unearthed issues with cleanliness, maintenance and cockroaches at their Carvey and Seafood in the Myer Centre in January last year.

The couple were fined $3000 each after pleading guilty to failing to ensure the business complied with the food Act.

The company, Nano Investments Pty Ltd, also copped a $29,000 fine for five counts of failing to comply with the food standards code.

Kevin Cartledge, for Brisbane City Council, said officers inspected the eatery on January 19, 2016, and issued an improvement notice.

So a whole bunch of people ate at that shitshow after the Jan. 19, 2016 inspection, but no one bothered to tell customers.

It’s some perverse British legal system thing, that potentially puts consumers at risk for months after the failings are discovered.

When they returned two days later, the officers discovered the business was still breaching food safety laws, triggering a suspension the following day.

He said the most concerning element was the presence of a large number of cockroaches.

“You have, essentially, the perfect circumstances for cockroaches to live and breed,” he said.

“Given that there were adult and juvenile cockroaches in the premises, it clearly suggests that there was a life cycle and these cockroaches were happily living and feeding.”

He pointed out the company has had compliance issues in the past, and infringements notices had been served.

“This is a company that has been put well and truly on notice yet has still failed to comply with their requirements under the Act,” he said.

So why the fuck wouldn’t you make it public to warn unsuspecting consumers that the place was a shithole?

Too much monkey business.

Going public: Early disclosure of food risks for the benefit of public health

NEHA, Volume 79.7, Pages 8-14

Benjamin Chapman, Maria Sol Erdozaim, Douglas Powell

http://www.neha.org/node/58904

Often during an outbreak of foodborne illness, there are health officials who have data indicating that there is a risk prior to notifying the public. 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. Information provision on its own is not enough. Risk communication, to be effective and grounded in behavior theory, should provide control measure options for risk management decisions. There is no indication in the literature that consumers benefit from paternalistic protection decisions to guard against information overload. A review of the risk communication literature related to outbreaks, as well as case studies of actual incidents, are explored and a blueprint for health authorities to follow is provided.

Some talk, some do: Kansas just sucks

Three movies encapsulate and reverberate throughout my life: The World According to Garp, Wonder Boys, and American Beauty.

I’ve reached my American Beauty moment, and may I go on and have such a fruitful career as Kevin Spacey has since 1999.

I’m an unemployed former food safety professor of almost 20 years, who coaches little and big kids in hockey and goofs around.

I’ve enjoyed the last few months – despite the angst of moving into a house that may slide down the hill at any moment given the Brisbane rains – but with 80,000 direct subscribers and students and media still contacting me daily, I feel a connection.

I just gotta figure out how to get paid.

(If you see any adverts on barfblog.com, like Amy did this morning, it is not authorized. Chapman and I are quite happy to say what the fuck we want and call people on their food safety fairytales).

And I would like to publicly apologize to Amy for dragging me to Australia, and all the bitching I did about shitty Internet, and how I lost my career (at the mall).

It’s looking much better now.

Kansas State University took whatever opportunity they could to get rid of me, for the salary, for the controversy, for whatever. Wasn’t too long after that Kirk-2025-Schultz bailed for Washington state. The provost queen is still stuck there.

As full professor, Kansas had become boring and I hated doing admin shit.

And there was no ice.

When people in Australia ask me about President Trump (two words that never sound right together, like Dr. Oz – thanks, John Oliver) I say, look at Kansas, that is what will happen to America.

The N.Y. Times seems to agree.

In an editorial today, the Times wrote:

Kansas can only hope that reports are true that the Trump administration will let its governor, Sam Brownback, escape the disaster he created in Topeka for a quieter United Nations agricultural post in Rome. And global humanity can only hope for the best.

Mr. Brownback, a Republican first elected on the Tea Party crest of 2010, used his office as a laboratory for conservative budget experimentation. His insistence that tax cuts create, not diminish, revenues has left the state facing a ballooning deficit plus a ruling by the state Supreme Court that Kansas schoolchildren have been unconstitutionally shortchanged in state aid for years, with the poorest minority children most deprived.

The court ruled this month that they would shut the state’s schools if funding wasn’t made equitable by June 30. It found reading test scores of nearly half of African-American students and more than one-third of Hispanic students were deficient under aid formulas favoring more affluent school districts.

