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 In exchange, several other charges against the company and Thomas himself will be withdrawn.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.

24 sick: Babylon Pizza and Shawarma staff ‘concerned’ by cases of Salmonella

Jennifer O’Brien of The London Free Press (the Ontario, Canada, one) reports the area’s public health watchdog couldn’t pinpoint what caused a salmonella outbreak at a south London eatery, but an official says staff there have shown “knowledge of good food safety practices” and he’s confident “things will be good going forward.”

babylon-pizza-and-shawarmaOwners of Babylon Pizza and Shawarma were “very co-operative, very good to work with and very concerned” when they learned two dozen customers had been infected with salmonella last month, Dave Pavletic, the Middlesex-London health unit’s food safety manager, said Wednesday.

“After our consultations and followup visits, (the owners) really demonstrated knowledge of good food safety practices,” he said. “They’ve achieved what we wanted.”

Pavletic said inspectors couldn’t determine exactly what made 24 Babylon patrons sick in August — a month that saw an unusual spike in salmonella reports even without those cases — but there have been no reports of salmonella linked to the restaurant since Aug. 25.

While two eatery staffers hold food handling certificates, he said, it’s not unheard of for health officials to learn of occasional infractions at restaurants. “From time to time, infractions occur.”

The health unit received 37 reports of salmonella — including the 24 linked to Babylon — in three weeks last month. That compares to the August average of nine reports.

So far this month, the health unit has received nine more salmonella reports.

At the same time, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency reports that Bulk Barrel is recalling No Sugar Added Almond Butter Crunch from the marketplace due to possible Salmonella contamination. Consumers should not consume the recalled product described below.

The following product was sold in bulk from Bulk Barrel, 301 Oxford Street W, Unit 76C, London, Ontario, from September 2 to 7, 2016 inclusive.

Recalled products

Brand Name//Common Name//Size//Code(s) on Product//UPC

None//No Sugar Added Almond Butter Crunch//Variable//None//None

This recall was triggered by a recall in another country. 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.

Illnesses

There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of this product.

Going public: London, Ontario (that’s in Canada) version after Salmonella spike

Rather than waiting until all the facts were in and all the linkages solid, the Middlesex-London Health Unit on Friday decided to do something which has now become radical: it shared what they knew about a spike in Salmonella illnesses, said what they were doing to find out more, and implied that when they  find out more, you’ll hear it from health-types first.

risks.aheadGood job.

Jennifer O’Brien of the London Free-Press reports that 14 reported cases of Salmonella in a week — compared to a monthly August average of nine — has mystified health inspectors who couldn’t find a “common thread” among those affected.

Stephen Turner, director of environmental health and infectious diseases said, “We look for relationships — common restaurants, grocery stores, a common workplace . . . whether they’ve purchased a common product. We haven’t found that. That is why it’s raised our eyebrows so we are investigating diligently.”

The next step for the health unit is to contact each infected person and find out information that might explain how they became infected, he said.

The 14 people who were infected between Aug. 18 and Friday included males and females who range in age and live in various neighbourhoods across London.

They all reported typical symptoms associated with salmonella — diarrhea, vomiting and fever, said Turner, adding the health unit would like anyone experiencing such symptoms to report them.

Food fraud: Canadian greenhouse edition

Ann Hui of the Globe and Mail reports that a few years ago, federal food inspectors were walking around the warehouses of the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto – the nerve centre where much of the province’s fresh produce is bought, re-packaged and sold – when they noticed something unusual.

emersonIn the “farmer’s market” area, where only Ontario-grown produce is meant to be sold, the inspectors saw large cartons of greenhouse peppers with conflicting labels. The outside of the boxes had “Product of Canada” stickers, next to visible signs of damage on the cardboard – bits of paper and glue, as if another sticker had been peeled off. And stickers on the inside of the box read “Product of Mexico.”

That discovery in January, 2012, led the Canadian Food Inspection Agency into a three-year investigation of the company behind the peppers, Mucci Farms – the largest such probe in the agency’s history.

After executing three search warrants at the company’s headquarters in Kingsville, Ont., and poring over its computer records and internal e-mails, CFIA investigators pieced together evidence that, between late 2011 and early 2013, Mucci had been selling imported products as Canadian – putting hundreds of shipments of mislabelled produce worth more than $1.4-million onto Ontario grocery store shelves.

