Doug Powell

About Doug Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of barfblog.com, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Download C.V. »

Food fraud: Inside global bullshit about spices

A bowl of ice cream on a hot day in Shanghai gave American Mitchell Weinberg the worst bout of food poisoning he can recall. It also inspired the then-trade consultant to set up Inscatech — a global network of food spies.

In demand by multinational retailers and food producers, Inscatech and its agents scour supply chains around the world hunting for evidence of food industry fraud and malpractice. In the eight years since he founded the New York-based firm, Weinberg, 52, says China continues to be a key growth area for fraudsters as well as those developing technologies trying to counter them.

“Statistically we’re uncovering fraud about 70 percent of the time, but in China it’s very close to 100 percent,” he said. “It’s pervasive, it’s across food groups, and it’s anything you can possibly imagine.”

While adulteration has been a bugbear of consumers since prehistoric wine was first diluted with saltwater, scandals in China over the past decade — from melamine-laced baby formula, to rat-meat dressed as lamb — have seen the planet’s largest food-producing and consuming nation become a hotbed of corrupted, counterfeit, and contaminated food.

Weinberg’s company is developing molecular markers and genetic fingerprints to help authenticate natural products and sort genuine foodstuffs from the fakes. Another approach companies are pursuing uses digital technology to track and record the provenance of food from farm to plate.

“Consumers want to know where products are from,” said Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group, citing surveys the Shanghai-based consultancy conducted with consumers and supermarket operators.

Services that help companies mitigate the reputational risk that food-fraud poses is a “big growth area,” according to Rein. “It’s a great business opportunity,” he said. “It’s going to be important not just as a China play, but as a global play, because Chinese food companies are becoming part of the whole global supply chain.”

Some of the biggest food companies are backing technology that grew out of the anarchic world of crypto-currencies. It’s called blockchain, essentially a shared, cryptographically secure ledger of transactions.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer (and source off the terrible graphic, above, right), was one of the first to get on board, just completing a trial using blockchain technology to track pork in China, where it has more than 400 stores. The time taken to track the meat’s supply chain was cut from 26 hours to just seconds using blockchain, and the scope of the project is being widened to other products, said Frank Yiannas, Wal-Mart’s vice president for food safety, in an interview Thursday.

But will it be advertised at retail, or just some faith consumers will be forced to rely on.

Real transparency means reals data, shared publicly; it’s not a matter of faith.

Toxo: You don’t want it

Toxoplasmosis is a foodborne zoonosis transmitted by Toxoplasma gondii, a cosmopolitan protozoan that infects humans through exposure to different parasite stages, in particular by ingestion of tissue cysts or tachyzoites contained in meat, primary offal (viscera), and meat-derived products or ingestion of environmental sporulated oocysts in contaminated food or water.

The pig is an important species for infection: raw or undercooked pork consumption not subject to treatment able to inactivate the parasite represents a risk to consumers’ health. Broadening knowledge of transmission ways and prevalence concerning this important pathogen in swine, together with a thorough acquaintance with hazard management are key elements to avoid T. gondii spreading within the swine production chain.

This review aims to illustrate why toxoplasmosis should be regarded as a veterinary public health issue through a careful description of the parasite, routes of infection, and inactivation treatments, highlighting the main prevention lines from pig breeding to pork consumption.

Toxoplasma gongii, a foodborne pathogen in the swine production chain form a European perspective

Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, ahead of print, July 2017,  De Berardinis Alberto, Paludi Domenico, Pennisi Luca, and Vergara Alberto, https://doi.org/10.1089/fpd.2017.2305

http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/fpd.2017.2305

Cyclospora: Back to the future

During the summers of 2015 and 2016, the United Kingdom experienced large outbreaks of cyclosporiasis in travellers returning from Mexico. As the source of the outbreaks was not identified, there is the potential for a similar outbreak to occur in 2017; indeed 78 cases had already been reported as at 27 July 2017. Early communication and international collaboration is essential to provide a better understanding of the source and extent of this recurring situation.

