‘Barf-proof yourself like a food-safety ace’

Amy says she’s going to get me a hat that says, Ace.

Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News writes:

article-barf-1024He rarely eats in restaurants. When he dines at friends’ homes, he’s been known to peek into his hosts’ fridge and cupboards. “It’s an annoying habit,” he tells the Daily News.

Meet Doug Powell (right, exactly as shown, in 2005, dissenters to the left please) a former professor of food safety and publisher of barfblog.com, which is all about food-safety issues. There are plenty of them. Last year there were 626 food recalls in the U.S. and Canada. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that food-borne pathogens sicken 48 million Americans — that’s one in six — hospitalize 128,000 and kill 3,000. Powell, who was raised in Canada, lived in the U.S. and now resides in Brisbane, Australia, has been there. He wrote about that in barfblog.  “More recalls are due to better detection and awareness,” he says. “The food is as dangerous as it’s always been, not more so.”

Between posting about recalls and E. coli outbreaks in the U.S. and beyond, Powell, 53, set the Daily News straight about everyday food-safety questions.

Now it’s okay to eat pork that’s rosy pink, right?

Nope. “Research has shown that color is a lousy indicator of whether meat is safe to eat,” says Powell. Same goes for requesting your chops or steaks “well done,” which is vague enough to put you in hurl’s way. “When I go to a restaurant and they ask me how I want my steak, I say, ‘140 degrees.’” He also carries a tip-sensitive digital thermometer in his backpack. He swears by one from Comark that’s around $16.

Raw sprouts are good for you, yes?

dp-chest-protectorMaybe not. “I never eat them,” says Powell. And that includes ones he could grow at home. Warm and humid conditions ideal for growing sprouts are an Eden for growing bacteria, like Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli. In the past 20 years they’ve been connected to at least 30 outbreaks of foodborne illness (bring on your best shots, left, I got some new goalie equipment, 11 years later).

You should have two cutting boards in the kitchen — one for meat, the other for vegetables?

Powell uses one and “usually I use dish soap” to clean it. To sanitize, he uses a 10-to-one ratio of bleach to water.

(Nosestretcher alert: I already sent in the correction, which is somewhere between 250-400 parts water to I part bleach, or a tablespoon bleach per gallon of water.)

Is organically raised food safer than if it’s conventionally produced?

Nope. “Organic is a production standard and has nothing to do with microbial food safety,” says Powell. “Large or small, conventional or organic, safety is a function of individual farmers. They either know about microbial food safety risks and take steps to reduce or manage that risk, or they don’t.” Along the same line, “local” does not automatically mean safe, he adds.

Super-fresh sushi won’t make you sick will it?

“Raw fish houses an amazing microbiology profile that can make you sick,” he says. “It’s just not a good idea to eat it.”

Chapman says whenever someone calls him Ace, he responds with Ace of Spades, in a bad imitation of Lemmy’s voice.

Recommend using a thermometer? Hong Kong finds Salmonella in roast pork sample

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department announced October 12 that a sample of roast pork taken from a licensed restaurant was found to contain a pathogen, Salmonella. The CFS is following up on the case.

barfblog-stick-it-inA spokesman for the CFS said, “The CFS collected the above-mentioned sample at a restaurant with a general restaurant licence in Shatin for testing under its routine Food Surveillance Programme. The test result showed the presence of Salmonella in 25 grams of the sample, exceeding the standard of the Microbiological Guidelines for Food which states that Salmonella should not be detected in 25g of food,” a CFS spokesman said.

The spokesman said that the CFS had notified the food premises concerned of the unsatisfactory test result and instructed it to stop selling the affected food item immediately.

The CFS has also provided health education on food safety and hygiene to the person-in-charge and staff of the food premises, requested it to review and improve the food production process and carry out thorough cleaning and disinfection.


Thermometers and hockey

“Do you always bring that thing with you?”

coffs-hockey-team-16“Don’t you?”

The thing was my tip-sensitive digital thermometer which is always in my backpack, which is always on my back, and the occasion was the annual BBQ at the annual Coffs Harbour 3-on-3 hockey tournament.

With 120 guests to serve, I always arrive packin’.

The meat was safely-temperature-verified-grilled, no bare hand contact was achieved through either tongs or gloves, and cross-contamination was minimal (the parents all know what I do, and they knew I’d be watching).

Amy and I played sous chefs for a couple of hours, prepping onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelon.

