Going public, Salmonella-in-French-cheese-style: Morbier and Mont d’Or cheese behind 10 deaths in France, 2015-16

In a country where reporting foodborne illness is deemed unpatriotic an investigation by France Inter radio revealed that at least 10 people died in the Franche-Comté region in the east of France linked to two cheeses made from unpasteurized milk  in late 2015 and early 2016.

The investigation produced a document which showed that in January 2016 national health authorities had discovered an unusually high number of salmonella contaminations in France that was centred on Franche-Comté.

Five cheese making companies in the region, between them making 60 different brands, were later identified as being at the source of the contaminations that began in November 2015 and continued until April the following year.

In a way that is truly French in its description, those who died in the outbreak were old people who were physically weak or who suffered from another illness.

Jean-Yves Mano, the president of the CLCV consumer association, said he was surprised that a product recall had not been ordered of products that might have been infected with salmonella.

“We do not understand why a general alert was not issued by state officials, or at least information given on what precautions to take,” he told France Inter.

The state food agency, the Direction générale de l’alimentation (DGAL), said there were two reasons why a recall was not ordered.

The first was that it would have allegedly been very difficult to identify which exact brand of the cheeses were contaminated because there were a total of 60 that were produced in the cheese-making firms where the outbreak originated.

The second was that by the time the authorities found out where the outbreak had come from, the contaminated cheeses had already been consumed and the new batches in the cheesemakers’ premises were not infected.

“It is perhaps due to these two factors that this contamination was not in the media, even though all the data was public nothing was hidden,” said Fany Molin of the DGAL food agency.

That’s French-bureau-speak.

Go public: Further illnesses may be prevented; others learn; citizens may not come with torches demanding change; and it’s the right thing to do.

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

Mar.17

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.

Food Safety Talk 149: Free-range, Grass-fed Raised Unicorns

This episode starts with a discussion on running really long relay races and unplanned home repairs.

Don and Ben then edible cookie dough validation (or lack thereof), sour milk pancakes and backyard chicken eggs. The episode ends on a discussion of moldy, fermented rice used as a meat flavor enhancer, glitter beer and Listeria in frozen corn.

Episode 149 is available on iTunes and here.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Intel, Chipotle and Facebook: The sorry history of full-page apologies

In the summer of 1994, Intel types discovered a flaw with their Pentium computer chip, but thought the matter trivial; it was not publicly disclosed until Oct. 30, 1994, when a mathematician at Lynchburg College in Virginia, Thomas Nicely, posted a warning on the Internet.

As perceived problems and complaints rose through the weekend Andrew S. Grove, Intel’s chairman and CEO, composed an apology to be posted on an Internet bulletin board—actually a web, but because he was at home with no direct Internet access, he asked Intel scientist Richard Wirt to post the message from his home account; But because it bore Mr. Wirt’s electronic address, the note’s authenticity was challenged, which only added to the fury of the Internet attacks on Intel.

(I remember those days, and did live-post to my friends that had e-mail my 4th daughter’s 1995 home birth on a shitty Mac SE with a 20MB external hard drive for extra power.)

At 8 a.m. the following Monday inside the company’s Santa Clara, Calif. headquarters, Intel officials set to work on the crisis the way they attacked a large problems—like an engineering problem. Said Paul Otellini, senior vice-president for worldwide sales, “It was a classic Intellian approach to solving any big problem. We broke it down into smaller parts; that was comforting.”

By the end of week two, the crisis looked to be subsiding; Then on Monday, Nov. 12, 1994, the International Business Machines Corp. abruptly announced that its own researchers had determined that the Pentium flaw would lead to division errors much more frequently than Intel said. IBM said it was suspending shipments of personal computers containing the Pentium chip

Mr. Grove was stunned. The head of IBM’s PC division, Richard Thoman, had given no advance warning. A fax (remember those? Still required for certain transactions in Australia) from Thoman arrived at Intel’s HQ on Monday morning after the IBM announcement, saying he had been unable to find Grove’s number during the weekend. Mr. Grove, whose number is listed, called directory assistance twice to ask for his own number to ensure he was listed.