Cyclosporiasis in travellers returning to the United Kingdom from Mexico in Summer 2017: Lessons from the recent past to inform the future

Eurosurveillance, vol. 22, issue 32, 10 August 2017, DFP Marques, CL Alexander, RM Chalmers, R Elson, J Freedman, G Hawkins, J Lo, G Robinson, K Russell, A Smith-Palmer, H Kirkbride, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2017.22.32.30592

http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=22854

14 sick, 4 with HUS from E. coli in Calif. lake

An E. coli-contaminated lake in Nevada County, Calif., linked to the illnesses of 14 people will remain closed until at least Aug. 23, county officials announced Wednesday.

Hannah Knowles of the Sacramento Bee reports authorities closed all of Lake Wildwood’s public beaches last week after water testing confirmed reports linking E. coli infections to the lake’s Main Beach, also called Commodore Park. The county also advised against any swimming in the lake.

As of Wednesday, 14 people – 11 children and three adults – are believed to have contracted E. coli after visiting the Main Beach and, in many cases, ingesting lake water, according to the Nevada County Public Health Department. Lab results so far confirm 11 of those 14 cases are connected to the lake’s bacteria.

By Tuesday, nine people had been hospitalized in connection with the outbreak, county Public Health Coordinator Patti Carter said. Six had been discharged by Wednesday evening.

Four sickened children developed a serious condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can lead to potentially fatal kidney failure and anemia.

206 sick: CDC notes increase of Cyclospora cayetanensis infection, United Sates, Summer 2017

Another North American summer, another Cyclospra-induced shit-fest.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), State and Local Health Departments, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are investigating an increase in reported cases of cyclosporiasis. The purpose of this HAN Advisory is to notify public health departments and healthcare facilities and to provide guidance to healthcare providers of the increase in reported cases. Please disseminate this information to healthcare providers in hospitals and emergency rooms, to primary care providers, and to microbiology laboratories.

Healthcare providers should consider a diagnosis of cyclosporiasis in patients with prolonged or remitting-relapsing diarrheal illness. Testing for Cyclospora is not routinely done in most U.S. laboratories, even when stool is tested for parasites. Healthcare providers must specifically order testing for Cyclospora, whether testing is requested by ova and parasite (O&P) examination, by molecular methods, or by a gastrointestinal pathogen panel test. Cyclosporiasis is a nationally notifiable disease; healthcare providers should report suspect and confirmed cases of infection to public health authorities.

As of August 2, 2017, 206 cases of Cyclospora infections have been reported to CDC in persons who became infected in the United States and became ill on or after May 1, 2017. These cases have been reported from 27 states, most of which have reported relatively few cases. Eighteen cases reported hospitalization; no deaths have been reported. At this time, no specific vehicle of interest has been identified, and investigations to identify a potential source of infection are ongoing. It is too early to say whether cases of Cyclospora infection in different states are related to each other and/or to the same food item(s).

The number of cases (206) reported in 2017, is higher than the number of cases reported by this date in 2016. As of August 3, 2016, 88 Cyclospora infections had been reported in persons who became infected in the United States and became ill on or after May 1, 2016.

Impossible Burger, regulatory gaps, and money. Always money

I want hamburgers temperature-verified to 160F.

Blood is a terrible indicator.

Stephanie Strom of the NY Times writes that one of the chief selling points of the Impossible Burger, a much ballyhooed plant-based burger patty, is its resemblance to meat, right down to the taste and beeflike “blood.”

Those qualities, from an ingredient produced by a genetically engineered yeast, have made the burger a darling among high-end restaurants like Momofuku Nishi in New York and Jardinière in San Francisco, and have attracted more than $250 million in investment for the company behind it, Impossible Foods.

Bill Gates is an investor.

That makes me want to run to my Mac.

The genetically engineered yeast thingy is just thrown in there to raise alarm.

