Will it mean fewer sick people? Trump’s plan to consolidate federal food safety efforts won’t work

Timothy D. Lytton, Associate Dean for Research & Faculty Development and Distinguished University Professor & Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law writes in this contributed op-ed that:

The Trump administration on June 21 unveiled an ambitious plan to consolidate federal food safety efforts within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Currently, 15 agencies throughout the federal government administer 35 different laws related to food safety under the oversight of nine congressional committees.

The administration calls this system “illogical” and “fragmented.”

“While [the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service] has regulatory responsibility for the safety of liquid eggs, [the Food and Drug Administration in the Department of Health and Human Services] has regulatory responsibility for the safety of eggs while they are inside of their shells,” the document explains. “FDA regulates cheese pizza, but if there is pepperoni on top, it falls under the jurisdiction of FSIS; FDA regulates closed-faced meat sandwiches, while FSIS regulates open-faced meat sandwiches.”

Concern about this state of affairs has been fueling similar consolidation proposals for decades.

But my research for a forthcoming book on the U.S. food safety system suggests that the Trump administration plan faces a number of challenges that make a major reorganization of federal food safety regulation both impractical and undesirable.

The curious division of labor between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration dates back to the passage of two laws enacted in 1906.

The Meat Inspection Act mandated inspection of all beef carcasses. The Pure Food and Drug Act prohibited the sale of adulterated food in interstate commerce.

Initially, both laws were implemented by officials at the USDA. Its Bureau of Animal Industry placed inspectors trained in veterinary science at every meat plant. Meanwhile, its Bureau of Chemistry employed laboratory scientists to test foods for adulteration.

In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt moved the Bureau of Chemistry, by then renamed the Food and Drug Administration, out of the USDA and into the Federal Security Agency, which later became the Department of Health and Human Services. Today, the FDA is responsible for overseeing the production of most foods other than meat and poultry.

Separately, the Bureau of Animal Industry was renamed the Food Safety Inspection Service, which is still responsible for all meat and poultry inspections.

Concerns about regulatory fragmentation grew as Congress assigned new tasks related to food safety to a variety of other agencies.

For example, Congress instructed the Federal Trade Commission to regulate food advertising, the Environmental Protection Agency to set pesticide tolerances and the National Marine Fisheries Service to inspect seafood.

Proponents of putting food safety under the roof of a single agency have argued that the current system causes confusion because different agencies produce inconsistent standards.

They further allege that overlapping jurisdictions create inefficiencies and that inadequate coordination leaves gaps in coverage. They also worry that the involvement of so many different actors diffuses political accountability.

The first high-profile proposal to consolidate federal food safety regulation was made in 1949, during the Truman administration, when a presidential commission recommended transferring food safety oversight to the USDA, just as the Trump administration has.

In 1972, consumer activist Ralph Nader advocated creating a new consumer safety agency to oversee food safety. And a few years later, a Senate committee recommended moving the USDA’s food safety responsibilities to the FDA.

Those are just three examples of more than 20 such proposals from both sides of the political aisle, including one by President Barack Obama in 2015.

None of these consolidation efforts succeeded for the same reasons the current one is unlikely to work now.

First of all, the many congressional committees that currently oversee agencies that regulate food safety are unlikely to support any reorganization that would reduce their power. Congressional oversight affords lawmakers who serve on committees opportunities to help interest groups and constituents in exchange for political support.

Similarly, industry associations are unlikely to support a reorganization that would disrupt their relationships with existing agencies. Consolidation threatens to reduce their access and influence over agency decisions.

In addition to the political obstacles to consolidation, there are practical problems. Merely merging the 5,000 food safety officials in the FDA and the 9,200 officials in the FSIS under the oversight of a single administrator would not eliminate the differences in jurisdiction, powers and expertise responsible for the current bureaucratic fragmentation. Meaningful consolidation would require a complete overhaul of federal food safety laws and regulations, a task of extraordinary legal and political complexity.

Moreover, consolidating food safety efforts in a single agency might create new forms of fragmentation. For example, transferring the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine’s program for regulating drug residues in beef and poultry to the USDA would separate it from the FDA’s veterinary drug approval program.