Mr. Brownback played no small role in the long-running school crisis by leading the Republican Legislature to limit school aid after enacting the largest tax cuts in state history, for upper-bracket business owners. Characteristically, the governor’s reaction to the court mandate was to further undermine schools by suggesting parents “be given the opportunity and resources to set their child up for success through other educational choices.”

If that’s the governor’s parting contribution to the school crisis before his flight to a Trump diplomatic appointment, Kansas parents and school administrators cannot be too surprised. They have been experiencing the deepening budget crisis firsthand in shortened school hours and resources as the state suffered two credit downgrades. Public protest led to a number of Brownback loyalists voted out last year, with legislative newcomers igniting a budget revolt against the governor. He barely survived a showdown last month, by vetoing a $1 billion tax increase.

The tax push seems likely to be renewed, since the state faces a two-year $1.2-billion deficit plus the school funding mandate. For that obligation, state education officials have estimated it might require $841 million over the next two years. The court fight was prompted by a slide in school aid that began in the recession under Mr. Brownback’s predecessor, Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat. But it spiraled once the Brownback tax cuts drained state coffers.

It seems unfair that Mr. Brownback might abandon the mess he created, especially since Mr. Trump never ceases to renounce life’s “losers.” But Kansans have learned the hard way that they need to be free from the benighted Brownback era, and maybe Mr. Brownback has, too.

I wish nothing but the best for my Kansas colleagues, and a slow, endless angst for administration assholes who put money above values.

There was a time I thought being a prof meant something.

But we don’t need no institution.

More to come.

Don’t piss off parents: 3,300 Egyptian children hospitalized after food poisoning

Nour Youssef of the N.Y. Times reports that more than 3,300 children were hospitalized in Egypt on Tuesday after an outbreak of food poisoning at several state-run primary schools, state-owned news media said.

The mass poisoning, in the impoverished Upper Egypt province of Sohag, north of Luxor, was one of the biggest food-safety cases to hit the country in years.

Officials suspect that school lunches may have been contaminated, and they have opened an investigation. Samples from the lunches, consisting of processed cheese cubes, dry sesame paste bars and loaves of bread, were being analyzed, they added.

Children, most younger than 12, began vomiting within an hour of eating the lunches, Ahmed Nashaat, a Sohag lawmaker, said in a telephone interview. A total of 3,353 children became ill, and at least 50 ambulances were sent to the schools, state news media said. Since then, all but 17 of the students have recovered and been discharged. No deaths or serious complications were reported.

The ordeal revived complaints over the declining quality of Egypt’s public education and health systems. “It is ridiculous how this keeps on happening,” Mr. Nashaat said. “It is not hard to store biscuits and look at the expiration date.”

Apparently in an attempt to deflect some of the anger, the governor of Sohag, Ayman Abdel-Moneim, quickly suspended the distribution of government meals and demanded that changes be made to how they were stored and transported to schools.

Tuesday’s outbreak was one in a long series that have occurred in public schools and universities nationwide recently. Earlier this month, more than 214 students were found to have food poisoning caused by government meals at several schools in the provinces of Minya and Assiut.

Outrage over such instances of perceived government neglect was a main cause of the popular uprising in 2011 that toppled the government of President Hosni Mubarak. “It was not just the parents who were angry in Sohag,” Mr. Nashaat said. “Everyone believes that was the result of neglect. This is leading people to conclude that the people in charge don’t care about their kids.”

Auditors and public health: a request

I still can’t say no to students.

Beth Driscoll, MA, CPHI(C), CHA, PMP (I’m not sure what all those initials mean) and PhD Candidate, Policy Studies, at Ryerson University (that’s in Toronto, which is in Canada) writes:

My name is Beth Driscoll, and I am inviting you to participate in a brief, online survey.  This survey will take approximately 15 minutes to complete, and investigates the perceptions of Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) auditors’ role in public health.  This survey is being conducted for my doctoral research project at Ryerson University.

To participate in this project, you must:

•]be fully certified to conduct GFSI audits for at least one benchmarked scheme;

• have completed at least five GFSI audits of that scheme; and,

• be fluent in English.

The survey is not intended to investigate or assess the GFSI, a GFSI benchmarked Food Safety Scheme, Certification Body, Accreditation Body, government or other organization.  Should the responses to the survey questions contain information that would identify one of these organizations, the identifying information will be anonymized prior to use.

