Food Safety Talk 138: Ominous noises

This special pre-halloween episode features ominous noises, and we are not talking about the pinging noise from Don’s email in the background.  The show opens with discussion not of noise, but of the sights and smells of fresh compost around Ben’s office.  After a brief digression into favorite TV, podcasts and fan feedback, the talk turns to recent food safety publications on cutting board safety and water bottle sanitation, followed by best Reduced Oxygen Packaging Handling practices from listener feedback. Next Ben gets real time inspiration and the guys do some back of the envelope risk assessment on home preparation of black garlic before a discussion raw camel milk and the risks of fake cures.  The show ends with a discussion of turkey eggs and Canadian Thanksgiving.

Episode 138 can be found here and on iTunes.

Here are show notes so you can follow along at home:

Show me the data: butter at room temperature edition

I like butter on my bagels. So does Jan Polanik. According to the New York Times, he filed a pair of class-action lawsuits after paying a quarter for butter every time he ordered bagels over a four year period, but was given margarine without being told.

Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owners settled the suits, but not until after using food safety as a defense.

In 2013, a Dunkin’ Donuts spokeswoman, Lindsay Harrington, offered an explanation for why a vegetable spread might be used.

“For food safety reasons, we do not allow butter to be stored at room temperature, which is the temperature necessary for butter to be easily spread onto a bagel or pastry,” she told The Boston Globe. The recommended procedure in the store, she said, was for individual whipped butter packets to be served on the side of a bagel or pastry, but not applied. “The vegetable spread is generally used if the employee applies the topping,” she said.

I’m not sure what the food safety reasons are since the salted version (over 1.5%) of oil-in-water emulsion doesn’t support the growth of foodborne pathogens or staph toxin formation -and remains safe at room temperature when the power goes out.  Stuff will persist, including Listeria, but temperature control isn’t a factor. It’s a quality thing.

The trouble with meanings of risk, safety and security

The concepts of risk, safety, and security have received substantial academic interest. Several assumptions exist about their nature and relation.

riskBesides academic use, the words risk, safety, and security are frequent in ordinary language, for example, in media reporting. In this article, we analyze the concepts of risk, safety, and security, and their relation, based on empirical observation of their actual everyday use.

The “behavioral profiles” of the nouns risk, safety, and security and the adjectives risky, safe, and secure are coded and compared regarding lexical and grammatical contexts.

The main findings are: (1) the three nouns risk, safety, and security, and the two adjectives safe and secure, have widespread use in different senses, which will make any attempt to define them in a single unified manner extremely difficult; (2) the relationship between the central risk terms is complex and only partially confirms the distinctions commonly made between the terms in specialized terminology; (3) whereas most attempts to define risk in specialized terminology have taken the term to have a quantitative meaning, nonquantitative meanings dominate in everyday language, and numerical meanings are rare; and (4) the three adjectives safe, secure, and risky are frequently used in comparative form. This speaks against interpretations that would take them as absolute, all-or-nothing concepts.

The Concepts of Risk, Safety, and Security: Applications in Everyday Language

Wiley Online Library, Risk Analysis, 18 AUG 2015

Max Boholm, Niklas Möller and Sven Ove Hansson

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/risa.12464/abstract;jsessionid=9D9F719E466B8B041E72C7163C374D8D.f04t01

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/risa.12464/abstract;jsessionid=9D9F719E466B8B041E72C7163C374D8D.f04t01

Duh files: Whole Foods still sucks, allegedly overcharge

I’ve long maintained that retailer Whole Foods sucs at food safety and wouldn’t shop there.

whole.foodsThey apparently also suck at pricing.

A New York consumer protection agency alleges that New York City Whole Foods supermarkets have repeatedly overcharged customers for prepackaged foods.

An investigation by the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) tested 80 different types of prepackaged food from the city’s Whole Foods locations (eight were open at the time of the investigation; a ninth has since opened). The investigation found all categories included products with incorrect weights, which led to overcharges that ranged from 80 cents for a package of pecan panko to $14.84 for coconut shrimp. The investigation, released Wednesday, also examined vegetable platters, nuts, chicken tenders and berries.