And finally, reorganization is costly and would take years for the different agency teams newly working together to develop bonds of trust and cooperation. And these costs would have to be paid upfront, without a clear idea of whether the expected gains will ever pay off.

Consolidation need not be all or nothing.

For example, some have proposed more modest consolidation of inspection services, policy planning and communications that would be less costly and not so difficult.

Nonetheless, Congress has shown little interest in considering any bureaucratic reorganization of federal food safety regulation, even a partial consolidation.

In other words, the Trump administration may have to settle for the less ambitious goal of better interagency coordination, which offers an alternative way to address concerns about duplication and coverage gaps. This more modest approach would not, however, address the persistent problem of fragmentation.

In food safety, as in other regulatory reform arenas, it may turn out that half a loaf is better than none.

USDA provides food safety tips for Spring gatherings

If we really want to make a difference in preventing foodborne illness, we need to be more compelling. Providing food safety tips give us a nice warm fuzzy feeling, although it is well intended, reality is very few will actually read this stuff.

It’s time to start thinking outside the box and supplement this information in an engaging way so that we are being strategic with our communication.

Also, let’s stop relaying foodborne illness stats, tell one story, it would be more effective.

USDA — Spring is finally here. It has been a long wait, but warmer temperatures bring events like weddings, graduations and holiday celebrations. These events bring together groups of people to enjoy considerable amounts of delicious and often traditional foods. But if proper food safety steps aren’t taken, your celebration could turn into a disaster. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the U.S., foodborne illness causes 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year. This spring, USDA is offering tips on how to properly handle, cook and store food when serving large groups of people. These tips will keep you and your guests safe from foodborne illness. The Four Basic Steps to Food Safety Having the right kitchen equipment will make your life easier when practicing four food safety steps: clean, separate, cook and chill. • Clean hands frequently with warm soapy water, especially before and after handling raw food; thoroughly wash cutting boards, countertops and utensils with hot soapy water. • Use separate cutting boards for raw and ready-to-eat foods. For example, use one cutting board for produce and a different one for raw meat and poultry. That way, you are preventing cross contamination between raw and ready-to-eat-food. • Always use a food thermometer when cooking. Measure the internal temperature of meats, poultry, and seafood and egg products before serving to make sure they are ready to eat. The USDA Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures chart will help you determine if your food is safe to eat: o Beef, pork, veal and lamb – steaks, chops or roasts: 145°F and allow to rest for at least three minutes (including fresh or smoked ham) o Ground meats: 160°F o Fully cooked ham (to reheat): Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140°F and all others to 165°F o All poultry (breasts, whole birds and stuffing, legs, thighs, wings and ground poultry): 165°F o Egg dishes: 160°F o Fish: 145°F o Leftovers and casseroles: 165°F • Perishable food should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. At celebration gatherings, make sure your cold food is kept cold (40°F or below) by serving it in smaller portions and refilling, or by putting the food containers over ice. Hot food should be kept hot (140°F or above); you can keep the food warm by serving in warming trays or using a slow cooker. 

Grocery Shopping Plan When shopping for groceries: • Pick up cold items last and bring them home immediately so they are refrigerated or frozen within two hours. • Place raw meat and poultry in plastic bags to prevent raw juices (which may contain harmful bacteria) from dripping onto other foods in your shopping cart. Spring Kitchen Basics • Make sure your refrigerator temperature is set to 40°F or below and your freezer at 0°F or below. An appliance thermometer can come in handy to check those temperatures. • ‘Spring clean’ your fridge for a fresh, healthy start this time of the year. • Do not wash meat and poultry. Doing so increases the risk of cross-contamination in your kitchen. Cooking meat and poultry to the correct internal temperature will kill any bacteria. • Do not thaw foods at room temperature. Safe thawing can only be done in the refrigerator, in the microwave or by using the cold-water method. If you thaw using the microwave or the coldwater method, be sure to cook the food immediately after it has thawed. • Perishable food should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour when temperature is above 90°F). • When storing leftovers like large pots of soup or stew, divide them into shallow containers. Slice large portions of cooked meat or poultry into smaller portions and store in containers. Cover and refrigerate. Consumers can learn more about key food safety practices by following FSIS @USDAFoodSafety on Twitter or Facebook. Consumers with questions about food safety can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist in English or Spanish at AskKaren.gov, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

 

Science, or poetry in motion: Modern pig inspection

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today announced its continued effort to modernize inspection systems through science-based approaches to food safety. USDA is proposing to amend the federal meat inspection regulations to establish a new voluntary inspection system for market hog slaughter establishments called the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS), while also requiring additional pathogen sampling for all swine slaughter establishments.

