Doug Powell

About Doug Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of barfblog.com, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Download C.V. »

Do people know that flour can f**k you up: And surveys still suck

Consumers do not consider flour, a low-moisture food product, a high risk for microbial contamination. In the past 10 years, however, flour has been identified as a source of pathogenic bacteria, including Salmonella and Escherichia coli.

Online surveys were conducted to study consumers’ flour handling practices and knowledge about food safety risks related to flour. The survey also evaluated message impact on three food safety messages in communicating information and convincing consumers to adopt safe flour handling practices. Flour-using consumers (n ¼ 1,045) from the United States reported they used flour to make cakes, cookies, and bread. Most consumers stored flour in sealed containers. Less than 1% kept a record of product identification numbers, such as lot numbers, and less than 11% kept brand and use-by date information. Many consumers (85%) were unaware of flour recalls, or outbreaks, and few (17%) believed they would be affected by flour recalls or outbreaks. If the recall affected the flour they bought, nearly half of the consumers (47%) would buy the same product from a different brand for a few months before they returned to the recalled brand. Among consumers who use flour to bake, 66% said they ate raw cookie dough or batter. Raw dough “eaters” were more difficult to convince to avoid eating and playing with raw flour than “noneaters.” Food safety messages were less impactful on those raw dough eaters than noneaters. Compared with the food safety message with only recommendations, those messages with recommendations and an explanation as to the benefits of the practice were more effective in convincing consumers to change their practices. These findings provide insight into effective consumer education about safe flour handling practices and could assist in the accurate development of risk assessment models related to flour handling.

Consumer knowledge and behaviors regarding food risks associated with wheat flour, 2021

Journal of Food Protection, vol. 84 no. 4

YAOHUA FENG* AND JUAN C. ARCHILA-GODÍNEZ

https://doi.org/10.4315/JFP-19-562

https://watermark.silverchair.com/i0362-028x-84-4-628.pdf?token=AQECAHi208BE49Ooan9kkhW_Ercy7Dm3ZL_9Cf3qfKAc485ysgAAArEwggKtBgkqhkiG9w0BBwagggKeMIICmgIBADCCApMGCSqGSIb3DQEHATAeBglghkgBZQMEAS4wEQQM-2AoNuDnzs3UGNOwAgEQgIICZNrYsrhGmbrJOPRXGPMN_ykaV9_9bCmmlGbOBVMxsPAc6urDkisCTPCm6O-LzmsxLidMftqqsCH-SIVwEZvc1mtxFllqth_TYN54lFGld3RL1GXHNECNY07yQnGwTc31mqchbqhg57A8vnJ8gh8PDZ9hK3mWgr8T0c7tfXnMVjAlnQg0jMJ2pLHaZoZAZ37H4EZIz5mNioYwgkXB_Um3qwJGG5AaMPoKqk4wh-j2fnIboZu712ZcAsG7zSKg9BpWfayLhI_YutkEahqD3hcbJpKzg-H79F8zC_Y7rbv0nn4VR2VMVWjdDeFfnFdUvNZkt9TGrTJZoLYSkElS84mNV78gUTBBAayojri1Fzp6nrfwonn6yqDVB1eih4jujoaaxTUSei9tlp_aUsm9qMECCHu6pMMWXGB31HJSi4ablT8wnWYnFekA5dD7gmSMjNzS8QtVVHDhZi9mj3X2HggLql8ogEXl4eSjUhN5kGBznUh3chJmVVNj2MMQtAj6oJ6fJxDO2C8dZy2qysrTWs8V3EdQGpY1p65XtRGVQ52ZpMRULJ4xA_arfBCvi1GXJ5HNBpa44WUme68mt-JOuqqMSLmT4KjWV9IqsVr53ebdC2oRX9-huhBIaFUZVXC16pC85MAqpq8tJ5C-EH0qhEkwajI5-l3s-NRtdCq3KNIK5hDeLPVzwQb6EJ8gt7DUE1v-PKiJanr46EWmIcZ3nxPpcNzgqGFS0lkrBmijy5TRhpkn8-ZUV2QLacCcPcIJHWK_mWaAAl3ELlwnjC-iyxgOLBQpfx4_IppwW0akg2bKgl5bhgVBMg

Good governance for food safety management

If there’s one food, safety types will not eat, it’s raw sprouts. Alfalfa, mung bean, pea and clover, they tend to be the same microbiological shithole.

Costco and Walmart stopped selling them five years ago in the U.S.

It’s impossible to get a sandwich or salad in Australia without sprouts.

