From the duh files: ‘People are being duped’ at Canadian farmers markets

Some farmers market vendors push bogus homegrown stories to consumers looking for fresh local fruits and veggies — and Marketplace has the hidden camera footage to prove it.

The Marketplace team went undercover at 11 bustling markets across Ontario this summer to ask vendors where their produce comes from and then tested the veracity of those claims using surveillance and other investigative techniques.

The results suggest many consumers could be paying premium prices for produce with fake backstories about where it was grown.

At four of the markets, the investigation exposed five different vendors who claimed to be selling fresh produce they had grown themselves but who were actually cashing in by reselling wholesale goods purchased elsewhere.

At a fifth market, the team discovered a vendor passing off Mexican produce as Ontario-grown.

Most of the markets Marketplace visited had vendors known as resellers, who sell produce they didn’t grow. They purchase wholesale fruits and vegetables from places such as the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto — Canada’s largest wholesale market — and take it to farmers markets to sell for a profit.

When asked directly, many resellers were upfront about the fact they didn’t grow the produce, but others were not.

Lauren Nurse, who farms 6 ½ acres in Stirling, Ont., relies on farmers markets as a source of income. She says this kind of behaviour undermines the industry.

“People are being duped,” she says. “There’s no difference between food that you buy at the grocery store and food at the farmers market if it all comes from the food terminal.”

At the Peterborough Farmers’ Market, one of the largest and longest running in Ontario, Marketplace identified two resellers making misleading claims about their products.

The largest of these vendors, Kent Farms, operates two different stalls at the market. One is run by James Kent, and the other by Brent Kent.

They say they’re third generation farmers and have properties northeast of Toronto in Newcastle, Orono and Lindsay.

They told undercover Marketplace journalists that most of the produce they were selling was grown on their family farms, or was from neighbouring properties.

Marketplace started digging after noticing the cucumbers Brent Kent claimed to have grown were labelled with stickers from a large multinational corporation that grows greenhouse vegetables 500 kilometres away in Kingsville, Ont., located south of Windsor on the northwestern shore of Lake Erie.

To determine where the Kents were getting the rest of their produce, Marketplace followed a Kent Farms truck the day before the Peterborough market.

Long before dawn, the truck drove 100 kilometres from James Kent’s property in Newcastle to the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto. There, the journalists witnessed James Kent and his employees loading their truck with more than 50 boxes of produce including peppers, zucchinis, strawberries and radishes.

At market the next day, James and Brent Kent were seen unloading boxes that looked to be the same as those from the terminal. Staff at Brent Kent’s stall peeled stickers off peppers and James Kent transferred vegetables from wholesale boxes to farm bushels.

When undercover Marketplace journalists asked about the zucchinis, James Kent said: “They’re mine.” He also claimed the radishes were from his neighbour “across the field.”

“He buys all my strawberries,” he said. “The last thing I can do is say no to him when he sells me some radishes.”

Brent Kent said he grew the peppers that Marketplace filmed having their stickers removed earlier that day.

‘Believe in transparency’

Both James and Brent Kent declined to be interviewed.

In an emailed statement, James Kent said they “believe in transparency” and are committed to their customers. He said he grows some of what he sells and purchases some Ontario produce at the food terminal because he believes it’s a “benefit to consumers to provide products from other regions of Ontario.”

Marketplace found four more examples of vendors at markets in Burlington, Gravenhurst, Orillia and Toronto who weren’t clear or upfront about what they were selling.

A vendor at the Burlington Mall Farmers’ Market southwest of Toronto told undercover Marketplace journalists that the tomatoes he was selling were from his farm, which he said is called Koornneef. But Koornneef Produce is actually a large wholesaler that only sells produce at the Ontario Food Terminal.

1 sick: Smoked lake trout recalled in Canada due to potential presence of C. botulinum

I was food shopping at Coles, one-half of the supermarket duopoly in Australia, and an announcement came over through the normal background music of 1980s punk – I’m sure The Clash aspired to have London Calling played as muzak in a grocery store full of old people – that smoked (farmed) trout was being introduced.

Trout is the only aquaculture species in Ontario (that’s in Canada), so I knew my friend Steve would be pleased.

Except when the trout carries botulism because of lousy processing.

Yummy Market Inc. is recalling Yummy Market brand Smoked Lake Trout w/Pepper with Cracked Black Pepper from the marketplace because it may permit the growth of Clostridium botulinum. Consumers should not consume the recalled product described below.

The following product has been sold from Yummy Market – 1390 Major Mackenize Drive W, Maple, ON

If you think you became sick from consuming a recalled product, call your doctor.

Food contaminated with Clostridium botulinum toxin may not look or smell spoiled but can still make you sick.

This recall was triggered by a consumer complaint. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. If other high-risk products are recalled, the CFIA will notify the public through updated Food Recall Warnings.

The CFIA is verifying that industry is removing recalled product from the marketplace.

There has been one reported illness that may be associated with the consumption of this product.

