Belgian meat processing plant closed for food safety fraud

The Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) said on Thursday it has pre-emptively closed the Verbist Group’s meat processing plant and cold store VEVIBA in Bastogne,south Belgium, following a case of fraud on meat labels.

Meanwhile, the food safety watchdog has checked all establishments of the Verbist Group in Belgium.

Investigators found a problem in a slaughterhouse in Bastogne where some labels on frozen meat were removed and replaced by others with more recent dates.

“This can potentially be a risk, especially for people who consume raw meat, although for well-cooked meat the risk is lower,” Philippe Houdart, former spokesperson of FASFC, was quoted by local media as saying in a press release.

Two products have been identified as potentially risky for consumers: minced meat as well as cow tails sold to other companies.

Natural doesn’t equal safe

A ‘natural’ food label doesn’t really mean much to me. Some equate it with healthier, or using traditional growing and processing methods (whatever that means). There’s research that demonstrates consumers, when surveyed, have a mix of understanding and perception about what natural represents.

USDA has a natural label definition for meat and poultry that involves a mix of no artificial ingredients, no added colors and is only minimally processed which means whatever has happened to it doesn’t fundamentally alter the product.all-natural-label

What I want to know as a buyer and consumer of lots of different foods from retailers and restaurants is how folks are reducing my risk of foodborne illness, whether unnatural or not.

According to The Guardian, a U.S. trade group, the Organic and Natural Health Association (OHNA) is creating a certification system for labeling in the absence of FDA definitions.

ONHA will roll out a certification program, beginning in early 2016, that will offer a “natural” seal that participating companies can put on the front of their product packaging.

The seal comes after years of criticisms and lawsuits against food manufacturers such as Welch’s for allegedly misleading consumers with ambiguous package labels that do not necessarily accurately reflect the food contained inside.

“It became clear to us that we just needed to define ‘natural’ as what it was,” ONHA CEO Karen Howard said. That’s because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates food labeling, “has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives,” according to its own materials. The FDA also does not object to the use of the term on products with “added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.”

The seal would not be a government-approved package label, but rather a self-selecting way for manufacturers to help consumers better understand the contents and production of foods. The program would be voluntary and overseen by ONHA.

Companies will have to pay a small fee for the seal and must pay to go through the compliance process themselves.

A study conducted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale Univeristy found that nutrition-related claims mislead consumers in unexpected ways, with packaging claims promoting their ingredients are more nutritious than similar products without such claims. The study also found that package claims made consumers think they could gain health benefits even beyond those suggested by the manufacturer.

Jennifer Harris, the lead author of that study, said that consumers were often skeptical of direct claims from manufacturers, but through inference often persuade themselves into believing that an unhealthy product could have a positive health outcome.

How about some meaningful safety labels.

Luxury hotel infested with flies because dyslexic chef couldn’t read use-by dates on food, owners fined

I used a variation of the headline in today’s Daily Mail, but it would appear there were additional food safety issues at this fancy-pants hotel.

The luxurious Mellington Hall Hotel, in Wales, describes itself as a ‘hidden gem’ nestling in 280 acres of beautiful parkland and serving only the finest food and drink.

But when environmental health inspectors arrived they found a ‘significant fly infestation’, mouldy strawberries and cream past its use-by date.

The Victorian gothic mansion, which boasts on its website that it offers ‘a combination of the finest food and drink savoured in elegantly furnished surroundings with an attentive and knowledgeable staff to make your meal with us unforgettable’, was closed immediately and deep-cleaned following the inspection last July.

But after a second visit this month also found mouldy food, it emerged that the chef was dyslexic and had been unable to read the use-by dates.

Lance Thomas and his wife Vanessa, with whom he runs the hotel near Church Stoke, Powys, Wales, were fined a total of £6,750 at Welshpool magistrates for the breaches of hygiene. They have now adopted a colour-coded system so that the unnamed chef can identify the food that is going off.

Court also heard health-types found trays of cooked meat and vegetables on the floor of the chiller, flies landing on food preparation surfaces and on open food left uncovered in the kitchen, and unwrapped brie on top of moldy strawberries.