Conflict of interest declarations: I am a contract employee for NSF International.  This information is being collected solely for my researcher’s graduate degree, and is not being collected for any organization associated with the GFSI or NSF International, nor do I conduct GFSI audits. 

If you choose to participate, you will be asked to complete an online survey about your professional identity and your understanding of your role in public health through the audits you conduct to a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) benchmarked Food Safety Scheme.  The survey is confidential is using Opinio, Ryerson University’s Online Survey Program, and all data is stored at Ryerson University.  This study has undergone review through the Ryerson University Research Ethics Board and if you have questions about your rights as a research participant, you may contact the Ryerson Research Ethics Board at rebchair@ryerson.ca.  If you have any questions about the survey please contact the researcher, Beth Driscoll, at edriscol@ryerson.ca  or Dr. Richard Meldrum at  meldrum@ryerson.ca before continuing.

Please feel free to forward this email to anyone you feel may be qualified to participate.

To participate, please go to the following website: https://survey.ryerson.ca:443/s?s=6004

Going public: The new normal for foodborne outbreaks

I’ve had different versions of this paper running through my head for 25 years.

It started as a rebel-without-a-clue teenager, and led to questions about mad cow disease in 1995 (or earlier) when the UK government knew there were human victims but said nothing until March 1996.

My father – the inspiration for the cooking show paper – has asked me a couple times over the years regarding the engineering/automotive sector, when they knew something was wrong; what should we do? But like so many other sectors, it gets brushed aside.

There’s money involved.

My local hockey club can’t figure out how to go public, so it’s no wonder that public health agencies can’t figure it out either.

Yet the job of public health, no matter how many political assholes, no matter how many impediments, and no matter how many dog bites you have to investigate, is to protect public health.

If people are barfing, it’s time to go public.

That doesn’t always (rarely) happen.

Anyone can search barfblog.com under the phrase “going public” and find hundreds of incidents of people acting like shits.

But this is important shit, because credibility depends on transparency and trust and truthiness (at least in my idyllic world-view).

Public health is under siege.

The science is there, the outbreaks are there. Go public.

Or at least explain the process so mere mortals can understand.

Going public: Early disclosure of food risks for the benefit of public health

NEHA, Volume 79.7, Pages 8-14

Benjamin Chapman, Maria Sol Erdozaim, Douglas Powell

http://www.neha.org/node/58904

Often during an outbreak of foodborne illness, there are health officials who have data indicating that there is a risk prior to notifying the public. 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. Information provision on its own is not enough.

Risk communication, to be effective and grounded in behavior theory, should provide control measure options for risk management decisions. There is no indication in the literature that consumers benefit from paternalistic protection decisions to guard against information overload. A review of the risk communication literature related to outbreaks, as well as case studies of actual incidents, are explored and a blueprint for health authorities to follow is provided.

 

Possum, donkey, horse meat could be on the menu as South Australia considers national code

Mmmm. Camel meat.

Possum, donkey and horse could be on the menu in South Australia if the definition of game meat is expanded under proposed amendments to food regulations by SA Health.

possum-baby-nov-11Goat, rabbit, hare, kangaroo, wallaby and bird are currently listed as game in the state, provided the animals have not been confined or farmed in any way.

The proposed new definition would see the list grow to include buffalo, camel, deer, donkey, hare, horse, pig and possum — bringing SA in line with an updated section of the Australian and New Zealand Food Standard Code.

Some of these less common game meats are already allowed interstate and an abattoir at Peterborough in SA’s Mid North has been exporting camel meat for several years.

The changes would include strict conditions so that animals would have to be slaughtered in the wild; protected native species could only be hunted with special permits; and bird eggs, foetuses or pouched young, would remain excluded.

Adelaide game meat specialist Richard Gunner said “in general” there were some good things about the proposal.

“I don’t see any particular market for donkey meat, possum meat and horse meat, but camel meat, yes,” he said.

Campy increasing in Sweden

An unusually high number of people have been struck by Campylobacter in Sweden this winter, resulting in a less than festive combination of vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pains.

vomit-birdThe number of infections usually peaks during the late summer months then drops off, but this year has yet to see a notable downward curve, Sweden’s Public Health Agency (Folkhälsomyndigheten) warns.

The growth coincides with an increase in campylobacter among flocks of chicken in Sweden, and fresh chicken is therefore thought to be a culprit.

 “The explanation we have right now is that we eat a lot of chicken. We eat a lot of fresh chicken, and campylobacter can be found in the fresh chicken to a certain extent,” Folkhälsomyndigheten spokesperson Britta Björkholm noted.