My 1985 daily squash partner, Andy, was working on genetically engineered yeast for wine back in the day. Our bottling parties were legend.

Now, its secret sauce — soy leghemoglobin, a substance found in nature in the roots of soybean plants that the company makes in its laboratory — has raised regulatory questions.

Impossible Foods wants the Food and Drug Administration to confirm that the ingredient is safe to eat. But the agency has expressed concern that it has never been consumed by humans and may be an allergen, according to documents obtained under a Freedom of Information request by the ETC Group as well as other environmental and consumer organizations and shared with The New York Times.

“F.D.A. believes the arguments presented, individually and collectively, do not establish the safety of soy leghemoglobin for consumption,” agency officials wrote in a memo they prepared for a phone conversation with the company on Aug. 3, 2015, “nor do they point to a general recognition of safety.”

Impossible Foods can still sell its burger despite the F.D.A. findings, which did not conclude soy leghemoglobin was unsafe. The company plans to resubmit its petition to the agency.

Impossible Foods is finding out what happens when a fast-moving venture capital business runs headlong into the staid world of government regulation.

In the case of Impossible Foods, the debate centers on its use of soy leghemoglobin, which the company’s engineered yeast produces and forms an important ingredient behind the business.

The company was started in 2011 by Pat Brown, a chemist at Stanford University. His approach, involving genetics, microbiology and cutting-edge chemistry attracted venture capitalists also eager to find plant-and lab-based replacements for hamburgers and chicken wings.

Impossible Foods sought to woo top chefs with a splashy sales pitch about how the burger mimicked the aroma, attributes and taste of real beef. When soy leghemoglobin breaks down, it releases a protein known as heme, giving it that meatlike texture.

Within three years of its founding, Impossible Foods landed big-name investors like Khosla, Mr. Gates and the Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing. This month, Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, joined an investment round that added $75 million to the company’s coffers.

“I love V.C.s and particularly the ones that invested in us,” Mr. Brown said at a TechCrunch conference in May, referring to venture capital firms. “But it’s truly astonishing how little diligence they do in terms of the actual science that underlies some tech companies.”

The F.D.A.’s approval is not required for new ingredients. Companies can hire consultants to run tests, and they have no obligation to inform the agency of their findings, a process known as self-affirmation.

Impossible Foods adhered to that procedure, concluding in 2014 that soy leghemoglobin was safe. But it went further, seeking the regulator’s imprimatur.

“We respect the role the F.D.A. plays in ensuring the safety of our food supply, and we believe the public wants and deserves transparency and access to any information they need to decide for themselves whether any food they might eat is safe and wholesome,” Rachel Konrad, a spokeswoman for Impossible Foods, wrote in an email.

The F.D.A., however, wanted the company to show the ingredient was safe specifically for humans. It told Impossible Foods to establish the safety of the more than 40 other proteins that make up part of its soy leghemoglobin. F.D.A. officials said the company’s assessment of the potential for the ingredient to be an allergen was deficient.

“This product has been touted as the ‘secret sauce’ in the Impossible Burger,” said Jim Thomas, program director at the ETC Group, the Canadian environmental organization that started the Freedom of Information request. “Now we know that the F.D.A. had questions about it, but it was put on the market anyway.”

Ms. Konrad defended the burger, writing it “is entirely safe to eat” and “fully compliant with all F.D.A. regulations.” She said the company was “taking extra steps to provide additional data to the F.D.A. beyond what’s required.”

Impossible Foods, she said, has tested its ingredient on rats fed “well above” the amount of soy leghemoglobin in its burger. Ms. Konrad said the company’s expert panel had determined those tests also demonstrated the ingredient was safe, and that the company would thus resubmit its petition for F.D.A. confirmation this month.

This is a novel food, and makes Canada’s approach to regulation of food safety sane, for a while.

4 sick with campy linked to raw milk served at Royal Welsh Show

In 2013, at least 50 people, mainly children, became ill with E coli O157 at the Ekka, Queensland, Australia’s version of the state fair.