After the IBM announcement, the number of calls to Santa Clara overwhelmed the capacity of AT&T’s West Coast long-distance telephone switching centers, blocking calls. Intel stock fell 6.5 per cent.

As John Markoff of the N.Y. Times wrote on the front-page in Dec. 1994, the reluctance of Intel to act earlier, according to Wall Street analysts, was the result of a corporate culture accustomed to handling technical issues rather than addressing customers’ hopes and fears.

Only then, Mr. Grove said, did he begin to realize that an engineer’s approach was inappropriate for a consumer problem.

According to one op-ed writer, Intel’s initial approach to the problem—prove you are doing sophisticated calculations if you want a replacement chip—was like saying “until you get to be cardinal, any internal doubts about the meaning of life are your own problem, a debate that has been going on since before Martin Luther.”

Intel’s doctrine of infallibility was facing an old-fashioned Protestant revolt.” (John Hockenberry, Pentium and our Crisis of Faith, N.Y. Times, Dec. 28, 1994, A11; this is how things were referenced before hot links)

Why and how did Intel go wrong? The answer was rooted in Intel’s distinctive corporate culture, and suggests that Intel went wrong in much the same way as other big and unresponsive companies before it.

Intel had traditionally valued engineering over product marketing. Inward-looking and wary of competitors (from experience with the Japanese) it developed a bunker mentality, a go-for-the-juglar attitude and reputation for arrogance.

According to one former engineer, Federico Faggin, a co-inventor of Intel’s first microprocessor, “The attitude at Intel is, ‘We’re better than everyone else and what we do is right and we never make mistakes.’”

Finally, on Dec. 20, Grove apparently realized that he and his company were standing at Ground Zero for an incoming consumer relations meteor. Intel announced that it would replace the defective chips—and pay for the labor—no questions asked, for the life of the original PC.

Discussing Intel’s previous position, Grove said, “To some people, this seemed arrogant and uncaring. We apologize for that.”

So what did a consumer with a Pentium do: Teach Intel that this isn’t about a white paper. It’s about green paper—the money you paid and the performance you didn’t get. Replace that chip. After all, consumers deserve to be treated with respect, courtesy and a little common sense.

Now apply all of that Intel stuff to Chipotle.

They even took out a full-page ad to apologize, just like Intel, but people still read newspapers 20 years ago. Today, the strategy seems hopelessly out of touch for a tragically hipster company.

Chipotle is the opposite, focusing too much on consumer whims and not enough on food science, and now it’s going to get worse.

An official chronology of the Simi Valley Norovirus outbreak involving Chipotle Mexican Grill customers and employees, which has been obtained by Food Safety News, shows there were far more victims than were reported at the time.

The report shows the Simi Valley outbreak was larger than any of the other four outbreaks Chipotle has suffered since July, including the ongoing Norovirus outbreak mostly involving Boston College students, the two E. coli outbreaks and the Salmonella Newport outbreak in Minnesota in August. Together these events have sickened more than 490 people.

The County’s chronology includes detailed tracking of the complaints as they came in and as the illnesses were confirmed as Norovirus victims. From that first report through Sept. 25, 2015, the chronology comes to this conclusion: ”The total number of reportedly ill customers and employees at this Chipotle outbreak investigation is 234.”

The number of victims was being reported in other media at the time as just 98.

And, the internal document says the real number of victims of Chipotle’s Simi Valley outbreak could be higher still. “In reviewing the food logs provided by Chipotle for both 8/18/15 and 8/19/15, it is estimated at least 1500+ entrees were sold each day.”  Sandy Murray, who did the analysis for the division, wrote: “Thus, the actual number of customers and employees ill from this outbreak is likely to be substantially higher than the reported number of 234.”

In 2015, Chipotle ran print advertisements in 60 newspaper markets with an apology from Steve Ells, the burrito chain’s founder and co-chief executive.   His apology though only went to the victims of the current nine state E. coli 026 outbreak and the Boston College outbreak.