“If you’re not careful with your hygiene you risk coming down with it,” she added.

Between August and November 2016 twice as many cases were reported as normal, and that pattern has continued into the last month of the year.

About 100 cases are usually reported in December, but in December 2016 the number was almost 300 by the middle of the month.

“People are not being sufficiently careful about separating raw chicken from utensils and work surfaces,” Björkholm insisted.

Another victory for anti-science: Mandatory labelling of GE food

Ron Doering writes in his latest Food Law column that the U.S. has just adopted another policy that has important implications for Canada.

ronald-doeringOn July 29, 2016 President Obama signed Bill 764 requiring labelling on all foods to indicate whether or not the food contains GMO ingredients. ­ e federal law will override individual state laws such as the one passed in Vermont, which is considered to be more onerous. Under the bill the U.S. Department of Agriculture has two years to draft implementing regulations.

While Canada has had a voluntary labelling standard for some years, Canadian regulators have resisted calls for mandatory labelling. While some proponents argue mandatory labelling provides informed choice to consumers, others argue that mandatory labelling doesn’t inform, it misleads the consumer by implying that GE foods are inferior or unsafe. After all, why else would government make labelling mandatory? Of course, some have taken the position that the push to have mandatory labelling never had anything to do with safety. ­

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the World Health Association, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Science, the British Royal Society and, to quote the AAAS, “every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”

Scienti­fic American now explicitly supports GMOs and opposes mandatory labelling as not being science or evidence-based. Even the EU recently concluded, based on more than 130 studies covering 25 years of research involving at least 500 independent research groups, that GE technologies “are not more risky than… conventional plant breeding technologies.” ­

This summer 107 Nobel laureates urged Greenpeace to end its opposition to GMOs saying that Greenpeace “deliberately went out of their way to scare people…to raise money for their cause.” ­

There is an argument that advocates of mandatory labelling have never really wanted to inform or protect consumers. ­ They want to use consumers to bring pressure on food companies to segregate and highlight GMOs and on legislators to bring in laws requiring mandatory labelling so that consumers would be scared into thinking that GE must be unsafe. ­

Their real goal is to stigmatize GE food. Waging a war on science, a very small vocal minority of GE food safety deniers have outmanoeuvred a remarkably complacent food and biotech industry that seems to have forgotten that appeasement is rarely an effective policy. ­

This has important implications for Canada. Given the 6,000 truckloads of food crossing the Canada-U.S. border everyday, we will have little choice but to follow the U.S. even though many argue the change is misguided, not good public policy, and it could be quite hurtful to Canadian farmers.

In any event, Canada will have to engage directly with American regulators in the development of the regulations because there are many important outstanding issues: Will labelling be required if the GE material has been removed from the ingredient through processing (for example, beet sugar and soybean oil)? How will they treat food derived from some of the new gene-editing technologies? Will bar codes be sufficient? ­

There are still those who both question the science and sincerely want to ensure that consumers have a right to choose. To those who no longer question the science, this policy can undermine the extraordinary promise of GE and even the credibility of our science-based regulatory system.

For them, the recent Scienti­fic American editorial eloquently captures the serious longer-term danger: “…what it hurts most is the cause of science and reason. Our choices should be based on understanding tradeofs and trusting the best possible science… If choices are instead driven by herd mentality, a pathological adherence to the Precautionary Principle and a reliance on false moral outrage, then we are not only harming the fate of real human beings around the world but are also impinging on open mindedness and critical thinking, an attitude that can only squelch rational inquiry.”

Huckster: Shed no tears for Odwalla exec making another go of it (and making millions)

This is why avant-garde jazz saxophonists shouldn’t be responsible for food safety

And that’s nothing against avant-garde jazz saxophonists, although I hate jazz.

greg-steltenpohlBut what I really hate is when people make dumb decisions that lead to another’s death, all marketed with the halo of natural, and yet still heralded as some titan of business.