In one e-mail described in a court document and obtained by The Globe and Mail, one of the company’s directors, Danny Mucci, responded to a message from an employee about a shortage of Canadian mini cucumbers by telling the worker: “you know what to do to fill…it’s only 30 cases.”

Mucci International Marketing Inc., Mucci Pac Ltd. and two of its directors (Mr. Mucci and Joseph Spano) pleaded guilty in June of this year to eight regulatory offences – including one count against the company for selling food in a “false, misleading or deceptive” manner – and were fined $1.5-million.

Mucci’s lawyer, Patrick Ducharme, said in an interview that the mislabelling was not intentional, and that, given the volume of Mucci’s 1,200-employee operation, the transactions made up “a very small part of what they do.” He also emphasized that they pleaded guilty to regulatory offences, not criminal ones. Criminal charges against Mucci International and Mucci Pac and the two directors of defrauding the public, and defrauding Costco, Loblaw and Sobeys – to whom Mucci sold the produce – were withdrawn.

The case sent shockwaves through the country’s agriculture industry, and the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers called it a “unique” precedent. “My hope is that it’s an isolated case,” the marketing board’s manager, Rick Seguin, said in an interview.

If the best you can do is hope, then OGVG is in for trouble.

I helped – or did – set up the OGVG on-farm food safety program way back when OFFS wasn’t cool – about 1998.

We got a couple of papers out of it, along with reams of anectodes and observations and every time I’ve blogged about them, the new types at OGVG have threatened to sue (that’s a pic, upper left, of my 14-monty-old grandon #2, Emerson, instead of tomatoes; sue that).

I’m used to that.

And since I’m just a lowly former academic, the legal types tell me, you can’t afford it.

So I’ll let CFIA and the Globe run with it.

powell_greenhouseI had nothing to do with it.

Can only sit back and sigh.

For years, experts have been sounding the alarm on mislabelling and food fraud. Increasingly, they say, criminal organizations around the world are targeting the food system, intercepting supply chains and deliberately misrepresenting or adulterating products – and costing the food industry between $10-billion and $15-billion (U.S.) each year, according to the U.S.-based Grocery Manufacturers Association.

And, according to conversations with experts in the Canadian food industry, scientists and regulators, the problem is widespread within our own borders.

But even the CFIA does not seem to know just how widespread it is. Individual cases provide an incomplete picture. And the 74 cases of non-compliance with labelling laws from the past year published on the CFIA website – a number the agency say has held steady over the past five years – present only a portion of incidents where the agency has found companies breaking the rules. It includes only the cases in which the products were actually seized and detained or disposed of, but also includes technical infractions, like language or font size on packaging.

When asked how prevalent the problem is in Canada, the agency cited U.S. data that show fraud affects about 10 per cent of all food products globally. It also acknowledged it has not yet conducted a widespread survey of its own to understand its full impact within Canada.

In his years as a lawyer representing companies in intellectual property and anti-counterfeiting cases in Canada, Lorne Lipkus has seen cases of food fraud ranging from counterfeit basmati rice (knockoffs of a high-end brand) to fake ginseng.

“You’d think: ‘How expensive is it to grow a bag of rice,’” he said. “But if someone’s making something and making a profit out of it, somebody’s counterfeiting it. … Everything we do in Canada is reactive. We have very poor laws, compared to other countries. And we haven’t had any government involved in the longest time – I’m talking decades – willing to provide the resources to law enforcement to do anything about counterfeiting.”

In EU countries, border officials have the authority to seize and destroy goods they believe are counterfeit. In Canada, customs officials can detain a product, but it is then incumbent on the complainant to undertake court action and to pay for the goods to remain in detention until the case is heard – which can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Most alarming, he said, is that the scope of the problem is not understood because no agency is specifically looking for fraud.

On the issue of mislabelling, experts also point to policy initiatives abroad – such as a U.S. proposal to require companies to have food fraud prevention programs – as evidence others seem to take the issue more seriously.

Although the CFIA has not conducted a full survey of the issue in Canada, James Crawford, acting associate vice-president of operations with the federal agency, said CFIA receives about 40 complaints a year about possible food misrepresentation.

In an interview, Mr. Crawford said the agency takes food fraud seriously. He also said Canadians are generally safe from adulterated food – pointing to a Conference Board of Canada study in 2014 that ranked the country’s food system as the safest of 17 OECD countries surveyed.

