Just trust us: How not to build consumer confidence in rockmelons

Maybe rockmelon growers and Woolworth’s think Australian consumers are just too daft to understand things like Listeria and rockmelon.

Listeria (and Salmonella) in cantaloupe has happened before.

(A table of rockmelon-related outbreaks is available here.)

Here are some basic questions:

  • was the farm prone to flooding and near any livestock operations;
  • what soil amendments, like manure, were used;
  • after harvest were the rockmelons placed in a dump tank;
  • was the water in the dump tank regularly monitored for chlorine levels;
  • did a proper handwashing program exist at the packing shed;
  • were conveyor belts cleaned and tested;
  • did condensation form on the ceiling of the packing shed;
  • were transportation vehicles properly cooled and monitored;
  • was the Listeria in whole cantaloupe or pre-cut; and,
  • was the rockmelon stored at proper temperatures at retail?

I’m just spit-balling here, but these are basic questions that need to be answered before any dreams of regaining consumer confidence can be entertained.

Good on Coles.

Rockmelons are, according to Dominica Sanda of AAP, starting to reappear on some Australian supermarket shelves, nearly a month after the fruit was linked to a deadly listeria outbreak.

Woolworths stores in Queensland and Western Australia have been restocking the melon sourced from local farms, the company said Wednesday, but shoppers in other states will have to wait a little longer.

A spokeswoman said the supermarket has taken a “careful approach” with restocking the fruit and those being sold were from suppliers not affected by the recent outbreak.

Coles, however, is holding off on selling rockmelons as it continues to work with producers to meet its new increased standards.

“We will recommence supply from growers around Australia once this process is complete,” a spokesman told AAP.

The Australian Melon Association has welcomed the fruit’s partial comeback, which comes just in time for the melon season in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia.

“Growers in these regions want to reassure consumers that they have been reviewing their processing practices to ensure that the rockmelons are safe to eat,” industry development manager Dianne Fullelove said in a statement on Wednesday. “This is a huge vote of confidence in our industry and the efforts we are making to ensure that Australian rockmelons meet customers’ expectations – both here in Australia and internationally.”

Washed rind cheeses from France recalled in Australia

The NSW Food Authority advises Washed Rind Pty Ltd has recalled a variety of cheeses made in France from IGA and Supa IGA in NSW, independent retailers in QLD and ACT, Foodworks and independent retailers in VIC, Foodlands IGA and independent retailers in SA and IGA, Supa IGA and independent retailers in WA due to potential Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

Product details:

Saint Simeon 200g, Plastic container, Best before 08-04-201

Brie de Nangis 1kg, Wrapped in cheesepaper/plastic and set in ½ wooden box, Best before 08-04-2018

Le Vignelait Brillat Savarin 500g, Plastic container, Best before 8-04-2018

Coulommiers Truffe 800g, Wrapped in cheesepaper/plastic and set in ½ wooden box, Best before 08-04-2018 and 22-04-2018

Le Coulommiers 500g, Wrapped in cheesepaper/plastic and set in ½ wooden box, Best before 08-04-2018 and 22-04-2018

Brie de Brie Pasteurise 2.8kg, Wrapped in cheesepaper/plastic and set in ½ wooden box, Best before 08-04-2018 and 22-04-2018

6 dead, 13 sick: Where’s the details on Listeria-in-rockmelon?

As the sixth listeriosis death in Australia linked to rockmelon was reported on Tuesday, the silence from cantaloupe growers, packers, retailers and regulators has been deafening.

Listeria in cantaloupe has happened before.

(A table of rockmelon-related outbreaks is available here.)

Here are some basic questions:

  • was the farm prone to flooding and near any livestock operations;
  • what soil amendments, like manure, were used;
  • after harvest were the rockmelons placed in a dump tank;
  • was the water in the dump tank regularly monitored for chlorine levels;
  • did a proper handwashing program exist at the packing shed;
  • were conveyor belts cleaned and tested;
  • did condensation form on the ceiling of the packing shed;
  • were transportation vehicles properly cooled and monitored;
  • was the Listeria in whole cantaloupe or pre-cut; and,
  • was the rockmelon stored at proper temperatures at retail?

I’m just spit-balling here, but these are basic questions that need to be answered before any dreams of regaining consumer confidence can be entertained.