In late Oct. 1996, an outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 was traced to juice containing unpasteurized apple cider manufactured by Odwalla in the northwest U.S. Sixty-four people were sickened and a 16-month-old died from E. coli O157:H7. During subsequent grand jury testimony, it was revealed that while Odwalla had written contracts with suppliers to only provide apples picked from trees rather than drops – those that had fallen to the ground and would be more likely to be contaminated with feces, in this case, deer feces — the company never verified if suppliers were actually doing what they said they were doing. Earlier in 1996, Odwalla had sought to supply the U.S. Army with juice. An Aug. 6, 1996 letter from the Army to Odwalla stated, “we determined that your plant sanitation program does not adequately assure product wholesomeness for military consumers. This lack of assurance prevents approval of your establishment as a source of supply for the Armed Forces at this time.”

Once a huckster, always a huckster.

Stephanie Strom of the N.Y. Times reports for the past 20 years, Greg Steltenpohl, an avant-garde jazz saxophonist turned beverage entrepreneur, has worked to rekindle the magic behind his greatest hit — and make peace with a nightmare that led to an abrupt fall.

Food safety issue: Mr. Steltenpohl started the juice company Odwalla in 1980, selling drinks out of his band’s Volkswagen van in and around San Francisco. Within a few years, the company was a multimillion-dollar business, flying high as one of the first breakout healthy drinks now commonplace in grocery aisles.

Then, in 1996, a child died and dozens were sickened because of contaminated apple juice produced by Odwalla, changing everything. About 90 percent of the company’s revenue evaporated almost overnight in the wake of the outbreak. With the company on the brink of bankruptcy, Mr. Steltenpohl and his partners were forced to sell a controlling interest in Odwalla to private equity firms, the equivalent — to him — of selling out to the devil. Not long after, the company was sold to Coca-Cola.

odwalla-cider-e-coliDude, you sold out long before that, pushing production and foregoing safety to make bucks.

Quite a fairytale he spins.

“Odwalla took him to the top of the world and then to the bottom,” said Berne Evans, his business partner today. “I don’t think he’s ever gotten over it.”

But now Mr. Steltenpohl, a gentle and avuncular 62, is once again near the center of beverage industry buzz as the head of Califia Farms, a nut milk business that is fast expanding into bottled coffees and other drinks. This time, he is taking advantage of a new trend sweeping the industry, as young beverage companies — empowered by changes in distribution and consumer tastes — are rising and competing successfully with titans like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

Only a few years after its founding, in 2012, Califia is on track to ring up $100 million in sales and is adding products at a fast clip. The company is considered one of the hottest young brands in the beverage world, leading to whispers about whether one of the big competitors will soon swoop in with a buyout offer that Mr. Steltenpohl and his partners can’t refuse.

Not this time, he insists. “I’ve had to sell out once,” Mr. Steltenpohl said. “That was enough.”

The story has lots of financial stuff, and how people who know shit about food safety market and sell shit to people who don’t know better, and the people who know shit make billions.

With Trump as President, the time is ripe for a comeback, I guess.

Duane Stanford, the editor of Beverage Digest, said a young beverage company today can buy its flavors from a flavor house, branding expertise from a branding expert and manufacturing from a producer on contract.

“You have this situation where these companies can become viable, robust, cash-generating businesses without the help of a big company,” he said. “They’re even getting creative at building independent distribution networks.”

Odwalla came together out of a necessity to eat. After graduating from Stanford with a degree in environmental sciences, Mr. Steltenpohl joined with some friends to start a band called the Stance. He also got hooked on the taste of fresh-squeezed orange juice, which his father made for him.

“We were a band of musicians who weren’t really that accomplished — or popular,” Mr. Steltenpohl said of himself and the band members, who became his partners in Odwalla. “We were broke and starving, and we figured if we started a juice business, we could live off the juice and maybe make a little extra.”

He read a book, “100 Businesses You Can Start For $100,” and the partners invested in a juicer and started making juice. They didn’t even try to break into groceries and convenience stores, instead stocking refrigerators in video stores and laundromats with Odwalla fresh juice each day. “Everyone who was a musician back then was basically living out of a VW bus,” Mr. Steltenpohl said. “We quit living in ours and began selling juice out of the back.”

For most of its early years, the Santa Cruz Community Credit Union financed the company. But as consumers cottoned on to its intensely flavored, wacky mixes of unpasteurized juice, it needed something more.

In October, 1996, a 16-month-old Denver girl drank Smoothie juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc. of Half Moon Bay, California. She died several weeks later; 64 others became ill in several western U.S. states and British Columbia after drinking the same juices, which contained unpasteurized apple cider — and E. coli O157:H7. Investigators believed that some of the apples used to make the cider might have been ins

The brand’s claims about the healthiness came back to haunt it as reporters dug into its failure to heed warnings about food-safety lapses.

