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.

Jazz is music in hell: Odwalla founder finds second life in Califia almond and plant-based beverages

Geoffrey Mohan of the LA Times writes that Greg Steltenpohl, 63, heads Califia Farms, an almond and plant-based beverage company he co-founded in 2010. With about $100 million in annual sales, the company is something of a redemption for the Stanford graduate, whose first lightning strike in the beverage business, Odwalla, started as a way to fund his avant-garde jazz band, and ended with a fatal food poisoning and recall that eventually left the company in the hands of Coca-Cola.

“Odwalla got started because I didn’t really have a plan. I was focused on music and just thought, ‘Hey, I can make some juice on the side, play music and all that.’”

The band’s eclectic mixtures of unpasteurized juice were far more popular than the band’s music and, by 1993, Steltenpohl and his partners took Odwalla public.

Accidental success met accidental fall in 1996, the year Odwalla hit its peak sales of $59 million. An E. coli outbreak traced to Odwalla’s raw apple juice sickened dozens and killed a child in Colorado. Federal criminal charges, fines, lawsuit settlements and a precipitous drop in sales left the company so short of cash it wound up controlled by new investors who eventually sold the brand to Coca-Cola.

Steltenpohl tried his hand at several other businesses before getting a call from Berne Evans, the head of Sun Pacific packing, who had helped pioneer easy-peeling mandarins — trademarked Cuties.

Steltenpohl blanches at the idea that he has some knack for catching food preference waves just as they crest — with Odwalla, then with almond milk, and now with a line of almond-based cold brew coffee drinks.

“It sounds like that,” he admitted with a laugh. “But you figure I’ve been doing it for 37 years. You could say I hit the waves, but there’s a lot of paddling in there.”

“It’s not always the important thing to be the first,” Steltenpohl said. “I think it’s more important to solve a number of other problems.… The way we talk about it is: something different, something better — that’s kind of the hurdle we have to pass internally. If we can’t answer to ourselves why is it different, why is it better, how does it move the bar higher, then why are we doing it?”

Too bad you didn’t apply that to juice 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.”

48 million cases of foodborne illness a year; most are not linked to foul play

Foodborne illness happens. It sucks when it does.

It’s pretty much never intentional; not never, but rare.

In 1986, two Rajneeshee commune mem­bers were indicted for conspiring to tamper with consumer products by poi­soning food after over 750 community members in The Dalles, Oregon became ill with salmonellosis in 1982.

It sucks that twelve Alabamans ended up with what looks like foodborne illness after a holiday party this week. It’s weird that the Montgomery Advertiser coverage twice says that the cases probably weren’t as result of intentional contamination.

No foul play is suspected, and it looks like it is a case of accidental food poisoning, said Capt. Jeff Hassell, who commands the Prattville Police Department’s investigations division. Kinedyne Corporation, which operates a plant in the 1100 block of Washington Ferry Road, held its holiday lunch Friday. About an hour after eating, several employees complained of feeling sick, Hassell said.

Three employees were taken by ambulance to Prattville Baptist Hospital’s emergency room, with a fourth employee going by private vehicle, said Ernie Baggett, director of the Autauga County Emergency Management Agency. 

“We are investigating because it is an unusual situation, so many people becoming sick so quickly,” Hassell said. “Right now, we have nothing to point to an intentional act. We are looking at improperly cooked chicken as the most likely source for a food poisoning situation.”

“It was a pot luck dinner,” Baggett said. “No one became seriously ill, but a few employees wanted to go to the hospital just to get checked out.

 

Are chefs trying to kill us? (Asks the Boston Globe). Probably not. But might not be focused on public health

‘Every place has a closet behind lock and key that has a lot of that kind of stuff in it,’ The stuff – usually something fermenting, curing or some unapproved (foraged/home produced) food is back there.