Coffs Harbour Big Banana 3-on-3 Skirmish, now in its sixth year, started as a two club match-up between Newcastle North Stars and Southern Stars from Brisbane with Coffs Harbour as the halfway meeting point for the 3-on-3 ice hockey weekend.

doug-ref-oct-16The tournament has grown each year to now include nine clubs represented by 26 teams from NSW, QLD and ACT. Some 175 players ranging in age from 5-to-16-years-old in five different age divisions played in 80 games.

I coached, acted as medic, refereed for the first time since completing that 14-hour training and was called upon to be the badass coach when kids got unruly around the pool and BBQ area.

Amy did scorekeeping, merchandizing, and overall hockey mom stuff, like getting Sorenne prepared.

So many other people contributed in similar ways.

Great kids, great parents, it’s our church, but without the god stuff. There’s singing and dancing, but not so much the hymns. More AC/DC.


Inevitability of reproduction – TV cooking show edition

In 2004, my laboratory reported (and by reported I mean published in a peer-reviewed journal) that, based on 60 hours of detailed viewing of television cooking shows, an unsafe food handling practice occurred about every four minutes, and that for every safe food handling practice observed, we observed 13 unsafe practices. The most common errors were inadequate hand washing and cross-contamination between raw and ready-to-eat foods.celebrity_chefs4

The abstract is below.

Once the paper was published, it made headlines around the globe.

And then it started getting replicated. Texas, Europe, a few other places, and now Massachusetts.

Compliance With Recommended Food Safety Practices in Television Cooking Shows

Nancy Cohen, Rita Olsen

Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 2016 Aug 28. pii: S1499-4046(16)30715-1. doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2016.08.002. [Epub ahead of print]


Examine compliance with recommended food safety practices in television cooking shows.


Using a tool based on the Massachusetts Food Establishment Inspection Report, raters examined 39 episodes from 10 television cooking shows.


Chefs demonstrated conformance with good retail practices for proper use and storage of utensils in 78% of episodes; preventing contamination (62%), and fingernail care (82%). However, 50% to 88% of episodes were found to be out of compliance with other personal hygiene practices, proper use of gloves and barriers (85% to 100%), and maintaining proper time and temperature controls (93%). Over 90% failed to conform to recommendations regarding preventing contamination through wiping cloths and washing produce. In only 13% of episodes were food safety practices mentioned.

Conclusions and Implications

There appears to be little attention to food safety during most cooking shows. Celebrity and competing chefs have the opportunity to model and teach good food safety practices for millions of viewers.

 Mathiasen, L.A., Chapman, B.J., Lacroix, B.J. and Powell, D.A. 2004. Spot the mistake: Television cooking shows as a source of food safety information, Food Protection Trends 24(5): 328-334.

Consumers receive information on food preparation from a variety of sources. Numerous studies conducted over the past six years demonstrate that television is one of the primary sources for North Americans. This research reports on an examination and categorization of messages that television food and cooking programs provide to viewers about preparing food safely. During June 2002 and 2003, television food and cooking programs were recorded and reviewed, using a defined list of food safety practices based on criteria established by Food Safety Network researchers. Most surveyed programs were shown on Food Network Canada, a specialty cable channel. On average, 30 percent of the programs viewed were produced in Canada, with the remainder produced in the United States or United Kingdom. Sixty hours of content analysis revealed that the programs contained a total of 916 poor food-handling incidents. When negative food handling behaviors were compared to positive food handling behaviors, it was found that for each positive food handling behavior observed, 13 negative behaviors were observed. Common food safety errors included a lack of hand washing, cross-contamination and time-temperature violations. While television food and cooking programs are an entertainment source, there is an opportunity to improve their content so as to promote safe food handling.

The research has been published where? Forget thawing food in fridge, use water instead

In what could be yet another case of PR before publication, Science Nordic has issued a press release extolling the virtues of thawing meat in cold water rather than in the fridge. The PR does not address issues of cross-contamination, how a consumer would determine if the meat was actually thawed, and most important, fails to cite a peer-reviewed publication, other than saying, “based on the institute’s own experiments with freezing and thawing different kinds of foods.”

meat-thaw-waterIf it has been published, it’s standard to include a link to that research, otherwise, it’s a fluff piece.

But you decide.

Most people know that food should be frozen as quickly as possible, to retain quality and flavour. The same turns out to be true when it comes to thawing frozen food, too —quicker is better.

So says Susanne Ekstedt, a researcher at the Food and Bioscience unit of SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden in Gothenburg.

“This is something food scientists have known to be true for a long time now. But this knowledge is mostly confined to the food industry. Most people don’t seem to be aware of this,” Ekstedt said.