Know where food comes from

Traceability was a popular topic when I started working for Doug last summer, with the Salmonella-linked-to-tomatoes-or-was-it-peppers outbreak. The current peanut butter-linked outbreak follows the same trends as the list of recalled products is on the rise. As a consumer, I wonder: do producers know their suppliers and where their food is coming from?

The FDA warned consumers to postpone consumption of anything containing peanut butter or peanut butter paste. This is where labeling becomes important. Not only should consumers read labels, they also need some assurance that labels are accurate.

A woman suffered a severe allergic reaction after eating a parfait in a Canadian Starbucks last week. She purchased the parfait after an employee assured the dessert was nut-free. The ingredients list also failed to mention nuts. I am pretty sure this woman will have a hard time trusting labels after this.

I was diagnosed with celiac disease a few weeks ago and I know how this feels. I have to avoid products containing gluten – a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale.

Gluten can also be found as a food additive in the form of flavoring, or as stabilizing or thickening agent. In such cases, producers are not required to include the protein on the label because it is classified as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) by the FDA. There is also no official definition as to what constitutes a gluten-free product, so celiacs like me are recommended to buy products from trusted sources.

That Canadian Starbucks is not a trusted source.

Whether it’s because of food allergies, intolerance to gluten, or salmonella, food processors need to be aware of where their products come from and what they contain.

‘RAW’ in 3-inch letters on front of raw, frozen, breaded chicken thingies

That’s what a frustrated Kirk Smith, head of the foodborne disease unit of the Minnesota Department of Health, suggested to USA Today today as he described how people are still getting sick with Salmonella by microwaving raw, frozen, breaded chicken, despite the lack of microwave instructions.

"We wish the labels would be even more emphatic. … Maybe if on the front of the package there were 3-inch letters — RAW — who knows?"

Minnesota health officials met with producers of chicken products and were told that precooking wasn’t an option because it has an effect on the texture and appearance of the chicken.

A table of the relevant outbreaks is available at

and below.

Smith was also lead author on a paper describing previous outbreaks in the October issue of the Journal of Food Protection. It’s below.

Outbreaks of Salmonellosis in Minnesota (1998 through 2006) associated with frozen, microwaveable, breaded, stuffed chicken products
Journal of Food Protection, Vol 71, No 10, pp. 2153-2160(8)
Smith, Kirk E.; Medus, Carlota; Meyer, Stephanie D.; Boxrud, David J.; Leano, Fe; Hedberg, Craig W.; Elfering, Kevin; Braymen, C

From 1998 through 2006, four outbreaks of salmonellosis associated with raw, frozen, microwaveable, breaded, prebrowned, stuffed chicken products were identified in Minnesota. In 1998, 33 Salmonella Typhimurium cases were associated with a single brand of Chicken Kiev. In 2005, four Salmonella Heidelberg cases were associated with a different brand and variety (Chicken Broccoli and Cheese). From 2005 to 2006, 27 Salmonella Enteritidis cases were associated with multiple varieties of product, predominately of the same brand involved in the 1998 outbreak. In 2006, three Salmonella Typhimurium cases were associated with the same brand of product involved in the 2005 Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak. The outbreak serotype and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis subtype of Salmonella were isolated from product in each outbreak. In these outbreaks, most individuals affected thought that the product was precooked due to its breaded and prebrowned nature, most used a microwave oven, most did not follow package cooking instructions, and none took the internal temperature of the cooked product. Similar to previous salmonellosis outbreaks associated with raw, breaded chicken nuggets or strips in Canada and Australia, inadequate labeling, consumer responses to labeling, and microwave cooking were the key factors in the occurrence of these outbreaks. Modification of labels, verification of cooking instructions by the manufacturer, and notifications to alert the public that these products contain raw poultry, implemented because of the first two outbreaks, did not prevent the other outbreaks. Microwave cooking is not recommended as a preparation method for these types of products, unless they are precooked or irradiated prior to sale.