Whole Foods denies the allegations. The supermarket chain called the department’s allegations “overreaching.”

Whole Foods, long known as a higher-priced grocery chain, settled a case in California last year and agreed to pay nearly $800,000 in penalties after pricing discrepancies were found in area Whole Foods in 2012. As part of the settlement, Whole Foods agreed to appoint two state coordinators to oversee pricing accuracy in California, designate an employee at every California store responsible for pricing accuracy and conduct random audits of stores four times a year.

Keeping food safe at school and community gardens

My grandparents introduced me to vegetable gardening when I was a kid. I used to leave the city for a couple of weeks each summer and visit them in Campbellford, Ontario (that’s in Canada) and they’d put me to work in their garden. I’d pull weeds, pick up fallen tomatoes (for the compost) and help pick green beans. It’s all a bit hazy, but looking back they didn’t let me handle anything that was ready to eat. Probably because I was dirty.Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 11.41.11 AM

A few years ago my group was asked by the great folks at the NC Department of Public Instruction about the safety of produce in school gardens. As concerns over healthy food choices grew, more schools were asking about growing their own produce and using gardens as a teaching tool as well as a source of food. The food safety team correctly worried about risks.

I couldn’t find much in the literature on the about pathogens or even production practices at gardens so I figured a good place to start was to get into the field and figure out what was going on. Ashley Chaifetz, barfblog contributor and PhD student at UNC Chapel Hill worked for a summer to figure out the situation and came up with a short document to get garden organizers started (see growingsafergardens.com for all the materials). And then she evaluated it, the results of the project were published yesterday in Food Protection Trends.

Here’s a press release from NC State News Services’ and my main man, Matt Shipman.

School and community gardens have become increasingly popular in recent years, but the people managing and working in these gardens are often unfamiliar with food safety practices that reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Now researchers have developed guidelines that address how to limit risk in these gardens – and a pilot study shows that the guidelines make a difference.

“People involved with these gardens are passionate about healthy eating, food security and helping people connect to where their food comes from,” says Ashley Chaifetz, lead author of a paper describing the work and its effect on school and community gardening practices. “But they often don’t have formal training in how to limit exposure to foodborne pathogens. We developed tools to help educate these gardeners, and our research shows that the tools are effective.” Chaifetz is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but worked in the lab of NC State associate professor and food safety specialist Ben Chapman at the time of the study.

The project, led by Chapman, was borne out of discussions with public school and park officials who asked for food safety guidelines for school and community gardens. The research team then developed a document that lists food safety risks, gives specific instructions on how to limit those risks, and explains how the risk mitigation efforts work.

For example, gardening involves working with your hands, creating the possibility of transferring pathogens to fresh produce. To limit that risk, people should wash their hands before working in the garden – not just after digging in the dirt. So, gardeners should have access to handwashing facilities (and should use them), in order to wash off any pathogens.

The guidelines also offer garden managers advice on how to share the recommendations with volunteers who work in the garden.

Once the guidelines were complete, the researchers wanted to know how and whether the guidance would influence behavior. To find out, they launched a project with 10 community gardens and 10 school gardens.

The researchers conducted on-site, observation-based assessments of food safety practices at all 20 gardens. They then gave the guidelines and related supplies – such as hand soap – to the garden managers.

Two months later, the researchers went back to the gardens to conduct a follow-up assessment.

Sixteen of the 20 gardens improved their overall scores in terms of their use of best practices.

In particular, the researchers found significant improvement in three areas: handwashing; addressing the safety of the site’s water supply; and assessing pre-existing hazards at the site, such as potential soil contamination.

“There’s still room for additional improvement in their food safety practices, but it’s important to note that we saw real advances in risk reduction simply by providing the guidelines,” Chapman says. “We’re exploring additional, follow-up measures, such as webinars and YouTube videos, to see if they lead to additional improvements.”

The guidance, “A Handbook for Beginning and Veteran Garden Organizers: How to Reduce Food Safety Risks,” is freely available online.