Fifth person dies in Australia’s rockmelon listeria outbreak

An elderly man has died and a woman has miscarried as a result of the nationwide listeria outbreak, which has been linked to contaminated rockmelon.

Amy McNeilage of The Guardian reports the Victorian man in his 80s was the fifth person to die as a result of the outbreak.

The source of the outbreak has been traced to Rombola Family Farms in the Riverina region of NSW, according to authorities.

There have been at least 17 confirmed cases of listeria linked to the contaminated rockmelon, including two deaths in NSW and three in Victoria.

Victoria’s deputy chief health officer, Dr Brett Sutton, said all people affected so far ate the rockmelon before the national recall on 28 February. The latest cases have been linked to the outbreak through microbiological testing.

A miscarriage in Victoria was also linked to the outbreak, and a total 19 people – including those who died – had been affected across the country.

Identifying farm does nothing: What are normal practices on rockmelon farms to ensure microbial food safety confidence?

ABC news reports the rockmelon farm at the centre of the deadly listeria outbreak has been revealed as Rombola Family Farms, authorities have confirmed.

The NSW Food Authority said it was working closely with the farm, located in the NSW Riverina, to determine the exact cause of the outbreak.

Four people died and there have been 17 confirmed cases of listeriosis nationally, linked to the contaminated rockmelons.

That sucks, but the industry has been silent about steps it takes to minimize bugs like Listeria.

It’s not like it hasn’t happened before.

Salmonella, Listeria, people dead, the outbreaks are relatively common in a way they shouldn’t be.

A spokeswoman for the NSW Food Authority said, pending the results of its investigation into the incident, it may implement additional regulation to the rockmelon industry to ensure compliance with food safety.

If the industry relies on government to set minimal standards, it’s going down the road of the Pinto defense: Meets all government standards, still kills people.

Rockmelon growers are the ones who are going to lose – bureaucrats will still have their salaries and supers – and rockmelon growers need to step up.

Only as good as your worst supplier: Rockmelon growers in Australia suffering through outbreak (so are the sick and the families of the 4 dead)

I was wrong.

When I said Australia is about 20 years behind North America in micro food safety terms, I really meant 40, because that’s when the Brisbane-raised Bee Gees were on the charts with Saturday Night Fever.

When it comes to public disclosure and on-farm food safety of fresh produce, Australia is only 20 years behind North America.

It was 1998 when I and many in my lab started working on this problem.

What I soon realized is that government doesn’t give a shit. As sales of an implicated commodity collapse because of a real or imagined outbreak of foodborne illness, the bureaucrats keep their jobs.

Farms go bankrupt.

With 4 dead and 17 sick from Listeria in rockmelon (cantaloupe), this notion has occurred to at least one Western Australian melon grower who is rightly pissed about the lack of information from government, growers, and anyone else.

Dane Capogreco, one of the directors of Capogreco Farms in Western Australia says the incident is an isolated case of “negligence” and the whole of the country’s melon industry should not be judged by the actions of one grower.

“The vast majority of growers are doing the right thing. One grower has done the wrong thing and the rest of us are paying the price.”

“It’s very concerning that the grower responsible (from the New South Wales Riverina region) hasn’t come forward to take action,” Mr Capogreco said. “He knew that he had it, and has destroyed the industry. I don’t believe it’s spreadable but it probably happened through the way he handled or washed the fruit post-harvest”

“It (previously) was very good – Australia had a good name. We have a clean, green product. We can’t compete on price alone, but we sell on trust because of our name. Now one guy has set us back a long way.”

He added that his company’s test results are on their website.

That’s a good claim, and something I’ve endorsed for 20 years, but a visit to the website found no such data available, just an eternal circle click.

Something about throwing stones from glass houses.

And again, the Colorado farm in the 2011 Listeria in cantaloupe that killed 33 and sickened at least 140 people in 26 states received a score of 96% in a third-party audit completed by Primus Labs only six days prior to the first reported illness.

Growers, take microbial food safety into your own hands (literally) and be able to prove your product is safe.

Retailers, market microbial food safety at retail.

Then consumers can choose.