The proposed rule also allows innovation and flexibility to establishments that are slaughtering market hogs. Market hogs are uniform, healthy, young animals that can be slaughtered and processed in this modernized system more efficiently and effectively with enhanced process control.

For market hog establishments that opt into NSIS, the proposed rule would increase the number of offline USDA inspection tasks, while continuing 100% FSIS carcass-by-carcass inspection. These offline inspection tasks place inspectors in areas of the production process where they can perform critical tasks that have direct impact on food safety.

There will be a 60-day period for comment once the rule is published in the Federal Register.

To view the proposed rule and information on how to comment on the rule, visit the FSIS website at fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulations/federal-register/proposed-rules.

 

Salmonella found by USDA in Canadian deli products

Piller’s Fine Foods, a Waterloo, Canada establishment, is recalling approximately 1,076 pounds of ready-to-eat salami and speck products that may be adulterated with Salmonella, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The problem was discovered when an FSIS sample of the ready-to-eat salami product was confirmed positive for Salmonella. There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

FSIS and the company are concerned that some product may be frozen and in consumers’ freezers.

The ready-to-eat speck prosciutto and salami items were produced on Sept. 22 and Oct. 12, 2017, respectively. The following products are subject to recall:

Vacuum-sealed random weight plastic packages containing “Black Kassel Piller’s Dry Aged D’Amour Salami” with Best Before date of May 12, 2018

Vacuum-sealed random weight plastic packages containing “Black Kassel Piller’s Dry Aged Speck Smoked Prosciutto” with Best Before date of May 12, 2018.

These items were produced in Canada and were shipped to distribution centers in California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and New York.         

Everyone has a camera: Sow and piglet edition

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and collaborators are using 3-D imaging to protect newborn piglets by monitoring adult female pigs’ behavior.

Nearly 15 percent of pre-weaned piglets die each year. According to U.S. pork producers, many are crushed by sows (adult female pigs). Modifying the sows’ stalls or crates may help reduce piglet deaths. The first step, according to ARS agricultural engineer Tami Brown-Brandl, is to evaluate sow and piglet behavior in their stalls. Animal behavior contains vital clues about health and well-being that producers can use to better manage their livestock.

Brown-Brandl and a team of scientists from China, Iowa Select Farms and Iowa State University developed a system to automatically process and analyze 3-D images of sows. A camera mounted over birthing crates captures images to determine a sow’s behavior and posture: if she’s eating, drinking, standing, sitting, or lying down.

The system, which accurately classifies behavior, could potentially help prevent sows from crushing their piglets, according to Brown-Brandl, who works at ARS’s Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska.

This technology allows swine producers to better monitor their pigs and determine whether management adjustments, such as changes in crate size or pen arrangement, are needed, Brown-Brandl adds. The data could also help producers locate sick animals more quickly.

Atypical BSE in Alabama cow

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced an atypical case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), a neurologic disease of cattle, in an eleven-year old cow in Alabama.  This animal never entered slaughter channels and at no time presented a risk to the food supply, or to human health in the United States.

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) have determined that this cow was positive for atypical (L-type) BSE.  The animal was showing clinical signs and was found through routine surveillance at an Alabama livestock market. 

BSE is the form that occurred primarily in the United Kingdom, beginning in the late 1980’s, and it has been linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in people. The primary source of infection for classical BSE is feed contaminated with the infectious prion agent, such as meat-and-bone meal containing protein derived from rendered infected cattle. Regulations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have prohibited the inclusion of mammalian protein in feed for cattle and other ruminants since 1997 and have also prohibited high-risk tissue materials in all animal feed since 2009.

Atypical BSE is different, and it generally occurs in older cattle, usually 8 years of age or greater. It seems to arise rarely and spontaneously in all cattle populations.