Those failures are legendary in the food safety world, and a similar failure for Steltenpohl to say, “(Coke) never saw the enormous potential of the Odwalla brand and instead saw it as just another product in the juice portfolio.”

It’s also a failure for the N.Y Times to not report how those Odwalla failures went straight to the top..

Odwalla’s brand is nothing more than a cautionary food safety fairytale.

I have many.

Maybe Cafia will become one.

Hucksters.

The story notes that Steltenpohl is also trying to avoid past mistakes. The plant is equipped with cutting-edge food-safety monitors that share alerts about problems as they happen with the entire senior management team. Josh Butt, who previously oversaw food safety systems at Danone, the big French dairy company, presides over the plant’s operations.

Cutting-edge is a phrase that appeals to investors but means shit to any food safety type.

Cutting corners is this guy’s calling card.

And making a buck.

This is what I wrote at the time:

Sometime in late September 1996, 16-month-old Anna Gimmestad of Denver has a glass of Smoothie juice manufactured by  Odwalla Inc. After her parents noticed bloody diarrhea, Anna was admitted to Children’s Hospital on Oct. 16.  On 8 November 1996 she died after going into cardiac and respiratory arrest.  Anna had severe kidney problems, related to hemolytic uremic syndrome and her heart had stopped several times in previous days.

The juice Anna — and 65 others who got sick — drank was contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, linked to fresh, unpasteurized apple cider used as a base in the juices manufactured by Odwalla.  Because they were unpasteurized, Odwalla’s drinks were shipped in cold storage and had only a two-week shelf life.  Odwalla was founded 16 years ago on the premise that fresh, natural fruit juices nourish the spirit.  And the bank balance: in fiscal 1996, Odwalla sales jumped 65 per cent to $60 million (U.S.).  Company chairman Greg Steltenpohl told reporters that the company did not routinely test for E. coli because it was advised by industry experts that the acid level in the apple juice was sufficient to kill the bug.

Who these industry experts are remains a mystery.  Odwalla insists the experts were the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  The FDA isn’t sure who was warned and when.   In addition to all the academic research and media coverage concerning verotoxigenic E. coli cited above, Odwalla claimed ignorance.

In terms of crisis management — and outbreaks of foodborne illness are increasingly contributing to the case study literature on crisis management — Odwalla responded appropriately.  Company officials responded in a timely and compassionate fashion, initiating a complete recall and co-operating with authorities after a link was first made on Oct. 30 between their juice and illness.  They issued timely and comprehensive press statements, and even opened a web site containing background information on both the company and E. coli O157:H7.  Upon learning of Anna’s death, Steltenpohl issued a statement which said, “On behalf of myself and the people at Odwalla, I want to say how deeply saddened and sorry we are to learn of the loss of this child.  Our hearts go out to the family and our primary concern at this moment is to see that we are doing everything we can to help them.”

For Odwalla, or any food firm to say it had no knowledge that E. coli O157 could survive in an acid environment is unacceptable.  When one of us called this $60-million-a-year-company with the great public relations, to ask why they didn’t know that E. coli O157 was a risk in cider, it took over a day to return the call.   That’s a long time in crisis-management time.  More galling was that the company spokeswoman said she had received my message, but that her phone mysteriously couldn’t call Canada that day.

Great public relations; lousy management.  What this outbreak, along with cyclospora in fresh fruit in the spring of 1996 and dozens of others, demonstrates is that, vigilance, from farm to fork, is a mandatory requirement in a global food system.  Risk assessment, management and communication must be interlinked to accommodate new scientific and public information.  And that includes those funky and natural fruit juices.

How the hell could we have known? 10 years later, spinach soundbites fit for the post-truth era

In sentencing me to jail in 1982, the judge said I had a memory of convenience.

I had said I had a memory of not much.

cabbage-head-kithSpinach and lettuce growers seem to have a memory of not much, given the produce industry’s revisions to the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in spinach that killed four and sickened 200.

In October, 1996, a 16-month-old Denver girl drank Smoothie juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc. of Half Moon Bay, California. She died several weeks later; 64 others became ill in several western U.S. states and British Columbia after drinking the same juices, which contained unpasteurized apple cider — and E. coli O157:H7. Investigators believed that some of the apples used to make the cider might have been insufficiently washed after falling to the ground and coming into contact with deer feces.