“From the beginning, all of our food safety programs have met or exceeded industry standards,“ Ells said (Pinto defense). “But recent incidents, an E. coli outbreak that sickened 52 people and a Norovirus outbreak that sickened approximately 140 people at a single Chipotle restaurant in Boston, have shown us that we need to do better, much better.”

No mention was made of the other foodborne outbreaks.

Now it’s Facebook’s turn: The full-page apology adverts in newspapers in the U.S., UK and Germany ran on Sunday (Mar. 25, 2018).

But, the polls say consumers are turning away from facebook, not by immediately terminating their accounts, but by slowly disengaging.

Fewer than half of Americans trust Facebook to obey U.S. privacy laws, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday, while a survey published by Bild am Sonntag, Germany’s largest-selling Sunday paper, found 60 percent of Germans fear that Facebook and other social networks are having a negative impact on democracy.

Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized for “a breach of trust” in advertisements placed in papers including the Observer in Britain and the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

“We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it,” said the advertisement, which appeared in plain text on a white background with a tiny Facebook logo.

The newspapers are happy for the revenue, but if only Facebook had a way to reach out to its 2 billion or so customers rather than newspapers.

Australian rockmelon growers could learn a thing or two. I can’t keep giving out this free advice forever, but the public citizen in me and my values compel me to do so.

Rebels without a clue.

Runs to the border: People are still terrified to eat at Chipotle

Amy craved Chipotle when she was pregnant.

For whatever reason, 10 years ago, while Sorenne was forming in Amy’s belly, I would have to go on Chipotle runs.

It was Manhattan, Kansas, it was easy to get there, but I hated the hypocrisy of buying Chipotle because I knew it was shit.

But when your wife is pregnant, posing has no stature.

I dutifully bought her Chipotle.

According to a new UBS report, the biggest reason people say they’re eating Chipotle less frequently is a concern about food safety.

The chain’s E. coli outbreaks — in which 55 people were infected after eating at Chipotle — occurred almost two and a half years ago.

Chipotle is struggling to attract customers who rarely or never visit the chain, with 32% saying “nothing” would make them want to visit more often.

Customers still haven’t forgotten Chipotle’s food poisoning scandal more than two years later.

Food safety concerns top the list of reasons that customers said they’re eating Chipotle less frequently, according to a UBS Evidence Lab survey of 1,500 people. In the report, released on Monday, 26% of respondents cited a concern about food safety as the main reason they were eating at the chain less.

In late 2015 and early 2016, 55 people were infected in two E. coli outbreaks after eating at Chipotle. While the company made major changes to its food safety policies and practices, there have been a number of food poisoning scares over the last few years.

As a result, Chipotle’s food safety reputation is still far worse than any other fast-food chain. For comparison, roughly 15% of respondents say that food safety concerns are the main reason they are eating at McDonald’s less frequently.

Customers who rarely or never eat at Chipotle are the most likely to hold food safety concerns against the chain, with a whopping 60% of people who don’t visit the chain indicating a “significantly negative impact or a complete loss of trust in the brand.”

In March, former Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol took over as Chipotle’s top executive. At Taco Bell, Niccol turned around the chain with creative ad campaigns and an emphasis on the chain’s value proposition, including its dollar menu.

Runs to the border.

I don’t see gender: ‘Sitting on the fence: Biology, feminism and gender-bending environments’

Somehow, I was quoted in a Jan. 2000 publication of the Women s Studies International Forum, and received notification today.

“The story of endocrine disrupters is no different. Yet science has long been a slippery ally for environmental campaigners: on the one hand, it is the products of science and technology that seem to present problems through pollution, while on the other, campaigners must turn to science in order to demonstrate the problems (Powell and Leiss, 1997; Yearley, 1991).”

I didn’t write that, Leiss did, although I probably edited the sentence to make it coherent.

And some folks wonder why I didn’t want anything to do with a second edition.

At the time, this is what I sent Bill (without the pretty pic, upper right).