(Me and the ex saw the Dead perform these two songs, pretty much exactly as shown, north of Toronto in 1987 with a six-week old kid, who will turn 31 later this year. I still get goosebumps from their rendition of Buddy Holly’s Not Fade Away)

Rowdy Irish mums accused of scamming Brisbane restaurants

Police suspect there are likely to be many more victims of a group of marauding mums that have reportedly gone on a scamming spree fraudulently receiving free meals, drinks and even cigarettes from restaurant and bar owners desperate to get rid of them.

The “boisterous” posse, with kids in tow, reportedly “trash” restaurants and cafes as part of the ploy to get staff, at the end of their tethers, to let them off the bill.

Benedict Brook of The Courier Mail reports in one case, they have also been accused of placing glass in a meal and then demanding a refund.

It’s thought at least six businesses in Brisbane’s CBD and nearby suburbs of Spring Hill and Fortitude Valley have been targeted by the gang, most of who are said to have an Irish accent, over the last week.

The apparent scam is just one of many that plague hospitality businesses that have to balance the needs of genuine customers against scammers wanting something for nothing.

While in Brisbane the ploy involved glass, in Adelaide hairs are often placed in food by dodgy punters. In Melbourne food allergies are part of cafe con jobs.

In an angry Facebook post on Monday, Marie Yokoyama from the Birds Nest Japanese restaurant in Fortitude Valley explained how the women had set about to get a free feed.

“They are a group of about seven — four children and three ladies — and they are unbelievably rude. They came in and totally destroyed the restaurant.

“Halfway through the meal one lady started screaming that there was glass in her meal and that her mouth was bleeding. I believed her and then asked to see the glass.

“Upon inspection I knew that this had not come from our restaurant but they were relentless.”

The restaurateur said they didn’t have any thick glass of the type produced but this didn’t placate the customers.

“I was so scared and terrified of them that I made their meals and drinks free — around $180 (in) value.”

The post said the group demanded further drinks, for free, and left their excitable children unattended while they smoked outside.

news.com.au reports today that the group of mums accused of scamming up-market restaurants and stealing from supermarkets may have also trashed four brand-new apartments in Brisbane.

4 dead, 13 sick from Listeria-in-cantaloupes: The public conversation is lame

I’ve always believed in don’t complain, create.

When I didn’t like the university newspaper I was editor of, I created my own (along with others).

When I didn’t like my higher education, I created my own path to a PhD.

I created my own professoring job (with lots of help from others) and have sorta done my own thing.

So while I’m somewhat beaten with the broken ribs, I still have some spirit.

With Listeria-in-cantaloupe spreading across Australia, I got excited and wrote an op-ed on Monday before lunch.

Amy edited, just like the old days, and I sent it off to the Sydney Morning Herald.

They said they were interested and then … nothing.

Today, with news of a fourth death and more illnesses, I asked again if they were interested.

Nothing.

That’s cool, I have a nostalgia for print and the smell of ink, and I have no doubt why print is vanishing.

That’s one reason why we made our own publishing outlet, barfblog.com, in 2005 because, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one” (A. J. Liebling).

Here’s the op-ed. And yes, PR flunkies should be paying me for this advice.

On Sept. 9, 2011, reports first surfaced of an outbreak of Listeria linked to cantaloupe – known as rock melons in Australia — grown in Colorado. Already two were dead and seven others sick.

By the end of the outbreak, 33 people were killed and at least 140 sickened.

On Aug. 17, 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced an outbreak of Salmonella linked to cantaloupe that ultimately killed three people and sickened 270 in 26 states.

In Australia, a fourth death has now been linked to the Listeria-in-rockmelon outbreak, and the number of sick people has risen to 13.

Already, an Australian rockmelon grower is saying “misinformation” about the listeria outbreak will have a negative impact on growers.

Rather than misinformation, there is a lack of information required to regain consumer confidence and trust.

Sadly, the number of dead and sick will probably grow, because Listeria has an incubation period of up to six weeks. The melon you ate five weeks ago could make you sick with listeriosis tomorrow.

This is not misinformation, it’s biology.

Australian media reports that the Listeria contamination is on the rockmelon surface but I have yet to see any verification of that statement. Under a microscope the exterior of a rockmelon looks like a lunar surface of hills and craters, a soft porous skin which microbes can easily cross.