Almost 10 years later, on Sept. 14, 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that an outbreak of E. coli O157: H7 had killed a 77-year-old woman and sickened 49 others (United States Food and Drug Administration, 2006). The FDA learned from the Centers for Disease Control and Wisconsin health officials that the outbreak may have been linked to the consumption of produce and identified bagged fresh spinach as a possible cause.

In the decade between these two watershed outbreaks, almost 500 outbreaks of foodborne illness involving fresh produce were documented, publicized and led to some changes within the industry, yet what author Malcolm Gladwell would call a tipping point — “a point at which a slow gradual change becomes irreversible and then proceeds with gathering pace” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tipping_Point) — in public awareness about produce-associated risks did not happen until the spinach E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in the fall of 2006. At what point did sufficient evidence exist to compel the fresh produce industry to embrace the kind of change the sector has heralded since 2007? And at what point will future evidence be deemed sufficient to initiate change within an industry?

lettuce-skull-e-coli-o145In 1996, following extensive public and political discussions about microbial food safety in meat, the focus shifted to fresh fruits and vegetables, following an outbreak of Cyclospora cayetanesis ultimately linked to Guatemalan raspberries that sickened 1,465 in 21 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1997), and subsequently Odwalla. That same year, Beuchat (1996) published a review on pathogenic microorganisms in fresh fruits and vegetables and identified numerous pathways of contamination.

Date Product Pathogen Cases Setting/dish State
Apr-92 Lettuce S. enteriditis 12 Salad VT
Jan-93 Lettuce S. Heidelberg 18 Restaurant MN
Jul-93 Lettuce Norovirus 285 Restaurant IL
Aug-93 Salad E. coli O157:H7 53 Salad Bar WA
Jul-93 Salad E. coli O157:H7 10 Unknown WA
Sep-94 Salad E. coli O157:H7 26 School TX
Jul-95 Lettuce E. coli O153:H48 74 Lettuce MT
Sep-95 Lettuce E. coli O153:H47 30 Scout Camp ME
Sep-95 Salad E. coli O157:H7 20 Ceasar Salad ID
Oct-95 Lettuce E. coli O153:H46 11 Salad OH
May-96 Lettuce E. coli O157:H10 61 Mesclun Mix  ML
Jun-96 Lettuce E. coli O153:H49 7 Mesclun Mix NY

Table 1. Outbreaks of foodborne illness related to leafy greens, 1992-1996.

By 1997, researchers at CDC were stating that pathogens could contaminate at any point along the fresh produce food chain — at the farm, processing plant, transportation vehicle, retail store or foodservice operation and the home — and that by understanding where potential problems existed, it was possible to develop strategies to reduce risks of contamination. Researchers also reported that the use of pathogen-free water for washing would minimize risk of contamination.

Date Product Pathogen Cases Setting/dish State
Feb-99 Lettuce E. coli O157:H9 65 Restaurant NE
Jun-99 Salad E. coli O111:H8 58 Texas Camp TX
Sep-99 Lettuce E. coli O157:H11 6 Iceberg WA
Oct-99 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 40 Nursing Home PA
Oct-99 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 47 Restaurant OH
Oct-99 Salad E. coli O157:H7 5 Restaurant OR

Table 2. 1999 U.S. outbreaks of STEC linked to leafy greens

 

Yet it would take a decade and some 29 leafy green-related outbreaks before spinach in 2006 became a tipping point.

 

Date Product Pathogen Cases Setting/dish State
Oct-00 Salad E. coli O157:H7 6 Deli IN
Nov-01 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 20 Restaurant TX
Jul-02 Lettuce E. coli O157:H8 55 Bagged, Tossed WA
Nov-02 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 13 Restaurant IL
Dec-02 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 3 Restaurant MN

Table 3: Leafy green outbreaks of STEC, 2000 — 2002.

 

What was absent in this decade of outbreaks, letters from regulators, plans from industry associations and media accounts, was verification that farmers and others in the farm-to-fork food safety system were seriously internalizing the messages about risk, the numbers of sick people, and translating such information into front-line food safety behavioral change.

Date Product Pathogen Cases Setting/dish State
Sep-03 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 51 Restaurant CA
Nov-03 Spinach E. coli O157:H7 16 Nursing Home CA
Nov-04 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 6 Restaurant NJ
Sep-05 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7 11 Dole, bagged Multiple

Table 4: Leafy green STEC outbreaks, 2003 — 2005.