 

Food Safety Talk 147: Only Robots In The Kitchen

Don and Ben start the episode talking about some notable weather, seeing each other in Atlanta, and food safety stories from the recently retired ranks. The conversation moves to listener feedback about contaminated supplements and spices, Japanese designers, thawing and using time as a public health control. The show ends with a discussion on sampling fresh herbs and Russian trolls’ attempt to cause confusion about a turkey-related non-outbreak.

Episode 146 is available on iTunes and here.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

New food safety tools and messages deserve investigation

Nine years ago I had my most memorable bout with foodborne illness. I had Campylobacter and it was terrible. It all started with a trip to visit Doug in Kansas.
I gave a somewhat incoherent talk to an undergraduate food microbiology class while sweating; slept most of my visit away; went to a football game; left the football game at halftime; spent two nights rushing to the bathroom every hour to evacuate my intestines.
I wanted to blame Doug.
He brings out the best in people.
After a feverish trip home (diarrhea on a plane sucks) and crashing for the remainder of the weekend I went to my doctor to get things checked out. I described my symptoms, had a rectal exam (fun) and was given the materials needed for a stool sample. 
The idea of stool sample harvesting was way more fun than the actual act.
It’s amazing any foodborne illnesses are confirmed with stool samples because the process is a bit nuts. It took some thinking to figure out how to catch the sample without contaminating it with water or urine. The final decision was to use the bucket from our cleaned and sanitized salad spinner – which has since been retired – and place it in the toilet bowl.
I took the poop harvest and filled three vials to fill (one for C. difficile, one for parasites and another for other pathogens), and a bonus margarine-like tub for “other things.” The vials were easy, they came with their own spoons. After ten swipes across the base of the former salad spinner I was able to messily get the rest of the sample collected in the tub. Then came the clean-up.  This whole episode took me about 45 minutes.
I proudly returned to the doctor’s office with samples in hand. I asked her what percentage of stool sample kits come back filled with poop. She said about 10%.
That’s the problem with clinical confirmation of foodborne illness pathogens.
Patrick Quade and the iwaspoisoned.com group is trying to add to the toolbox of public health foodborne illness investigations, because not a lot of samples make it to public health so cases can be confirmed.
According to the New York Times, this is the era of internet-assisted consumer revenge, and as scorned customers in industries from dentistry to dog-walking have used digital platforms to broadcast their displeasure, the balance of power has tipped considerably in the buyer’s favor. This is especially true of IWasPoisoned, which has collected about 89,000 reports since it opened in 2009. 
Consumers use the site to decide which restaurants to avoid, and public health departments and food industry groups routinely monitor its submissions, hoping to identify outbreaks before they spread. The site has even begun to tilt stocks, as traders on Wall Street see the value of knowing which national restaurant chain might soon have a food-safety crisis on its hands.
Not everyone is happy about the added transparency. Restaurant executives have criticized IWasPoisoned for allowing anonymous and unverified submissions, which they say leads to false reports and irresponsible fear-mongering. Some public health officials have objected on the grounds that food poisoning victims can’t be trusted to correctly identify what made them sick.
“It’s not helping food safety,” said Martin Wiedmann, a professor of food safety at Cornell University. “If you want to trace food-borne illness, it needs to be done by public health departments, and it needs to include food history.”
I dunno. Maybe it will help as a supplemental data set. There are folks in local and state health departments subscribing to alerts that can lead to earlier and more focused investigations.
The end of my story is that I was diagnosed with campylobacteriosis. I became a statistic. I was administered a food history questionnaire. No answers on a source ever came back. New tools to crowdsource public health information can act as a an early warning system for outbreak and illness investigators.

Food safety: Keep the ego in check

The gap between food safety attitudes and behaviour is well acknowledged. Bridging this gap is critical in controlling foodborne illnesses.

Understanding the basis for behavioural outliers in food safety practices can be vital for persuading and transforming future unfavourable food safety behaviour(s). However, there appears to be limited insights available on this subject. This study investigates the extent to which Khebab vendors relate with the food safety attitude-behaviour gap hypothesis and whether this gap is stratified by education and training exposure. Employing interviews and non-participant observation, data was collected from 50 vendors in the Cape Coast Metropolis in Ghana.