I’ve written chefs who should not be serving raw sprouts to immunocomprised people in hospitals.

They poo-pooed my concerns.

My South Australian colleague, Andrew Thomson, is the company director for Think ST Solutions, a food consultancy offering practical solutions to both management and staff in hospitals, aged-care facilities, restaurants, hotels and the food industry.

Thomson writes in his latest column for Hospital Health that it’s time for the health- and aged-care sectors to move beyond meeting minimum compliance requirements and strive for business excellence in food safety management systems.

Health- and aged-care organisations face challenges and high expectations from an array of stakeholders, regulatory and accreditation agencies, and consumers. The area of food safety is no exception. Despite this, many organisations are achieving minimum regulatory compliance and failing to recognise related risks until after a serious episode occurs.

It is essential that board directors of health- and aged-care organisations, or those about to take on these roles, understand their role and responsibilities. It is important to be aware of food laws and other regulatory requirements, and ensure that organisations abide by them.

As far back as 1997, Winsome McCaughey AO, the former chief executive of the Australia New Zealand Food Authority, outlined the broad policy framework for food regulatory reform in Australia. The reforms promoted a risk-based approach to food safety management, which is consistent with international guidelines on risk analysis. Central to this approach was the introduction of national food safety standards.

The national food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, has developed standards that require food safety programs to be implemented in high-risk sectors, such as those providing food services to vulnerable persons. Food businesses providing potentially hazardous food to vulnerable persons — including hospital patients, aged-care residents and children in childcare centres — are captured by these requirements, in addition to businesses that prepare and deliver meals to vulnerable people in the home.

Health- and aged-care organisations need to ensure that risks to food safety management within their business are properly identified, reported and controlled.

The key action points for boards of directors to embrace are:

Understand and accept their role and responsibility in food safety leadership.

Understand and accept, at an individual board member level, the accountability for the role.

Understand the organisation’s obligations under various (food) legislation.

Create clearly defined policies on accountabilities, risk and reporting.

Consider the food safety implications of board decisions.

Oversee management actions in food safety matters.
The board should also agree on how to incorporate food safety management into existing governance structures; how to set objectives and monitor performance of the business and food-related risks; and the appointment of a board member as its food safety ‘champion’ — a nominated food safety director who will take the lead on ensuring that the board’s food safety management responsibilities are properly discharged.

The governance of an organisation involves the establishment of a framework of values, processes and practices designed to regulate, monitor and provide effective reporting on organisational performance. Through this framework, boards and directors exercise their governing authority and make decisions to achieve the organisation’s purpose and goals. Directors ensure the organisation operates effectively and ethically, and complies with all laws and regulations.

Food safety governance is as important as any other aspect of governance. It is also a fundamental part of an organisation’s risk management strategy, which is a key responsibility of a board of directors. Both the board and its management team have a duty to exercise due diligence to ensure that the organisation complies with its food safety duties and obligations. Failure to effectively manage food safety risk has both human and business costs — this includes damaged reputations and potential prosecution.

It is important to distinguish between governance and management practices. Directors should focus on governance-related issues — determining the organisation’s purpose, developing an effective governance culture, holding management to account and ensuring effective performance and compliance. Directors work with management to develop strategy and business plans which are then implemented by management.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for establishing effective governance for food safety management, as the structures and levels of engagement vary with the size and complexity of the organisations involved. There are a number of basic questions that a board of directors can ask itself to assist in creating the right business culture:

How does the board assure itself that the food safety management system has been fully implemented across the organisation?

How does the board assure itself that the organisation is demonstrating its commitment to food safety?

How does the board verify that the organisation’s food safety strategic and operational risks have been adequately identified and assessed, with appropriate mitigation strategies implemented?

What relevant information is the board receiving on food safety management? Is this reporting sufficient?

What processes are in place to inform board members of the results (and actions taken) from internal and external audits and comprehensive senior management reviews to ensure the food safety management system is fit for purpose?

How does the board satisfy itself that the organisation has food-handling employees and managers that are competent and adequately trained in their food safety responsibilities and accountabilities?

Does the organisation have sufficient resources (people, equipment, systems and budget) for managing its food safety management systems?

What approach does the board use to compare the performance of the food safety management system with comparable organisations? How does it monitor and rate its organisation’s performance?
In regards to competency and adequate food safety training, shrinking training budgets and providing employees with traditional training approaches to basic compliance training is one area for urgent change if an organisation is to flourish.