So why was spinach in 2006 the tipping point?

It shouldn’t have been.

But it lets industry apologists say, how the hell could we known?

Tom Karst of The Packer reports the crisis of confidence in the status quo of produce safety practices arrived with a thud a little more than 10 years ago.

Beginning Sept. 14 and continuing until Sept. 20, 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued daily news releases that flatly advised consumers “not to eat fresh spinach or fresh spinach-containing products until further notice.”

The agency had never before issued such a broad warning about a commodity, said Robert Brackett, who in 2006 was director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutritions. Brackett is now vice president and director of the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology,

“In this particular case all we knew (was) that it was bagged leafy spinach, but we had no idea whose it was or where it was coming from,” he said in December of this year.

“It was a very scary couple of days because we had all of these serious cases of hemolytic-uremic syndrome popping up and people getting sick, and it was so widespread across the country.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported about half of those who were ill were hospitalized during the 2006 spinach E. coli outbreak.

“It was shocking how little confidence that FDA and consumers had in the produce industry at that moment,” said David Gombas, retired senior vice president of food safety and technology for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

Given the history of outbreaks, the only thing shocking was that the industry continued to expect blind faith.

“For FDA to say ‘Don’t eat any spinach,’ they blamed an entire commodity, and it became very clear to the produce industry at that moment they had to do something to restore public confidence and FDA confidence in the safety of fresh produce,” Gombas said Nov. 30.

“One of the things that was very different and had the greatest impact was the consumer advisory against spinach — period — regardless of where it came from,” said Trevor Suslow, extension research specialist and director of the University of California-Davis Postharvest Technology Center.

The stark warning — immediately followed by steeply falling retail spinach sales — was issued in the midst of a multistate E. coli foodborne illness outbreak eventually linked to Dole brand baby spinach.

The product was processed, packed and shipped by Natural Selection Foods of San Juan Bautista, Calif., which markets the Earthbound Farm brand.

U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows that California’s spinach shipments plummeted from 258,774 cartons in August 2006 to 138,278 cartons in September, a drop of nearly 50%.

Shipping point prices for spinach on the California coast dropped from $8.45-10.45 per carton on Sept. 14 — the day that FDA first issued its advice to avoid for consumers to avoid spinach — to $4.85-6.15 per carton on Sept. 15.

No market was reported by the USDA for the rest of September because supplies were insufficient to quote.

The final update on the 2006 spinach outbreak was published by the CDC in October. By March 2007, the FDA issued its own final report about its investigation on the cause of the outbreak.

The CDC said in October 2006 that 199 persons infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 were reported to CDC from 26 states. Later, the tally of those sickened was raised to 205.

Gombas said the FDA warning in mid-September caused leafy green sales to crash, not fully recovering for nearly a decade.

“There were outbreaks before that, but none of them were as devastating to industry or public confidence as that one.”

The FDA and the California Department of Public Health issued a 51-page report on the extensive investigation into the causes of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak associated with the contaminated Dole brand baby spinach.

The report said investigators identified the environmental risk factors and the areas that were most likely involved in the outbreak. However, they were unable to definitely determine the source of the contamination.

The investigation explored the source of the spinach in 13 bags containing E. coli O157:H7 isolates that had been collected nationwide from sick customers, according to a summary of the report.

Using the product codes on the bags, and employing DNA fingerprinting on the bacteria from the bags, the investigators were able to match environmental samples of E. coli O157:H7 from one field to the strain that had caused the outbreak, according to the report.

The report said E. coli O157:H7 isolates located on the Paicines Ranch in San Benito had a (pulsed-field gel electrophoresis) pattern indistinguishable from the outbreak strain. The report said the pattern was identified in river water, cattle feces and wild pig feces on the Paicines Ranch, the closest of which was just under one mile from the spinach field.

According to investigators, the sources of the potential environmental risk factors for E.coli contamination at or near the field included the presence of wild pigs and the proximity of irrigation wells and waterways exposed to feces from cattle and wildlife.

From 1995 to 2006, researchers had linked nine outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 infections to, or near, the Salinas Valley region. But the 2006 spinach outbreak was different.

There were guidelines for growers in 2006, but not a way to make sure growers were following them, said Joe Pezzini, CEO of Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Calif.

Convenient.