What often happens instead is that people thaw their meats slowly in the refrigerator. While keeping meat cold while thawing is important to limit bacterial growth, it’s possible to thaw food quickly in water. 

Ekstedt’s recommendation is based on the institute’s own experiments with freezing and thawing different kinds of foods. Their conclusion: The best way to thaw frozen meat or fish is to put it in cold water. You have to wrap the food in plastic, of course, to keep the water out of the food, but water will thaw food quickly and effectively.

The reason for this is simple: Water conducts heat better than air. And the faster food is thawed, the better it tastes.

One reason that freezing and thawing foods quickly preserves their quality has to do with ice crystal formation.

When anything, be it snow or food, stays slightly below the freezing point for a long time, it creates the perfect environment for large ice crystals to grow.

In food, the formation of these large ice crystals during freezing can do a great deal of damage to cells, reducing the food’s ability to hold in fluids after it is thawed.

muppets-chef-2The result? Dry meat and flaccid vegetables.

Clarence Birdseye, who is credited with being the founder of the modern frozen food industry in the United States, is said to have discovered this principle himself when he worked in Labrador and was taught by the native Inuits how to ice fish.

He discovered that fish he caught at -40 degrees C froze quickly and tasted quite fresh when thawed.  He went on to invent a series of techniques that allowed foods to be frozen quickly, preventing the formation of large ice crystals.

To this day, the food industry is well aware of the problems posed by ice crystal formation. In fact, it’s not uncommon to buy frozen vegetables with labels that advise consumers to thaw vegetables quickly.

Bjørg Egelandsdal is a professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Ås whose specialty is meat.

“There has never been any good scientific evidence behind the advice that food should be thawed in the refrigerator,” she says.

“Maybe the idea behind this advice is that refrigerator thawing is most hygienic. It is true that meat and other foodstuffs should be stored in the refrigerator if they are thawed, but it is definitely better to thaw food quickly in water if you are going to use it right away,” she said. 

Another potentially quick way to defrost food, the microwave, can be hard on meat, says Per Einar Granum, a microbiologist also at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

He says if you are going to use the meat in a casserole or stew, thawing it in a microwave can be acceptable, because the meat will later become tender as it cooks.

But if you plan to grill your meat, forget the microwave. Even if you use the “thaw” program, it is “a little too brutal for the meat,” he says.

17 sickened with Hepatitis E linked to undercooked pig-liver stuffing

Background – On 11 December 2013, 3 clustered cases of hepatitis E were reported on a coastal island in Brittany. Cases had consumed spit-roasted and stuffed piglet during a wedding meal. The raw stuffing was partly made from the piglet liver. Investigations were carried out to identify the source and vehicle of contamination, and evaluate the dispersion of the hepatitis E virus (HEV) in the environment.

spit-roast-pigMethods – A questionnaire was administered to 98 wedding participants who were asked to give a blood sample. Cases were identified by RT-PCR and anti-HEV serological tests. A retrospective cohort study was conducted among 38 blood sampled participants after the exclusion of participants with evidence of past HEV immunity. Relative risks (RR) with their 95% confidence intervals were calculated based on foods consumed at the wedding meal using univariate and multivariable Poisson regressions.

The human HEV strains were compared with the strains detected in the liquid manure sampled at the farm where the piglet was born and at the inlet of the island wastewater treatment plants.

Results – 17 cases, including 3 confirmed cases, were identified and 70.6% were asymptomatic. Acute HEV infection was independently associated with piglet stuffing consumption (RR=1.69 [1.04-2.73]). Human strains from the index cases, veterinary and environmental HEV strains were identical.

Discussion – The outbreak was attributable to the consumption of an undercooked pig liver-based stuffing. After infection, the cases have probably become a temporary reservoir for HEV, which was detected in the island’s untreated wastewater.

Hepatitis E outbreak associated with the consumption of a spit-roasted piglet, Brittany (France), 2013

Épidémie d’hépatite E associée à la consommation d’un porcelet grillé à la broche, Bretagne, 2013. Bull Epidémiol Hebd. 2016;(26-27):444-9

Y Guillois, F Abravanel, T Miura, N Pavio, V Vaillant, S Lhomme, et al.


16 sickened with trichinellosis in Belgium from imported wild boar meat

Trichinellosis is a rare parasitic zoonosis caused by Trichinella following ingestion of raw or undercooked meat containing Trichinella larvae. In the past five years, there has been a sharp decrease in human trichinellosis incidence rates in the European Union due to better practices in rearing domestic animals and control measures in slaughterhouses.

wild-boar-recipes-and-uses_homemediumIn November 2014, a large outbreak of trichinellosis occurred in Belgium, related to the consumption of imported wild boar meat. After a swift local public health response, 16 cases were identified and diagnosed with trichinellosis. Of the 16 cases, six were female. The diagnosis was confirmed by serology or the presence of larvae in the patients’ muscle biopsies by histology and/or PCR. The ensuing investigation traced the wild boar meat back to Spain. Several batches of imported wild boar meat were recalled but tested negative.