Stop.

That was a bullshit survey with criteria based on nothing.

On fraud, he said, “we’re proactive and reactive.”

He said CFIA staff conduct regular inspections of imported and domestic food – including daily inspections at meat processing plants. Still, he was not able to say what percentage of products undergoes such scrutiny for labelling.

“We can’t inspect every … import or domestically produced food in Canada. It’s impossible. That’s why we have a risk-based plan. And it allows us to focus on where we think the high risks are.” Some of the things the agency takes into account in prioritizing inspections include food type and likelihood for illness, and each company’s track record of compliance.

Even countries with the most aggressive approaches faced the reality that food fraud is not easily confined by borders.

In Canada, much of the action on the issue has been industry-led. Large retailers in Canada like Loblaw or Costco have programs to safeguard against adulterations, requiring suppliers to subscribe to standardized food safety programs, and undergo annual audits.

Stop.

Audits and inspections are largely shit.

As for Mucci, it is on a three-year probation during which CFIA inspectors will have free access to its premises and computer records. Mr. Ducharme says the company is doing everything it can to ensure accuracy of its labelling, including appointing a compliance officer and reviewing all of its processes.

He believes the CFIA targeted Mucci in part to set an example. “I don’t think it’s insignificant that the place that was targeted for the big investigation was the biggest in the industry,” he said. “They know Mucci’s the biggest. The best.”

Uh-huh.

Seen and heard: Hepatitis A exposure in Ontario

Line-ups usually seen at the Fergus curling club or Legion bar – not at the offices of Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (below, exactly as shown). Following the report of a hepatitis A-positive cook at Marj’s, an Alma, Ontario (that’s in Canada) diner, public health officials have been busy issuing protective IgG shots to exposed patrons.

According to The Record, at least 600 shots were given Friday AM before supplies ran out. And an additional 150 when stock was replenished.B821841584Z.1_20150123191304_000_GGS1DL62B.2_Gallery

The shots are effective and reduce the risk of illnesses. Earlier this month, a similar exposure incident in New Jersey resulted in additional cases amongst folk who didn’t stand in line for shots.

“It’s unfortunate, really,” said Joanne Hall, a clerk of session at the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church down the street from the restaurant. “It’s a business, and something like this is not something you ask for. It can happen anywhere. As a small community we will support them, and help them get back on their feet.”

Anyone who dined at Marj’s between Jan. 2 and Jan. 20—the period when there was the highest likelihood of infection— was advised to get vaccinated to prevent infection.

Marj’s was closed on Friday, but not due to a public health order. Health officials inspected the premises on Thursday and cleared it. The restaurant’s owner, Keith Mclean, was not immediately available for comment. There were a number of people in the back of the diner Friday who appeared to be readying it for business. 

John Goforth lives just around the corner from Marj’s and eats there occasionally. He has not dined there this month and is not getting the vaccination.

“It’s a really good place, with good people and good food,” he said. “There was nothing they could do about this (except require vaccinations for their staff? -ben), and I hope it doesn’t hurt them. It’s been there forever, and it’s a great place.” 

“I think it was just a fluke,” Arsene Pick said Friday after getting the shot. He lives in Elora and dines occasionally at Marj’s. “It was just one of the cooks there that caught it and nobody knew. I hope it doesn’t hurt their business.”

Sharon Grose was in the outside lineup Friday. She said Marj’s is legendary in Alma, and is frequented by people from all around the town, especially in the farming community, and by travellers on their way to cottages further north. 

“This is a small price to pay to make sure you’re safe,” she said, speaking of waiting in the lineup for the vaccine. She had been waiting for about 40 minutes. “I don’t think this will hurt Marj’s. I hope not. They have a solid record for good food. This is just a matter of people being cautious.” 

Canadians are so nice.

Marj’s in Alma, Ontario source of hepatitis A exposure

When I was a grad student I played in a few co-ed slopitch baseball tournaments close to Guelph, Ontario (that’s in Canada). These tournaments consisted of a lot of beer drinking and my team (which completed in the Guelph restaurant league) wasn’t great. We played one tournament in Palmerston and on the way home we stopped for greasy hamburgers at a place called Marj’s in Alma. I don’t remember much about the meal. Just that we stopped.logo

Marj’s, according to the Guelph Mercury, is dealing with a hepatitis A exposure situation.