This is the nation’s 5th detection of BSE.  Of the four previous U.S. cases, the first was a case of classical BSE that was imported from Canada; the rest have been atypical (H- or L-type) BSE.

Satire: Rookie USDA Agent vomits after seeing first rotten orange

Unable to contain his nausea at the horrifying scene before him, rookie USDA agent Michael Dunn vomited Friday after seeing his first rotten orange.

“As soon as the kid caught a glimpse of that produce lying there decomposing, he turned away, hunched over, and started throwing up like crazy,” said supervisor Carl Webster, adding that it was not uncommon for brand-new agents to react in such a manner when suddenly confronted with a putrefying, fly-covered rind. “He’ll get past it, though—you build up your tolerance after a while. The key is to not let it faze you but also never forget that this rotting pulp was once a sweet, delicious part of someone’s fruit bowl or lunchbox.”

At press time, Dunn had steeled himself and looked at the orange once more, but was vomiting again before he could make it back to the car.

Cooking pork to control Hep E: Use a fucking thermometer

In 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture very publicly began to urge consumers to use an accurate food thermometer when cooking ground beef patties because research demonstrated that the color of meat is not a reliable indicator of safety.

USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety at the time, Catherine Woteki, said, “Consumers need to know that the only way to be sure a ground beef patty is cooked to a high enough temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria that may be present is to use a thermometer.”

At the time, I said, no one uses a meat thermometer to check the doneness of hamburgers. The idea of picking up a hamburger patty with tongs and inserting the thermometer in sideways was too much effort (others insist the best way to use a tip sensitive digital thermometer is to insert into the middle of the patty at a 45 degree angle).

I was wrong.

Shortly thereafter, I started doing it and discovered, not only was using a meat thermometer fairly easy, it made me a better cook. No more extra well-done burgers to ensure the bugs that would make me sick were gone. They tasted better.

By May 2000, USDA launched a national consumer campaign to promote the use of food thermometers in the home. The campaign featured an infantile mascot called Thermy that proclaimed, “It’s Safe to Bite When the Temperature is Right.”

Seventeen years later, the converts are minimal. Canada came to the thermometer table a few years ago,  Australia is doing a slow policy creep, but the UK is still firmly committed to piping hot.

The UK Food Standards Agency recently published the sixth, chief scientific adviser’s Science Report, entitled Data Science. No mention of thermometers except to determine refrigerator temperatures or included as packing on food.

Science-based policy depends on whose science is being quoted to what ends. The fancy folks call it value judgments in risk assessments; Kevin Spacey in the TV series House of Cards would call it personal advancement.

So last week, when UK media reports dubbed Hepatitis E the Brexit virus, with the potential for 60,000 Brits to fall sick annually from EU pork, the UK Food Standards Agency once again reiterated how fucking unscientific they are.

“Following media reports this morning we wanted to remind consumers of our advice about cooking pork thoroughly. We always advise that whole cuts of pork, pork products and offal should be thoroughly cooked until steaming hot throughout, the meat is no longer pink and juices run clear.”

The National Pig Association — it’s a thing, “recommends that consumers follow the advice from the Food Standards Agency that pork and sausages should be cooked thoroughly until steaming hot throughout, with no pink or red in the centre, to greatly reduce the risk of infection.”

Back to science instead of a rainbow fairy tale on safe cooking procedures, in May 2011, USDA recommended pork, and all whole meat cuts, only have to get to 145 degrees internally, not the 160 the agency had previously suggested, followed by a 3-minute rest.

The U.S. pork board for years promoted pork be cooked with a “hint of pink.”

This has more to do with breeding efforts to produce leaner pork.

But HEV is a different beast.

Public Health England reported the number of severe cases has almost trebled since 2010, with 1,244 reported in 2016, compared with 368 six years earlier.

The virus causes a flu-like illness and in severe circumstances, could cause death.

This strain has been linked to pig farms in France, Holland, Germany and Denmark and is only killed in meat if people cook it for longer than usual.

Dr Harry Dalton, a gastroenterologist at Exeter University, told a conference on neurological infectious diseases HEV had become a major threat and that no one should eat pink pork and that pregnant women and transplant patients should not eat pork at all.

He also said the virus is heat resistant and survives being cooked until the meat is heated to above 71C (160F) for two minutes.