The public health investigation allowed us to identify clustered undiagnosed cases. Early warning alerts and a coordinated response remain indispensable at a European level.

Outbreak of Trichinellosis related to eating imported wild boar meat, Belgium, 2014

Eurosurveillance, Volume 21, Issue 37, 15 September 2016, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2016.21.37.30341

P Messiaen, A Forier, S Vanderschueren, C Theunissen, J Nijs, M Van Esbroeck, E Bottieau, K De Schrijver, IC Gyssens, R Cartuyvels, P Dorny, J van der Hilst, D Blockmans


5 things a Canadian food safety expert will never eat

Carmen Chai of Global News reports that Rick Holley, a veteran food safety expert and University of Manitoba professor emeritus says these are the five things he won’t eat:

mi-rick-holley-1212Raw shellfish and seafood

Raw sprouts and chopped raw vegetables and fruits

(“I do not eat sprouts, unless they’re cooked.”

He eats the chopped salads from the grocery store, though.

“I’m confessing now that I accept the risk because I value the convenience,” he said.

If you’re chopping up vegetables and fruit, they’re safe to eat for about four hours if kept at room temperature. In the fridge, they can last for up to three days, he said.)

Unpasteurized drinks

Undercooked meat

Undercooked eggs.

“My wife doesn’t like to sit with me at dinner and have guests in because, invariably, the conversation rotates to subjects near and dear to my heart and that’s contamination,” Holley joked.

My list is the same.

Hepatitis A in scallops

As the number of hepatitis A cases in Hawaii nears 300, how do people prepare scallops?

scallop-lunch-mar-12The hep A seems to have originated in frozen scallops from the Philippines.

But if you follow TV food porn chefs, scallops are cooked when they can bounce off the floor.


Use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer and make sure they reach 145F (which may not be enough to kill hep A; some sources recommend an internal temperature of 195F).

Think I’ll go down to the fish market later today and grill some scallops in garlic-lime butter.

And vaccines work.

Chefs don’t know shit about food safety: Trend for eating chicken livers ’pink’ could put lives at risk

Another one for the duh files.

chicken.liver.pateUK researchers found the fashion for serving chicken livers “rare” may expose people to potentially fatal Campylobacter food poisoning. 

The study investigated the cooking times for chicken liver included in a number of popular current recipes. 

Many of the recipes recommend serving chicken livers pink and cooking them for times insufficient to kill off Campylobacter – the most common cause of food poisoning in Britain which is responsible for more than 250,000 cases each year. 

Researchers from Manchester, Bangor and Liverpool universities found that up to 52 per cent of 141 chefs from a range of professional kitchens questioned wanted to serve chicken livers so rare that they would not reach 70C, the temperature necessary to kill the pathogen Campylobacter. 

Dr Paul Cross, of Bangor University, said: “Chicken livers are served in many pubs and restaurants around the country, and the trend seems to be for them to be served ‘pink.’ 

“The research asked over a thousand members of the public and the chefs about their preferences, and whether they could identify safely cooked meats. 

“The public were not able to identify safely cooked chicken livers by sight.

“Almost a third of the public participants identified livers as ‘safe’ which in fact had predicted Campylobacter survival rates of between 48 per cent and 98 per cent.” 

Study co lead author Professor Dan Rigby of Manchester University, said: “As people are eating their steaks and other joints of red meat rarer, that trend seems to be extending to higher risk meats such as chicken livers and beef burgers. 

“We found that many chefs were able to identify cooked livers that reached the temperature necessary to kill the pathogens, but their preferences for the taste and texture of pink livers may be overriding their knowledge of food safety. 

“In contrast the public were consistent in their choices – they tended to select dishes to eat that they thought met safe cooking guidelines. This is a concern, because the public were also poor at identifying by sight whether a cooked chicken liver had been cooked sufficiently to be safe.” 

The study showed that chefs also overestimated the public’s preference for rareness. 

The study highlighted that almost half the members of the public questioned (48 per cent) agreed that cooking programmes on TV and recipes in magazines had influenced the public to serve meat pinker in the middle. 

Of course the British public believes thia, because their regulators won’t say, use a damn thermometer.

barfblog.Stick It In