Anyone who ate at Marj’s Village Kitchen in Alma between Jan. 2 and 20 is advised to get a Hepatitis A vaccination as soon as possible, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health reports. 

Dr. Nicola Mercer, medical officer of health, has confirmed that an employee at the restaurant has a confirmed case of Hepatitis A and anyone who ate there in the first part of January could be at risk of infection.

“The source is no longer working at the restaurant so there is no further risk at this restaurant,” Mercer said in an interview. “We are not out to be punitive.

“But Marj’s is extremely popular—it’s always busy. There could be many hundreds who have been exposed.”

Mercer is urging customers who ate at the restaurant between Jan. 2 and Jan. 20 to get a Hepatitis A vaccine as soon as possible.

Results rather than rules: Ontario backs down on meat inspection

Jim Romahn, the dean of Ontario agriculture reporting, writes that, after years of blistering criticism from small-business meat packers, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food is introducing new regulations that take effect Jan. 1.

meat_inspectorThere are more than 40 changes to technical regulations, most of them to offer flexibility in how meat packers can meet the standards. Laurie Nichols who runs the Ontario Independent Meat Processors Association said the existing regulations are “prescriptive” and the new ones are based on “outcomes” without specifying precisely what needs to achieve those outcomes.

She said her members welcome the increased flexibility.

For example, the existing regulations have construction requirements for dry storage facilities for items such as sanitizing liquids, brushes, brooms, etc. The new regulations require that the items be off the floor and in a secure location which could now be met by putting the items in containers and on shelving. There is also a major policy change to move inspection of foodservice establishments out of OMAF and over to local health units. The expectations for food safety will remain the same.

There is also a provision for these foodservice establishments to conduct a small volume of meat processing. Nichols said that a policy the independent meat packers want clarified because it’s a competitive issue. OMAF is mentioning only a minor change in pre-inspection and post-inspection that adds another half hour of free service before it begins charging fees for service.

At least three sick with E. coli O157 in Canada from unpasteurized apple cider

I confess. I experimented with something else while a university undergraduate: unpasteurized apple cider.

powell.kids.ge.sweet.corn.cider.00The ex and I would go to the Guelph Farmer’s Market and stock up, including unpasteurized cider.

After moving to Kitchener (that’s in Ontario, Canada), we would bike with the kids out to the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market in Waterloo, Ontario (that’s also in Canada) on Saturday mornings, buy some local wares, including cider, although we preferred the Waterloo County Farmer’s Market across the street.

By the time we moved back to Guelph in 1997, I’d finished my PhD in food science, and had become exceedingly wary of unpasteurized cider.

So had the U.S. government.

In October, 1996, 16-month-old Anna Gimmestad of Denver drank Smoothie juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc. of Half Moon Bay, Calif. She died several weeks later; 64 others became ill in several western U.S. states and British Columbia after drinking the same juices, which contained unpasteurized apple cider –and E. coli O157:H7. Investigators believe that some of the apples used to make the cider may have been insufficiently washed after falling to the ground and coming into contact with deer feces.

By 1997, one of my first students was working with a cider producer at the Guelph market, who had gone so far as to set up his own microbiology lab at his farm.

20141030ba_1414719717551_engGood for him.

In the fall of 1998, I accompanied one of my then four daughters on a kindergarten trip to the farm. After petting the animals and touring the crops –I questioned the fresh manure on the strawberries –we were assured that all the food produced was natural. We then returned for unpasteurized apple cider. The host served the cider in a coffee urn, heated, so my concern about it being unpasteurized was abated. I asked: “Did you serve the cider heated because you heard about other outbreaks and were concerned about liability?” She responded, “No. The stuff starts to smell when it’s a few weeks old and heating removes the smell.”

Today, Chapman reported that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency noted an outbreak of E. coli O157 linked to unpasteurized cider sold at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market.

Why CFIA reports an outbreak but relies on Health Canada or the Public Health Agency of Canada to report actual illnesses is baffling. Guess it keeps the different bureaucrats busy.

Fortunately there are a handful of reporters still employed in Ontario, and one at the K-W Record says at least three people have been sickened with E. coli O157 from the unpasteurized cider.

Food safety inspectors are searching across southern Ontario for 2,000 litres of E. coli-contaminated apple cider that’s already made three people ill.