According to the Boston Globe, Today’s menus are filled with foraged food, fermented food, food that bubbles, food that molds, food that looks almost exactly like another thing that should probably not be called food because it is poisonous. It’s all perfectly safe, when sourced and prepared properly, under sanitary conditions, by people who adhere to proper procedure and take rules seriously. (Note: This last does not necessarily always describe chefs.)
“You shouldn’t be fermenting and jarring everything without a HACCP plan,” says Brandon Baltzley, chef and co-owner of Falmouth’s Buffalo Jump and a forager for Poplar. “But people know how to get away with it. Every place has a closet behind lock and key that has a lot of that kind of stuff in it.” He once visited a restaurant in Ohio that had a fermentation lab in a hidden attic that was just as big as the production kitchen itself, he says; a restaurant in another country had an entire secret facility a few blocks from the restaurant. 

When he cooked at Ribelle, a Brookline restaurant that has since closed, he would sometimes bring foraged ingredients into the kitchen. Several chefs, under condition of anonymity, reported it is easy to find workarounds when it comes to foraging. One recounted bringing a haul of mushrooms to a wholesaler, who then “sold” them back to the chef with appropriate documentation for a nominal fee. Another, appreciative of the flavor of wild clams from a particular area, purchased other clams, used their tags on the wild shellfish, and served the purchased ones for staff meal. The wild clams went to the customers.

Regulations, can sometimes be burdensome on the regulated party. Especially they aren’t familiar with the consequences. States set restaurant food safety laws, based on the federal FDA food code, and most jurisdictions have a process for variances to that code; there’s already a way for businesses to opt out, via variance, if they feel overburdened by the law as long as the outcome is the same.

Stuff like wild-grown mushrooms, ramps and game carry different risks because they aren’t in a managed system or environment. Misidentify a mushroom and a customer can die. Hunting morels are big business and many of the foraged fungi end up in restaurants sold on somewhat of a black market.

One way to encourage [better risk management] is to build more collaborative relationships between chefs and inspectors, says Bridget Sweet, executive director of food safety at Johnson & Wales. “So many people hate the health department and don’t even know why,” she says. She’s heard the horror stories about people operating in secret and hoping they don’t get caught. She finds them immensely distressing. “It’s such a risk. Inspectors don’t want to shut businesses down. If they have a really good discussion, it will remove the barriers. The answer’s not an inherent no, it’s ‘How can you do this safely within the food code?’ ”

NC State University hosts a norovirus…outbreak

The following message popped into my email inbox earlier today:

Since Tuesday, Dec. 5, several students have reported experiencing gastrointestinal illness. Late yesterday, the Wake County Human Services Department confirmed the cause as norovirus.

Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea. More information about norovirus, and tips to prevent it from spreading, are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

At present, approximately 60 students have exhibited norovirus-like symptoms. Most of the affected students live in Alexander Hall, however, additional cases of ill students have been received from a handful of other on- and off-campus housing locations.

With norovirus and other gastrointestinal illnesses, the most effective way to stop the spread is to practice good handwashing and personal hygiene.

If you are exhibiting symptoms and feel ill, you should thoroughly wash your hands after any bathroom visit. If you are feeling ill, you should not prepare food for or serve food to others. It is also important to get adequate rest and good oral hydration, both when ill and when trying not to become ill.

The university is taking every precaution to contain the spread of the illness, and to assist ill students, including the following actions:

• Student Health is actively working with University Housing to contact all identified sick students who live on campus to check on their health and needs.
• Wellness kits containing liquids and easy-to-digest foods have been provided to affected students.
• Students exhibiting gastrointestinal issues have been instructed to remain in their residences throughout their illness in an effort to not spread the virus to others.
• University Housekeeping staff have increased cleaning operations in affected areas as a precaution, including cleaning restrooms, hand railings, door knobs, etc., and will continue to do so daily until the illness passes.
• University Housekeeping will provide approved cleaning supplies to affected students for their university-owned personal living spaces.
• Faculty of the students who are ill have been notified.