Tex-Mex theft: $1.2M in stolen fajitas prompts employee’s arrest at Texas juvie center

This ranks up there with the great maple syrup theft in Canada a couple of years ago.

Josh Hafner of USA Today reports a Texas juvenile center employee confessed to stealing shipments of fajitas over nine years, a district attorney said, a theft totaling $1.2 million.

The Tex-Mex mystery unfolded on Aug. 7 when an 800-pound delivery of fajitas arrived at the Cameron County Juvenile Justice Department in San Benito, The Brownsville Herald reported, about 10 miles north of the Mexico border.

There was only one problem, a kitchen staffer told the delivery driver: The department didn’t serve fajitas. That’s when the driver said he had been delivering fajitas to the center for nearly a decade, District Attorney Luis V. Saenz said.

“If it wasn’t so serious, you’d think it was a Saturday Night Live skit,” Saenz told the Herald. “But this is the real thing.”

The kitchen staffer told her supervisor about the call, and the missing piece fell into place: Gilberto Escamilla, a department employee, had taken that day off. When confronted at work the next day, he confessed to stealing fajitas for the past nine years, Saenz told the newspaper.

Officers later searching his home found fajitas in the refrigerator. Escamilla made bail following his firing and arrest, but a trail of invoices and vouchers led investigators to the shockingly spicy conclusion: Escamilla’s fajitas fraud totaled $1,251,578, per the Herald.

“He would literally, on the day he ordered them, deliver them to customers he had already lined up,” Saenz said.

Organic BS: Hucksters make a buck, plead guilty to fraud in Canada

Chapman and I toured southern Ontario tomato farms and processors 16 years ago, and shot youtube video, but youtube didn’t exist, so we didn’t know what to do with the video.

Here it is.

Trevor Wilhelm of the Windsor Star reports that bankrupt Maidstone tomato processing company received a controversial $3- million provincial grant is expected to plead guilty next month to purposely mislabelling products as organic.

An order signed by a Toronto judge states that William (Bill) Thomas, owner of Thomas Canning, has agreed to plead guilty on behalf of the company and pay a $40,000 fine. In exchange, several other charges against the company and Thomas himself will be withdrawn.

The judge’s order states the guilty plea must be entered no later than Nov. 23. Thomas’s next scheduled court appearance in Windsor is Nov. 6.

The guilty plea and $40,000 fine is part of a joint submission from prosecution and defence lawyers. But the judge’s order states the court is not bound by that submission.

According to documents previously filed in Ontario court by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Thomas and his company are accused of 11 offences in contravention of the Food and Drug Act, the Consumer Packaging Act and the Canada Agricultural Products Act.

Thomas Canning and its owner are accused of labelling regular canned tomato products as organic.

The company and Thomas were also charged with falsifying the country of origin on their products between September 2013 and July 2015, passing off American tomato products as Canadian with labels that read “Product of Canada.”

Thomas was also charged personally with lying to a federal food inspector on Jan. 8, 2015, about canned tomato paste sold under the brand Tree of Life.

The company’s website, which is no longer accessible, previously stated that Thomas Canning charged a 20 per cent premium for organic products.

Thomas Canning received a $3-million grant from the province in 2014 to build a new fruit and vegetable processing facility. The plant was never built.

Farmers planted additional crops, signing contracts with Thomas Canning to supply tomatoes to the new plant. Those additional tomatoes rotted in the field.

Before the company went into receivership earlier this year, nine farmers were suing Thomas Canning for $2.85 million for reneging on contracts to grow tomatoes in 2016.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has said it’s fine with the way Thomas Canning used the money. The ministry said the money was used to create and retain jobs, rebrand its Utopia products and open up markets in Nigeria and China.

After receiving the $3 million, Thomas Canning went bankrupt. That process is still winding its way through court.

‘Pathetic’ £450,000 fine because of crypto in UK water supply

Ed Walker of Blog Preston writes the reason why Prestonians couldn’t drink their water without boiling it for a month has finally been revealed.

United Utilities has been fined after a cryptosporidium outbreak at its Franklaw treatment plants to the north of Preston,

The Drinking Water Inspectorate found the problems came from the Franklaw works using a different reservoir to source water

Rainwater running off agricultural land was able to access an underground water tank at Barnacre.

A ‘planned change in operations’ allowed the entry of the contaminated water into the treatment process.

Traces of cryptosporidium were detected in the water at Franklaw triggering a shut off of supplies for 700,000 people across Lancashire.

Supplies for many were knocked out for a month during the summer of 2015 as engineers worked to fix the issue.

At Preston Crown Court the hearing fined United Utilities £300,000 and additional costs of £150,000 were also agreed. The firm had pleaded guilty to supplying water unfit for human consumption.

United Utilities was criticised for not acting fast enough to issue the boil water warning to households and businesses.

It has since paid out £20million in compensation to customers through reduced water bills.

The fine was branded ‘pathetic’ by Preston MP Mark Hendrick.

Serial barfer busted near Toronto

Brad Hunter of the Toronto Sun writes a man with a penchant for serial puking on vehicles behind a Markham restaurant has been busted, York regional Police say.