It starts again on Friday, and because organizers have done little except to encourage people to wash their hands, we won’t be going.

Handwashing is never enough.

Manure from ruminants is easily aerosolized in these environments, and I’ve been to many human-animal interaction events for research, and there is shit everywhere.

Although ostensibly designed to promote understanding of food production, these agricultural celebrations rarely discuss risk – until an outbreak happens.

The motto seems to be: It’d be better for us if you don’t understand.

Now, four people have been sickened with Campylobacter linked to unpasteurised or raw cow’s milk from Penlan y Môr farm near New Quay, Ceredigion and sold at the Royal Welsh Show.

Public Health Wales says the four cases all consumed or bought the milk at Aberystwyth Farmer’s Market after June 1.

But visitors to the Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells may also have sampled or bought the milk which was available there on Wednesday, 26 July.

A table of animal-human-interaction outbreaks is available at http://www.barfblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Petting-Zoo-Outbreaks-Table-7-26-17.xlsx

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]

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.

Best practices for planning events encouraging human-animal interactions

Zoonoses and Public Health

G. Erdozain , K. KuKanich , B. Chapman  and D. Powell

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/zph.12117/abstract?deniedAccess

Educational events encouraging human–animal interaction include the risk of zoonotic disease transmission. It is estimated that 14% of all disease in the US caused by Campylobacter spp., Cryptosporidium spp., Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157, non-O157 STECs, Listeria monocytogenes, nontyphoidal Salmonella enterica and Yersinia enterocolitica were attributable to animal contact. This article reviews best practices for organizing events where human–animal interactions are encouraged, with the objective of lowering the risk of zoonotic disease transmission.

Going public(er): Alzheimer’s edition

Alzheimer’s has affected me, indirectly, in ways I still can’t understand, but am trying.

My grandfather died of Alzheimer’s in the 1980s, when I was a 20-something.

It wasn’t pretty, so stark that my grandmother took her own life rather than spend winter days going to a hospital where the man she had been with for all those years increasingly didn’t recognize her.

Glen Campbell’s death yesterday from Alzheimer’s, and Gene Wilder’s before that, rekindled lots of conflicting emotions.

In 1995, I was a cocky PhD student and about to be a father for the fourth time, when I was summoned to a meeting with, Ken Murray.

I rode my bike to a local golf club, met the former long-time president of Schneiders Meats, and established a lifelong friendship.

When Ken told me about a project he had established at the University of Waterloo in 1993, the Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Program (MAREP), after his wife’s demise from the disease, I said, I can’t understand the hell of being the primary caregiver for so long, but I know of the side-effects.

Ken had heard I might know something of science-and-society stuff, and he actually funded my faculty position at the University of Guelph for the first two years.

Sure, other weasels at Guelph tried to appropriate the money, but Ken would have none of it.

For over 20 years now, I’ve tried to promote Ken’s vision, of making the best technology available to enhance the safety of the food supply.

I’ve got lots of demons, and what I’ve learned is that it’s best to be public about them. It removes the stigma. It makes one recognize they are not alone. It’s humbling (and that is good).

In addition to being an unbelievably gifted songwriter, session player, and hit maker, Glen Campbell was – directly or not – an outstanding advocate of awareness about Alzheimer’s.

 

Michael Pollack writes in The New York Times obituary that Glen Campbell, the sweet-voiced, guitar-picking son of a sharecropper who became a recording, television and movie star in the 1960s and ’70s, waged a publicized battle with alcohol and drugs and gave his last performances while in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, died on Tuesday in Nashville. He was 81.

Tim Plumley, his publicist, said the cause was Alzheimer’s.

Mr. Campbell revealed that he had the disease in June 2011, saying it had been diagnosed six months earlier. He also announced that he was going ahead with a farewell tour later that year in support of his new album, “Ghost on the Canvas.” He and his wife, Kimberly Campbell, told People magazine that they wanted his fans to be aware of his condition if he appeared disoriented onstage.

