Food safety, Idaho style

The kids in Idaho are alright. Thanks to University of Idaho’s Josh Bevan and the rest of the IFT Intermountain section, I’m in Sun Valley, Idaho taking in the sites after talking some food safety stuff. I gave a talk Friday morning (slides here) on things we’ve seen on barfblog that some might consider emerging issues (kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, sous vide) and a bit on where mere mortals in the kitchen might get food safety information.

One of the things I talked about was illnesses from handling and/or eating raw flour – current with Canadian’s experiencing their second outbreak in a few months.

From CBC news (home of Hockey Night in Canada and topical food safety news):

A new, separate recall involves a batch of Rogers 10-kilogram all-purpose flour possibly contaminated with E.coli and sold at B.C. Costco stores.The recall was triggered by a Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) investigation after five people in B.C. all became infected with the same strain of E.coli.The B.C. Centre for Disease Control tested the Rogers flour purchased by one of the victims who fell ill after eating raw dough. It contained the E.coli strain O121.Rogers Foods says a direct link to its flour product has not yet been proven and that it’s working with the CFIA on investigating the situation.The company stresses that people can protect themselves by not eating raw flour or dough — the cooking process helps kill any lingering pathogens.”We must emphasize that flour is a raw agricultural product and must be thoroughly baked or cooked before eating,” Rogers Foods said in a letter to customers.

Also this week, Schaffner posed a question to a Facebook group of food safety nerds, ‘E. coli in flour: So always there and now we see it, or new problem?’

My guess, instep with lots of the responses, is it has been there in low levels resulting illnesses. But they looked sporadic with the long shelf life of the product and commingling.

Back in Idaho, I shared some of the materials that from a workshop on STEC in flour that Natalie Seymour and I organized. Karen Neil of CDC, Tim Jackson from Nestle and Scott Hood from General Mills spoke about challenges in flour food safety. The workshop focused on stuff like, there’s no kill step in the milling process, there’s literally tons of commingling and although it’s not intended to be eaten raw – sometimes it is (in cookie dough, cake mix).

And a risk factor in the 2016 Gold Medal-linked outbreak was kids handling raw tortilla and pizza dough in restaurants. There’s some other stuff known about flour – generic E. coli species have been found in flour in NZ. A survey conducted on wheat and flour milling in Australia showed no detectable Salmonella, 3.0 MPN/g of generic E. coli and 0.3 MPN/g of B. cereus recovered on average from 650 samples (from two mills).

And a 2007 US study found generic E. coli in 12.8% of commercial wheat flour samples examined.

We need better messages, better delivery and not just the same old stuff to get folks the risk information they need to make decisions.

 

Can consumers handle the truth (yes)? Can they handle potty-mouth (yes)? are auditors fucking robotrons when people die, from food (yes)

A subscriber from a third-party auditing company recently wrote and said I had a potty mouth.

I said get the fuck over it, nothing else seems to work, so try something different when it comes to food safety behavior.

You can go and get all hepped up on food safety culture, but it don’t translate into shit.

Night soil shit.

The kind that fertilizes all the veggies for the fancy restaurants in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and around the globe.

Gregory Bloom asks in MeatingPlace, can consumers handle the truth?

Besides the tortured writing, the answer is, duh.

For the past 25 years, all I’ve heard is we can’t adopt new technology because consumers don’t want it.

Bullshit.

Consumers don’t know what they want until they are offered it.

We sorta proved that in 2000 when we offered genetically engineered and conventional sweet corn and potatoes for sale at a farmer’s market.

The big stores wouldn’t let us in, because they were terrified to let moms and dads know that sweet corn and potatoes was grown with pesticides.

Corporate assholes.

Which allowed the anti-GE crowd to come up with some conspiracy shit that resulted in a death-to-science banner on my lab door.

Move out of your parent’s basement, get a life.

Bruce Cran of the Consumers Association of Canada told CTV News the federal government has done “an incompetent job” informing Canadians that irradiation is safe and he worries that a lack of action could lead to a deadly outbreak.

“They need to promote an understanding so Canadians can make an informed choice, and they’re not doing that for whatever reason,” Cran said. “This is not only a safe practice, it’s one that many of us would like to be able to use.”

“Our members would absolutely support it,” said Robin Horel, president of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council.

“But we haven’t pushed hard because … the companies that produce chicken and turkey are concerned about what the consumer response would be.”

It’s called leadership.

Yes, leaders get some arrows in the back, but it’s been decades, either get behind science or suffer down the road.

My cousin the asparagus farmer bills his crop as genetically-engineered free. But anyone in the know knows that asparagus has been bred using multiple techniques over the years so it is absolutely genetically modified.

I asked him once if a fungal resistant GE asparagus came along, would he plant it.

He shrugged.

I have full respect for any farmer that can make a living doing whatever, getting gullible consumers to buy whatever.

There is a long history of food fairy tales, most famously linked to Dr. Kellogg in Michigan.

Anna Madison, a spokeswoman for Health Canada, said in an email the federal government would not promote irradiation since it does not engage in promotional activities.

Bullshit.

Health Canada promotes all kinds of bad food safety advice, from handwashing to thermometer use.

Rick Holley, professor emeritus of food microbiology and food safety at University of Manitoba, says irradiation is safe and is even more important for chicken than for ground beef. Chicken causes more illness in Canada, he said.

Holley said salmonella is naturally present on a lot of chicken and the gastro-intestinal bacteria campylobactor is present on all of it, regardless of whether a bird is free-range or factory.

“Both of these organisms occasionally kill, but because they make more people ill who recover, then the emphasis is not placed on them to the same extent as E. coli O157 in hamburger,” said Holley, who suggested that irradiating chicken could cut food-related illness in Canada by 25 per cent.

(Like my The Who T-shirt?)

 

From the E. coli O121 in low-moisture foods file: flour power edition

It’s all so confusing. There’s a cluster of E. coli O121 in Canada. Sort of a big one. 24 people ill in four provinces (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador) going back to November 2016.

These illness came on the tail end of another E. coli O121 outbreak in the U.S. linked to Gold Medal brand all purpose flour.

Today, CFIA (that’s the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for those following along at home) announces a recall of Robin Hood brand all purpose flour distributed in four provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan) due to E. coli O121 contamination – linked to one illness.

In the new world of whole genome sequencing it would seem easy to say whether these clusters are linked – or totally different. And is the single illness CFIA reports part of the E. coli O121 cluster? Is it different?

My head hurts.

Earlier this year Natalie Seymour and I organized a workshop on STEC in flour. Karen Neil of CDC, Tim Jackson from Nestle and Scott Hood from General Mills spoke about challenges in flour food safety. The workshop focused on stuff like, there’s no kill step in the milling process, there’s literally tons of commingling and although it’s not intended to be eaten raw – sometimes it is (in cookie dough, cake mix).

And a risk factor in the 2016 Gold Medal-linked outbreak was kids handling raw tortilla and pizza dough in restaurants.

There’s some other stuff known about flour – generic E. coli species have been found in flour in NZ.

A survey conducted on wheat and flour milling in Australia showed no detectable Salmonella, 3.0 MPN/g of generic E. coli and 0.3 MPN/g of B. cereus recovered on average from 650 samples (from two mills).

And a US study found generic E. coli in 12.8% of commercial wheat flour samples examined.

So, yeah, flour.