Cops say that the vomit villain struck more than 30 times during the last four years. Customers and staff at all-you-can-eat Italian eatery, Frankie Tomatto’s on Woodbine Ave. have emerged midday to discover their cars doused with an oily liquid.

Quick-thinking management were determined to bust the bad news barfer and installed surveillance cameras in the lot at the rear of the building.

Cameras captured the man hurling all over the vehicles — always between noon and 2 p.m. Unfortunately, they could not get a clear picture of the man — or his plate.

Newer cameras were able to make out the licence plate and they passed the information and video onto cops.

‘Pure greed’ UK couple who faked holiday sickness are jailed

A couple have been jailed for making fake holiday sickness claims in a landmark case.

Liverpool Crown Court heard Deborah Briton, 53, and partner Paul Roberts, 43, tried to claim compensation by stating they and their two children had fallen ill on holidays to Majorca in 2015 and 2016.

But the couple’s social media showed posts where they boasted of holidays full of “sun, laughter and fun”, reports the Daily Mail.

Briton sobbed as she was sentenced to nine months in prison after admitting four counts of fraud in the private prosecution, brought by holiday company Thomas Cook.

Roberts, who was sentenced to 15 months after admitting the same offences, cried and shook in the court throughout the hearing.

The court heard the couple, from Wallasey, Wirral, tried to claim nearly £20,000 ($33,800) for the fake gastric illnesses and would have also cost the holiday firm a further £28,000 ($47,323) in legal expenses had their claims been successful.

Sentencing, Judge David Aubrey QC said their claims had been a “complete and utter sham”.

He said the claims, made in August last year, must have required planning and premeditation.

He said: “Why? Pure greed. Seeking to get something for nothing.”

Disgruntled contractor allegedly sprays poop on produce in S. Carolina

WYFF 4 reports a disgruntled contractor sprayed what investigators told employees was apparently feces on produce at a West Ashley Harris Teeter, officials with the supermarket said.

Charleston police said 41-year-old Pau S. Hang has been arrested and charged with damage to personal property. Police say Hang has been on trespass notice for the store.

“The suspect is accused of spraying a brown liquid from a spray bottle onto some of the produce in the store,” CPD officials said. “Police don’t know the type of liquid that was used.”

According to Harris Teeter officials, the suspect attempted to contaminate food in the produce department and the fresh foods department inside the store in the St. Andrews Shopping Center in Charleston.

Cigarette butt in chips and rats spotted on premises among FSAI findings

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) report for 2016 reveals that they handled over 10,000 queries in 2016, as well as outlining some of the more gruesome finds made by their inspectors.

The report outlines the wide scope of the Authority, who now supervise almost 50,000 food businesses (49,404 to be exact) and their Advice Line took 10,497 queries from consumers, manufacturers and retailers in 2016.

According to the report, contamination of food with foreign objects was frequently reported to them by consumers.

Last year these reports included:

  • allegations of food contaminated with insects and glass,
  • a live insect found in a packaged dessert
  • a long black hair in garlic sauce
  • a human nail in a takeaway meal
  • glass in a dessert
  • plastic rope in a takeaway meal
  • a cigarette butt in a bag of chips.

Other complaints regarding poor hygiene standards included:

  • dirty customer toilets
  • rats seen on the premises
  • dirty tables and floors
  • and one case of a staff member at a deli sneezing into their hands and then preparing sandwiches without washing their hands.

All complaints received were followed up and investigated.

In total, 106 Enforcement Orders were served on food businesses last year by the Authority.

That broke down to 94 Closure Orders, three Improvement orders and nine Prohibition Orders.

The annual report also reveals the FSAI sampled and tested 56,588 samples, while 2,625 food supplements were assessed.

And the highest number of food alerts were issued in a decade, 39 in total.

These alerts resulted in product recalls or withdrawals.

Rapid detection of human norovirus in frozen raspberries

Raspberries have lately caused several human norovirus (HuNoV) outbreaks in Europe.

In this study, we developed and evaluated for HuNoV reverse transcription (RT)-PCR detection in frozen raspberries extraction methods that have equal sensitivity but are less time-consuming than widely used methods based on polyethylene glycol (PEG) precipitation and chloroform–butanol purification.

One method was applied to stored frozen raspberries linked to previous HuNoV outbreaks and berries on sale. In the virus elution-based Method 1, sparkling water eluted viruses most efficiently from the berries. Method 2, based on direct nucleic acid extraction with minor PEG supplement, yielded the highest number of positive findings (4 out of 9) at low virus concentration level of 100 genome copies HuNoV genogroup II per 25 g raspberries. Both methods showed approximately equal sensitivity to a method including PEG precipitation and chloroform–butanol purification. Two naturally contaminated berry samples linked to HuNoV outbreaks in 2006 and 2009 were still positive for HuNoV genogroup I, but all berry products purchased from a local store remained negative for HuNoV. In conclusion, this study presents two efficient and rapid methods which can be used in urgent HuNoV outbreak investigations, since the results of the virus analysis are available in a few hours.