Regardless of how careful a consumer is while cutting rockmelon, bacteria like Listeria, on the outside or inside, are going to be in the final product.

This means everything has to be done to reduce the risk of contamination beginning on the farm.

On a trip to the local Woolies this morning, I found no rockmelon, however some was available in fresh-cut mixed fruit packages. Shouldn’t those also have been pulled? I asked a stocker where the rockmelons were and he said there were none because of the recall. There was no information posted in the shelf-space that previously held rockmelon.

Us mere mortals, those who like rockmelon, have no information on the size of the farm involved in the outbreak, how often water was tested for dangerous bugs, what kind of soil amendments like manure may have been used, whether the melons went into a dump tank of water after harvest to clean them up, whether that water contained chlorine or some other anti-microbial and how often that water was tested, whether there was a rigorous employee handwashing program, whether the crates the melons were packed in were clean, whether melons were  transported at a cool temperature (won’t help with Listeria, it grows at 4 C), and so on.

These are the basic elements of any on-farm food safety program, which my laboratory started developing over 20 years ago for fresh produce in Canada.

These are the questions that need to be answered by any supplier of rockmelon before I would buy again.

The 2011 and 2012 U.S. outbreaks were the result of familiar factors to food safety types: seemingly minor issues synergistically combined to create ideal conditions for Listeria or Salmonella to contaminate, grow and spread on the cantaloupe. There was no overriding factor, and there is no magic solution, other than constant awareness and diligence to the microorganisms that surround us.

Eric Jensen, the fourth-generation produce grower at the centre of the 2011 Listeria-in-cantaloupe outbreak told a reporter once the outbreak was “something Mother Nature did. We didn’t have anything to do with it.”

I’ve yet to see divine intervention as a cause of foodborne illness. Instead, illnesses and outbreaks are frighteningly consistent in their underlying causes: a culmination of a small series of mistakes that, over time, results in illness and death. After-the-fact investigations usually conclude, why didn’t this happen earlier, with all the mistakes going on?

So while retailers ask themselves, why did we rely on such lousy food safety assurances, it would bolster consumer confidence if there was any public indication that Australian rockmelon growers had learned anything from past outbreaks, at home and abroad.

(A table of rockmelon-related outbreaks is availabe at http://barfblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Cantaloupe-Related-Outbreaks-8-12.xlsx. In Oct. 2006, 36 Australians were sickened with Salmonella in rockmelon).

Tying a brand or commodity – rockmelon, lettuce, tomatoes, meat —  to the lowest common denominator of government inspections is a recipe for failure. The Pinto automobile also met government standards but that didn’t help much in the court of public opinion.

The best growers, processors and retailers will far exceed minimal government standards, will proactively test to verify their food safety systems are working, will transparently publicize those results and will brag about their excellent food safety by marketing at retail so consumers can actually choose safe food.

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety at Kansas State University who publishes the food safety blog, barfblog.com from his home in Brisbane.

0478222221

dpowell29@gmail.com

 

Not just rockmelon: Australia still has an egg problem

Sarina Locke of ABC News reports that raw and runny eggs are the strongest link to soaring salmonella food poisoning cases in Western Australia, compared to NSW, where the number has fallen.

In 2017 salmonella cases in WA were more than double the five-year average, according to the latest WA Health Department’s OzFoodNet report.

Eggs emerged as the key culprit for several salmonella cases in 2017:

  • a sloppy egg casserole at a child care centre, affecting 24 children and staff 
  • home prepared chocolate mousse with raw eggs made seven guests sick
  • a cafe serving aioli and mayonnaise made with raw eggs

To be safe from salmonella, Better Health Victoria, said eggs needed to be cooked until they are hot all the way through.

As meaningful as the Brits’ piping hot recommendation. Use a thermometer, especially for a casserole. Use pasteurized eggs if you’re going to serve the dish raw.

The Western Australian Department of Health’s OzFoodNet 2017 report has conducted an investigation on a cluster of salmonella typhimurium found between January 2015 and June 2017.

“Egg dishes have been the implicated source food in 17 of 18 point source outbreaks,” the OzFoodNet report stated.

“They included raw egg desserts, fried/poached eggs and, in 13 of these outbreaks, a specific egg producer was identified, that supplied the eggs for the implicated dishes.”