The paper, “Implementation of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) in School and Community Gardens,” was published online April 30 in the journal Food Protection Trends. Lead author of the paper is Ashley Chaifetz, currently a Ph.D. student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but who worked in Chapman’s lab at the time of the study. Co-authors include Elizabeth Driscoll and Chris Gunter of NC State, and Kristina Alnajjar and Alice Ammerman of UNC-Chapel Hill. The work was supported by the North Carolina Department of Instruction, North Carolina Recreation and Parks Association, and the Carolina Center for Public Service at the University of North Carolina.

Here’s the abstract

Implementation of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) in School and Community Gardens

Authors: Ashley Chaifetz, Kristina Alnajjar, and Alice Ammerman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Elizabeth Driscoll, Christopher C. Gunter, and Benjamin Chapman, North Carolina State University

Published: online April 30, Food Protection Trends

Interest in school and community gardens has increased over the past decade as a method to connect students and communities with food production. Although data on gardens as a source for foodborne illness is scarce, growing practices and settings are similar to those in small-scale commercial production. The objectives of this study were to (1) create a set of evidence-based best practices for gardens based on established food safety guidance for fresh produce, (2) create an intervention for delivery, and (3) evaluate the effectiveness of the practices. The guidelines were designed to impact garden organizer and volunteer behavior as well as organizational infrastructure regarding site selection, soil testing, handwashing, water, composting, garden design and fencing, sanitation, and volunteer management. School and community gardens (n = 20, 10 of each) were visited twice, using a pre-post design, and a risk-based observation instrument was administered. Sixteen gardens (80%) improved their overall scores. While the findings demonstrated that handwashing behavior could be altered significantly (P < 0.01) through the provision of the designed intervention, they also suggest a suitable means to take steps toward a safer garden.

Wyoming Food Freedom Act threatens public safety

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle writes in an editorial that House Bill 56, the Food Freedom Act, is a bad move for public health.

food-freedom-statute-of-libertyThe bill would let Wyomingites make direct purchases of foodstuffs from farmers and ranchers but there are more than a few examples – and plenty of data – that show allowing the unregulated sale of food items from one buyer to another (which HB 56 would do) has the potential to sicken Wyoming residents. Consider:
– The chances of an outbreak from raw milk (one of the items that the bill’s supporters want) are at least 150 times greater than those of pasteurized milk, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
– Non-outbreak (more sporadic) cases of foodborne illness in raw milk are estimated to be 25 times larger than the number of documented cases.
– There have been 41 documented cases of illness from raw milk in Wyoming in five years.
– Some 180 people became ill with salmonella in North Dakota in 2006 when they were served unlicensed food by a caterer. One victim’s family spent $4,000 just traveling back and forth to the hospital. That did not include their medical expenses.

But, supporters of HB 56 say, informed Wyoming residents should have the right to buy these food items if they so choose (meat would be limited to poultry only). Problem is, not all buyers of these products are informed. They see them for sale, they consume them and they get sick.

raw.milk.food.freedomAnd then there is the fact that children could be fed tainted food products. How can they be “informed”? And it is important to note that even if the elderly and pregnant women know what they are consuming, they are at much greater risk for serious illness if the food is contaminated.

This is a bad bill. That it flew through the House without real consideration of its potential impacts shows it simply has become a political statement about individual liberty. HB 56 should be killed before it takes the life of even one Wyomingite.

Too risky: Petco stops selling pet treats from China

Petco says it has cleared its store shelves of all dog and cat treats made in China, in response to consumers’ concerns about contamination.

sadie.dog.powellThe announcement includes more than 1,300 stores nationwide, including 42 in Ohio, as well as Unleashed by Petco stores and online sales at Petco.com

Petco says that makes it the first national pet retailer to stop selling China-made pet treats. Petco carries products for dogs, cats, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and small animals.

“As a trusted partner for pet parents, we believe this is the right thing to do, and we’re proud to take this step in the best interests of pets,” Petco Chief Executive Jim Myers said, in a written statement. Myers is a graduate of John Carroll University. “What we feed our pets matters, and this milestone supports the company’s steadfast commitment to putting our customers, partners, animals and the communities we serve first.”