The results indicate a significant gap between food safety attitude and behaviour, irrespective of educational status and training. It was also found that home-based food safety socialisation, customer dissatisfaction and associated consequences and egoistic tendencies accounted for outliers.

There is information in the tails: Outliers in the food safety attitude-behaviour gap

Food Control, 29 December 2017

Susana Moreaux, Charles Adongo, Ishmael Mensah, Francis Amuquandoh

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodcont.2017.12.024

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713517306035

‘Something will always be somebody’s last meal’ Does it have to be today?

My favorite food safety fairytale is along the lines of, we’ve always produced food this way and no one has ever gotten sick.

Because bugs don’t change, food don’t change, people don’t change.

Raw oysters, the renowned aphrodhsiac, is especially prone to fairytale hyperbole.

Delayna Earley of the Island Packet in South Carolina, writes, who doesn’t love a good oyster roast?

“I’ve been doing this all my life and we’ve never had a case of anyone dying from eating an oyster,” Larry Toomer, owner of the Bluffton Oyster Co., said. “We know where our oysters came from because we harvest them, refrigerate them ourselves and then cook them shortly after.”

Toomer says that there is always a risk when consuming any raw food, but the oysters that are harvested off the coast of the Low country typically don’t have bacteria due cleansing nature of the tidal waters they grow in.

“Something will always be somebody’s last meal,” Toomer says. “If you’re immune system is not up to snuff you shouldn’t eat anything raw, whether that is an oyster, or burger or any other type of meat, but something is going to set you off if you’re already sick. But other than that, we shouldn’t worry too much.”

Audits and inspections are never enough: French inspectors missed Salmonella at baby milk plant

French food safety inspectors failed to detect salmonella contamination at a plant belonging to dairy giant Lactalis, three months before the company carried out a major recall of baby milk, a report said Wednesday.

Lactalis, one of the world’s largest producers of dairy products, discovered the bacteria at its factory in Craon, northwest France, during tests in August and November.

It did not however report the find to the authorities.

Officials from the food safety department carried out a routine inspection of the site in September and gave it a clean bill of health, the Canard Enchaine investigative weekly reported.

It was only three months later, after around 30 infants being fed Lactalis powdered milk fell sick, that the health ministry sounded the alarm.

Officials from the national anti-fraud bureau swooped on the site on December 2 and found the assembly line where liquid milk is transformed into formula to be contaminated.

Lactalis issued two major recalls covering all production from the site from February 15, blaming the contamination on renovation work.

The plant has been at a standstill since December 8.

Lactalis is under investigation over the affair.

It could face charges of causing involuntary injuries and endangering the lives of others.

Market food safety at retail so consumers can choose.

Audits and inspections are never enough: A critique to enhance food safety

30.aug.12

Food Control

D.A. Powell, S. Erdozain, C. Dodd, R. Costa, K. Morley, B.J. Chapman

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713512004409?v=s5

Internal and external food safety audits are conducted to assess the safety and quality of food including on-farm production, manufacturing practices, sanitation, and hygiene. Some auditors are direct stakeholders that are employed by food establishments to conduct internal audits, while other auditors may represent the interests of a second-party purchaser or a third-party auditing agency. Some buyers conduct their own audits or additional testing, while some buyers trust the results of third-party audits or inspections. Third-party auditors, however, use various food safety audit standards and most do not have a vested interest in the products being sold. Audits are conducted under a proprietary standard, while food safety inspections are generally conducted within a legal framework. There have been many foodborne illness outbreaks linked to food processors that have passed third-party audits and inspections, raising questions about the utility of both. Supporters argue third-party audits are a way to ensure food safety in an era of dwindling economic resources. Critics contend that while external audits and inspections can be a valuable tool to help ensure safe food, such activities represent only a snapshot in time. This paper identifies limitations of food safety inspections and audits and provides recommendations for strengthening the system, based on developing a strong food safety culture, including risk-based verification steps, throughout the food safety system.