What was envisioned as a five-week tour turned into 151 shows over 15 months. Mr. Campbell’s last performance was in Napa, Calif., on Nov. 30, 2012, and by the spring of 2014 he had moved into a long-term care and treatment center near Nashville.

Mr. Campbell released his final studio album, “Adiós,” in June. The album, which included guest appearances by Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and three of Mr. Campbell’s children, was recorded after his farewell tour.

That tour and the way he and his family dealt with the sometimes painful progress of his disease were chronicled in a 2014 documentary, “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” directed by the actor James Keach. Former President Bill Clinton, a fellow Arkansas native, appears in the film and praises Mr. Campbell for having the courage to become a public face of Alzheimer’s.

At the height of his career, Mr. Campbell was one of the biggest names in show business, his appeal based not just on his music but also on his easygoing manner and his apple-cheeked, all-American good looks. From 1969 to 1972 he had his own weekly television show, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.” He sold an estimated 45 million records and had numerous hits on both the pop and country charts. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.

Decades after Mr. Campbell recorded his biggest hits — including “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Galveston” (all written by Jimmy Webb, his frequent collaborator for nearly 40 years) and “Southern Nights” (1977), written by Allen Toussaint, which went to No. 1 on pop as well as country charts — a resurgence of interest in older country stars brought him back onto radio stations.

Like Bobbie Gentry, with whom he recorded two Top 40 duets, and his friend Roger Miller, Mr. Campbell was a hybrid stylist, a crossover artist at home in both country and pop music.

Although he never learned to read music, Mr. Campbell was at ease not just on guitar but also on banjo, mandolin and bass. He wrote in his autobiography, “Rhinestone Cowboy” (1994) — the title was taken from one of his biggest hits — that in 1963 alone his playing and singing were heard on 586 recorded songs.

He could be a cut-up in recording sessions. “With his humor and energetic talents, he kept many a record date in stitches as well as fun to do,” the electric bassist Carol Kaye, who often played alongside Mr. Campbell, said in an interview in 2011. “Even on some of the most boring, he’d stand up and sing some off-color country song — we’d almost have a baby trying not to bust a gut laughing.”

After playing on many Beach Boys sessions, Mr. Campbell became a touring member of the band in late 1964, when its leader, Brian Wilson, decided to leave the road to concentrate on writing and recording. He remained a Beach Boy into the first few months of 1965.

Mr. Campbell had his most famous movie role in 1969, in the original version of “True Grit.” He had the non-singing part of a Texas Ranger who joins forces with John Wayne and Kim Darby to hunt down the killer of Ms. Darby’s father. (Matt Damon had the role in a 2010 remake.) The next year, Mr. Campbell and the New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath played ex-Marines in “Norwood,” based on a novel by Charles Portis, the author of “True Grit.”

Mr. Campbell made his Las Vegas debut in 1970 and, a year later, performed at the White House for President Richard M. Nixon and for Queen Elizabeth II in London.

But his life in those years had a dark side. “Frankly, it is very hard to remember things from the 1970s,” he wrote in his autobiography. Though his recording and touring career was booming, he began drinking heavily and later started using cocaine. He would annoy his friends by quoting from the Bible while high. “The public had no idea how I was living,” he recalled.

In 1980, after his third divorce, he said: “Perhaps I’ve found the secret for an unhappy private life. Every three years I go and marry a girl who doesn’t love me, and then she proceeds to take all my money.” That year, he had a short, tempestuous and very public affair with the singer Tanya Tucker, who was about half his age.

He credited his fourth wife, the former Kimberly Woollen, with keeping him alive and straightening him out — although he would continue to have occasional relapses for many years. He was arrested in November 2003 in Phoenix and charged with extreme drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident. He pleaded guilty and served 10 nights in jail in 2004.

I cried with many emotions when I first watched his documentary, I’ll Be Me.

And I’ll watch it again today with humility, respect and gratitude, to people like Glen and Ken.