The decades-long and less desirable training practice used by many organisations relies on herding as many employees as possible to undertake (any form of) training and then show the regulator and/or accreditation assessors the training records. This approach fails on several fronts: it does not provide employees with the skills they urgently need for doing their job now and in the future; lacks the required processes when employees learn new skills and behaviours; and does not address developing the best employees for future roles. Questions relating to employee learning strategies, skills development, performance and systems improvement, and measuring training success are largely overlooked by senior leaders and the regulator.

RMIT Online and Deloitte Access Economics recently released Ready, set, upskill: Effective training for the jobs of tomorrow. This report provides fresh insights into post-COVID skill needs; how prepared Australians feel for a changing workplace; and where employers should invest in training to prepare for what’s ahead.

Modern approaches to learning in the workplace necessitate a model of continuous learning and supporting employee learning — it moves beyond designing and delivering one-off training programs.

A comprehensive table of sprout-related outbreaks can be found here.

Family pride: Maple-syrup-edition

Daughter two-of-four of the Canadian bunch is entering her Harrowsmith years.

Before the pandemic, her and her partner sold their Toronto-area house and resorted to rural Ontario where they have embraced the country life.

(Harrowsmith, the magazine, was heralded as a back-to-the-land and environmental issues platform.)

And now she and her family have made honey from maple trees on the property.

My daughter says it was a great experience and she got to spend lots of outdoor time with her two sons (who have fabulous hair).

I shared these pics with my honey-producing long-time farmer colleague,  and he wrote back, “This is sooo good, dp. You should be proud of this. Producing food. Right on! “

I am proud. Of all my five daughters.

E. coli outbreak at childcare facility in mid-west Ireland

The Department of Public Health in the Mid-West is handling an E.coli outbreak at a childcare facility and is reminding the public of the danger this bacteria can pose. 

Verotoxigenic E. coli (VTec) is a powerful strain of E.coli bacterium that lives in the gut of healthy cattle and sheep and can cause serious illness in the elderly and in children aged under five. 

The Mid-West public health department said the outbreak was under control but the incidence highlights the importance of hand hygiene and proper water treatment. 

VTec can be a source of food poisoning and can cause bowel inflammation leading to bloody diarrhea and severe stomach cramps. 

A specialist in public health said Ireland had one of the highest incidence rates of VTec in Europe and that the Mid-West region has one of the highest reported rates in the country. 

It underpins the importance of hand hygiene before and after preparing food, after contact with farm animals and their environment, and effective treatment and rehabilitation of private wells. 

Best communication practices in communicating a drinking water-related public health emergency

I guess someone published this again, since the Walkerton outbreak of E. coli O157 which killed seven and sickened over 2,000 k in a town of 5,000 happened in May 2000.

I know it’s not the best writing, but I tried, and it was 20 years ago. I severed on an expert (I hate that word) committee and we wrote our report.

We live near the publicaly funded Princess Alexandria hospital in Brisbane.

A helicopter flies over our house a couple of times a day bringing some victim from the outback or the coast.

The state of Queensland is really, really big.

It reminds me of my Walkerton-resident friend and what he went through in the aftermath of the E. coli O157 outbreak in drinking water.dying being flown to the medical center in London, Ontario (that’s in Canada, like Walkerton).

I think of Jim and the victims every time a chopper goes past.

The E. coli O157:H7 waterborne outbreak in Walkerton, Ont., Canada, in May 2000, presented a clear and present danger of risk to citizens who consumed that water — at least in retrospect. More challenging though, is to know when a risk is severe enough to warrant extraordinary communications and how best to compel citizens to comply with health advisories.

Risk theory, involving assessment, management and communication, is important to underpin discussions of how regulators, industry and citizensincorporate and act on information about risks — such as the hazards posed by E. coli O157:H7 in drinking water. Today it is well accepted that the three components of risk analysis cannot be separated and are, in fact, integrated, and that communication involves the multi-directional flow of information.

Evidence from recent water-borne disease outbreaks illustrates the importance of timeliness in health related warnings.

Timeliness of message delivery is dependent on how quickly a problem is identified, and how the message is delivered. The public can passively receive information on health related risks  from the media or the utility, or actively seek out information from information sources such as the Internet, telephone hotlines or library services (Casman et al., 2000).

In determining when to go public with health advisories, health authoritiesreport that every outbreak of food- or water-borne illness must be examine dusing factors such as severity, potential impact and incubation time of the suspect pathogen. The health risk outcome of microbiological hazards to the public should be assessed, discussed and quantified among workers from diverse disciplines, including health officials, veterinarians, food processing experts, microbiologists, medical doctors, risk analysis experts, and consumer behavior experts.