Petco, based in San Diego and founded in 1965, said it hasn’t carried or sold dog or cat food from China for several years, and that extending that stance to pet treats “allows Petco to expand the assortment of safe and healthy alternatives that are made in the U.S. or in other regions around the globe that support complete pet health.”

Louisiana: school credits handwashing stations with drop in absences

Pink eye, stomach bugs, flu, strep throat: the list can go on and on with reasons students miss school.  When one local school took a deeper look at absences from the previous school year, they incorporated a simple action plan to minimize school germs. 

handwash_south_park(2)Throughout the school day, two handwashing stations at Immaculate Conception Cathedral School in Lake Charles are put to use.  It is all in an effort to reduce the spread of germs at the root of many absences, says ICCS Director of Development, Erin Lang.  “In order to best educate them, we need them here and well,” said Lang.

When Lang and other school administrators reviewed absentee data from the previous school year, they knew something more needed to be done to keep students at their prime.  “If a good number of students are absent from a class, a teacher is unable to continue with a lesson,” said Lang, “it can slow down the learning process, it makes it difficult for those students who are out for an extended period of time.”

Dr. Tyson Green with Imperial Health has two children who attend school ICCS.  He says the spread of germs is rapid on school campuses.  “Whether it’s bacterial or viral, you start talking about the flu, you start talking about stomach viruses and things like that,” said Dr. Green.  “They’re going to get these with cross-contamination if they don’t wash their hands.”

The solution came through handwashing stations.  “What we found as the best way to protect our faculty and our students was basic handwashing with plain soap and water,” said Lang.

The biggest procedural change for students this school year is that as soon they walk into the school building, they go straight to the handwashing stations.  That’s the first wash of the day.  Then every bathroom break gets another hand wash, along with every entrance and exit from the school’s cafeteria.

Lang says the absentee numbers are already showing the success of the additional scrubbing.  “We have looked at our absentee rates from last year to this year, from the start of school through November, and we are already down 12 percent,” said Lang.

It’s not cute: Salmonella risks to babies through pet food

Anyone who has pets and babies knows that when they learn to crawl – the human babies – they head straight for the dish of pet food on the floor.

sadie.dog.powellThe bubblegum pop idiocy that is television’s Good Morning America, promoted a video this morning that’s making the rounds on youtube: and while the GMA hosts make a collective sigh of cuteness, I see microbiological risk.

There are regular outbreaks of Salmonella linked to pet food.

Dr. Kate KuKanich wrote a report for the June 1, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA), laying out recommendations for pet owners on how to avoid Salmonella infection in pets:

• avoid raw food diets for pets;

• purchase individually packaged pig ears, rather than buying them from bulk bins;


• check the packaging of pet food products to ensure that they are in good condition prior to purchase;

• return products to the store if they appear tainted, discolored, or malodorous.;

• store pet foods, treats, and nutritional products in accordance with label instructions, preferably in a cool, dry environment.;

• save the original pet food packaging material, including the date code and product code of all food products, for product identification in case of food contamination;

• discourage children, the elderly, and immunosuppressed people from handling pet food and treats;

• wash hands with soap and water before and after handling pet food, treats, and nutritional products;

• use a clean scoop to dispense pet food into bowls;

• wash water and food bowls used by pets, as well as feeding scoops, routinely with hot soapy water in a sink other than in the kitchen or bathroom; and,

• avoid feeding pets in the kitchen.

Waste management? Food chain must up its game, becoming ‘soft target’ for criminals

There are lots of opportunities for criminality in the food chain which is seen as a “soft target”, the chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has said.

sopranos.don't.fuck.with.usThe horsemeat scandal, about which Professor Alan Reilly’s organization raised the alarm last year, was a “wake-up call to Europe that criminals were getting involved in the food chain and were up to no good,” he said.

There are many different ways for criminals to put poor food into the supply such as substandard olive oil being labelled as premium and putting cheap wine into bottles labelled as premium brands, he said.

The length of the food chain means there are lots of opportunities for fraud, he said. If producers are buying their food ingredients from Asia there is no way to check into the plant, he added .

The food industry must “up its game” and take the threat of food fraud and criminal intent “really seriously”, Prof Reilly said. There need to be “robust control systems” for suppliers as have been introduced for meat testing.