Looks like some research is required, not that the Brits would change their no pink policy. Maybe they’re homophoblic.

With Memorial Day on Monday in the U.S. and a bank holiday Monday in the U.K., whatever that is, USDA yesterday once again stated, “The best and only way to make sure bacteria have been killed and food is safe to eat is by cooking it to the correct internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer.”

Recent research by USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that only 34 percent of the public use a food thermometer when cooking hamburgers – and that’s self-reported, people lie on surveys.

Use a fucking thermometer and stick it in.

(If you don’t like profanity, don’t read, but if you want to read, your IT censors may figure you can’t handle such dreadful language, and messages are getting blocked. You may want to have a word with your IT folks.)

Trump’s expected pick for USDA’s top scientist is not a scientist

Catherine Woteki, served as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary for research, education and economics in the Obama administration.

She recently told Pro Publica “This position is the chief scientist of the Department of Agriculture. It should be a person who evaluates the scientific body of evidence and moves appropriately from there.”

Trump expects to appoint Sam Clovis — who, according to sources with knowledge of the appointment and members of the agriculture trade press, is President Trump’s pick to oversee the section — appears to have no such credentials.

Clovis has never taken a graduate course in science and is openly skeptical of climate change. While he has a doctorate in public administration and was a tenured professor of business and public policy at Morningside College for 10 years, he has published almost no academic work.

Morningside College sounds like painting with Dali (below) on SCTV’s Sunrise Semester.

Clovis advised Trump on agricultural issues during his presidential campaign and is currently the senior White House advisor within the USDA, a position described by The Washington Post as “Trump’s eyes and ears” at the agency.

Clovis was also responsible for recruiting Carter Page, whose ties to Russia have become the subject of intense speculation and scrutiny, as a Trump foreign policy advisor.

Neither Clovis, nor the USDA, nor the White House responded to questions about Clovis’ nomination to be the USDA’s undersecretary for research, education and economics.

Clovis has a B.S. in political science from the U.S. Air Force Academy, an MBA from Golden State University and a doctorate in public administration from the University of Alabama. The University of Alabama canceled the program the year after Clovis graduated, but an old course catalogue provided by the university does not indicate the program required any science courses.

Clovis’ published works do not appear to include any scientific papers. His 2006 dissertation concerned federalism and homeland security preparation, and a search for academic research published by Clovis turned up a handful of journal articles, all related to national security and terrorism.

I can’t make this shit up.

Seek and ye shall find: E. coli O103 found in Waco beef

Waco, Texas will always have a special place in the barfblog.com family.

Amy was a French professor there for one year. She was required to follow a dress code, one that didn’t include beach shorts and loud Hawaiian shirts.

Her car was randomly shot at driving to work one day – which is why she volunteered to go to Iraq as part of a teaching mission, correctly reasoning it couldn’t be much more dangerous than Waco.

Chapman did a duck and hide under the table at a Waco restaurant as one of the regular booms went off to scare away starlings.

I’ve been told many times I look like David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidians religious sect,

Waco is also home to rare strains of E. coli.

H & B Packing Co., Inc., a Waco, Texas establishment, is recalling approximately 73,742 pounds of boneless beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O103, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The boneless beef items were produced on March 6, 2017. The following products are subject to recall:

60-lb. box containing boneless beef with case code 69029 and production date 03/06/17.

Multiple combo bins containing 73,682-lbs of boneless beef with case code 69029 and production date 03/06/17.

The products subject to recall bear establishment number “EST. M13054” inside the USDA mark of inspection. These items were shipped to food manufacturers within the state of Texas.

The problem was discovered when FSIS was notified by the State of Texas’ Meat Safety Assurance Unit about a positive non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli sample.

There have been no confirmed reports of illnesses due to consumption of these products.

Many clinical laboratories do not test for non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), such as STEC O103 because it is harder to identify than STEC O157. People can become ill from STECs 2–8 days (average of 3–4 days) after consuming the organism.

should seek emergency medical care immediately.

FSIS and the company are concerned that some product may be frozen and in customers’ freezers.

Customers who have purchased these products are urged not to use them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.

Waco is also near George W. Bush’s ranch retreat, as Harold and Kumar found out.