Any students who are presenting symptoms should remain in their rooms, and on-campus students should contact their RA. Students experiencing persistent, severe vomiting or diarrhea should go to the Student Health Center, personal health care provider, or emergency healthcare facility. Students who are not sick should go about their normal routines.

If students, faculty or staff have questions, please contact the Wolfpack Response Line at 919.512.3272.

Here are some infosheets for just this occasion.

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Food Safety Talk 140: Dr. Linda is a Friend of Mine

In this episode Don and Ben are joined by Gordon Hayburn from Trophy Foods.  Gordon talks about his experiences in food safety, focusing on his time in the food industry, and his expertise in audits.

Episode 140 can be found here and on iTunes.

Show notes below so you can follow along at home.

Kansas veterinarian says the same food safety rules that apply to humans also apply to pets

When I got fired as a full professor from Kansas State University in 2013, my department chair actually kept a straight face as he said, if I didn’t show up on campus, he would have no choice, and that “I didn’t work well with others.”

Bureaucratic BS.

They wanted my salary, didn’t like what I said to cattle folks, and started a whole on-line thingy I had proposed after getting dumped.

Best and brightest get promoted.

There were several colleagues in the college of veterinary medicine I worked quite well with.

One was Kate KuKanich, associate professor of clinical sciences in Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

We hit the road and did handwashing studies in hospitals, co-supervized vet students who did cool investigative work on petting zoos, and she brought us duck eggs.

Kate made K-State’s Thanksgiving of PR, and full kudos for going through the process.

“Thanksgiving is a time when a lot of people think that giving tidbits of the food to pets it thoughtful. A small piece of turkey breast, which is low in fat and salt, is OK for a dog or cat in moderation. But, because we love our pets, we can often overdo it and ignore food safety rules that affect both our health and the health of our pets.”

Each year around Thanksgiving, KuKanich and colleagues at Kansas State University’s Small Animal Hospital treat multiple cats and dogs that have pancreatitis — an inflammation of the pancreas. The condition often manifests in pets that have eaten fatty human foods, such as meat trimmings and bacon, rather than their normal diet. Foods high in salt can be hazardous to pets with heart disease.

I thought it was drunks that got pancreatitis.

KuKanich advises pet owners to keep pets’ meals and treats as normal as possible during the holidays in order to avoid a recipe for disaster. She also said that the same food safety rules that apply to humans also apply to pets. These include:

  • Turkey and other meats must be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit before dogs, cats and humans eat it. Raw and undercooked meats as well as their juices can contain germs that can cause serious illness in both people and animals.

“Sometimes people think that it’s OK to give a pet raw or undercooked meat because pets’ ancestors come from the wild,” KuKanich said. “Any raw meat, such as the gizzard of the turkey, can make our pets sick because they can be contaminated with bacteria. A meat thermometer is best way to know our meats are food safe and cooked to the proper temperature for everyone’s safety.”

  • Bones, such as a hambone, drumstick or rib, also can be dangerous because they can become lodged in the esophagus of dogs, requiring emergency endoscopy or surgical removal.
  • Pet owners should wash their hands in warm, sudsy water before and after feeding their pet. Pets’ food and water bowls and measuring cups used to dispense their food also should be cleaned regularly.

“Handwashing prior to cooking, eating and food storage is important to keep food and family members safe,” KuKanich said. “It also is a good idea to either avoid petting our furry friends during food prep and meals or to wash hands frequently so that we keep both the food and the pets safe.”

  • Juices from raw turkey and other meats will contaminate anything it touches in the kitchen, including counter space, utensils, other food and pet dishes.
  • Pets and people should not eat cooked and dairy-based food that has been sitting at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. Two hours is the longest food should sit at room temperature before it is refrigerated or frozen, according to a food safety specialist at Kansas State University Olathe.

Additionally, while sweets and deserts may affect our waistline, they can be hazardous to an animal.

Kate’s got the basics right.

Kansas State is fortunate to have her.

Our publications can be found on-line.