Some of the unpasteurized juice from Rolling Acres Cider Mill, 1235 Martin Creek Rd., near St. Jacobs, is in unmarked, 1.3-litre plastic bags.

local.children.halloween.oct.14A Waterloo health official suspects some of the perishable juice it is already stashed away in household freezers for use weeks or months later.

Health officials are also tracking cider made for other retailers on Oct. 10, which is also likely contaminated with the bacteria that causes brutal stomach upset.

“The tracing is still ongoing,” said Chris Komorowski, food safety manager, at Waterloo Region public health.

Suspect cider pressed Oct. 10 at Rolling Acres has likely been sold as far east as Toronto and west of Waterloo, he said. “It’s all of southern Ontario.”

Rolling Acres is co-operating with the investigation, providing paperwork to track Oct. 10 batches of cider, Komorowski said. Waterloo and federal food inspectors have taken a close look at the apple press operation and found no problems.

“Currently they are meeting all regulatory food safety requirements from both agencies,” Komorowski said. “They’re in full compliance with that.”

The owner of Rolling Acres wasn’t available for comment.

Here’s the abstract from a paper Amber Luedtke and I published back in 2002:

A review of North American apple cider outbreaks caused by E. coli O157:H7 demonstrated that in the U.S., government officials, cider producers, interest groups and the public were actively involved in reforming and reducing the risk associated with unpasteurized apple cider. In Canada, media coverage was limited and government agencies inadequately managed and communicated relevant updates or new documents to the industry and the public.

Therefore, a survey was conducted with fifteen apple cider producers in Ontario, Canada, to gain a better understanding of production practices and information sources. Small, seasonal operations in Ontario produce approximately 20,000 litres of cider per year. Improper processing procedures were employed by some operators, including the use of unwashed apples and not using sanitizers or labeling products accurately.

Most did not pasteurize or have additional safety measures. Larger cider producers ran year-long, with some producing in excess of 500,000 litres of cider. Most sold to large retail stores and have implemented safety measures such as HACCP plans, cider testing and pasteurization. All producers surveyed received government information on an irregular basis, and the motivation to ensure safe, high-quality apple cider was influenced by financial stability along with consumer and market demand, rather than by government enforcement.

Dirt on the menu? It’s ‘hyper-local’

My friend Steve managed his four kids and mealtime with frozen veggies, and I sorta did the same.

mqdefaultBut in provactive food porn, for those who’s lives are hopelessly dull, Toronto’s Globe and Mail reports chef Justin Cournoyer is heading north of Toronto in his Subaru Forester (because only soilvares would drive a Subaru, or that it would matter) to forage in the wilderness. He’s on one of his biweekly pilgrimages to harvest wild bounty, such as chamomile, ginger, peas, woodruff or ground elder. These he will place into a cooler to take back to his small hyper-local Ossington Avenue restaurant, Actinolite. While he’s out, he’s also seeking an ingredient that the average forager might overlook: soil.

“You want soil that is near maples and pines,” he says. “If it’s too into the pines, it’s too acidic.”

He prefers not the silty topsoil that one could procure from a front lawn, but the stuff that is rife with pine needles, decaying organic matter and broken-down leaves. He wants the scents and sensations of an Ontario forest captured in a handful of dirt, and he wants to cook with that dirt.

7 sick from E. coli burgers in Ontario; federal public health MIA, no government shutdown

There’s no federal government shutdown in Canada, which is a different country than the U.S., but bureaucratic sleepiness continues.

A week after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced a recall of hamburgers made by Toronto-based Belmont Meats Ltd., the feds in meatwad.raw.hamburgerthe form of Health Canada and/or Public Health Agency of Canada, have provided no information on how many people are sick.

Maybe they’re still at the cottage.

Ontario’s top doctor, Dr. Arlene King, has filled the void, and has stated that seven Ontario residents are sick with an additional suspected case.

The recall has been expanded from Compliments brand Super 8 Beef Burgers sold in packages of six in Sobeys, Sobeys Urban, Foodland, Freshco and Price Chopper stores in Ontario and Atlantic Canada to ow include President’s Choice Beef Burgers in 4.54 kilogram packages sold nationally in Loblaws banner stores and Webers Bucket of Burgers sold in 1.02 kilogram packages, which may have been distributed across Canada.