Once sufficient evidence exists to issue a public health advisory, risk messages must be designed that accurately describe the risk to individuals and provide concrete steps that individuals can take to reduce the chances of risk exposure.

Further, the number of suspected or confirmed illnesses related to the particular outbreak should be included as a matter of course in any public communications. And once health advisories have been created, a variety ofmessage delivery techniques need to be employed, again depending on the severity of the hazard, the size of the impacted population and local circumstances.

For a severe and immediate hazard such as E. coli O157:H7 in drinking water, a mixture of low-to-high technology message delivery mechanisms should be employed, including door-to-door, the buddy system, the use of existing community networks such as Neighbourhood Watch, emergency hubsite information centers and even mobile megaphones, complimented by more broader mechanisms such as local media, posting information on a website, automated telephone messages, broadcast faxes, and electronic mail distribution.

However, the key to using any of these technologies effectively is to plan ahead and be prepared.  Effective planning will establish which techniques are best for the size of the community and the existing infrastucture.  No one technology can reach all members of the target audience, therefore combining delivery methods is essential.

The current state of risk management and communication research suggests that those responsible with food and water safety risk management must be actively seen to be reducing, mitigating or minimizing a particular risk. The components for managing the stigma associated with any food safety issue seem to involve all of the following factors:

  • effective and rapid surveillance systems;
  • effective communication about the nature of risk;
  • a credible, open and responsive regulatory system;
  • demonstrable efforts to reduce levels of uncertainty and risk; and,
  • evidence that actions match words.

This report has been concerned with the second point, the ability to effectively communicate about the nature of risk. E. coli O157:H7 is not regular E. coli. It is a highly virulent and dangerous pathogen that sickens tens of thousands annually in North America and kills hundreds. Each year since the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box outbreak has brought a high profile and deadly outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 from some corner of the developed world; outbreaks that receive significant media coverage and provide new insights; Australia in 1994 (involving the related E. coli O111); Scotland and Japan in 1996; a waterpark in Atlanta, Ga in 1998. While many Canadians may be unfamiliar with such outbreaks — media coverage in Canada is superficial at best, frequently focused on the hypothetical risks posed by various food-related technologies while ignoring the carnage associated with food and water-borne pathogens

Any local efforts must be supported by a national culture of awarenessregarding a risk such as E. coli O157:H7, which has been known to cause outbreaks and severe illness, and sometimes death, for almost 20 years. When compared to outbreaks and response in the U.S., it is observed that outbreaks, particularly of E. coli O157:H7 bring a sustained policy response from the highest levels of government, including the Office of the President. While there have been many private-sector initiatives in Canada to enhance the safety of the food supply, these efforts are rarely communicated or discussed by government, short of admonitions to “cook hamburger thoroughly.

If I dance, it’s poorly, but I loved it.

33 sick: English outbreak of shigella in 2018 likely caused by contaminated coriander

An outbreak of Shigella in England in 2018 was most likely caused by coriander that was contaminated, according to researchers from the journal Epidemiology and Infection.

Food Safety Magazine reports that in April 2018, Public Health England was informed of cases of Shigella sonnei, of people who had eaten food from three different catering outlets. Initially, the outbreaks were investigated separately, but whole-genome sequencing (WGS) showed that they were caused by the same strain. 

Epidemiological data was analyzed, as well as the food chain and microbiological examination of food samples. WGS was used to determine the phylogenetic relatedness and antimicrobial resistance profile of the outbreak strain. 

Thirty-three cases were linked to the outbreak, and the majority of people involved had eaten food from seven outlets specializing in Indian or Middle Eastern cuisine. Five outlets were linked to two or more cases, all of which used fresh coriander, although a shared supplier was not able to be identified. An investigation at one of the outlets found that 86 percent of cases reported eating dishes with coriander, either as an ingredient or a garnish. Four cases were admitted to the hospital, and one had evidence of treatment failure with ciprofloxacin. 

Phylogenetic analysis proved that the outbreak was part of a wider, multidrug-resistant group of organisms, associated with travel to Pakistan. Likely contributing factors were poor hygiene practices during cultivation, distribution, or preparation of fresh produce.

53 sick: Rare norovirus GIV foodborne outbreak, Wisconsin, USA

We report a norovirus GIV outbreak in the United States, 15 years after the last reported outbreak. During May 2016 in Wisconsin, 53 persons, including 4 food handlers, reported being ill. The outbreak was linked to individually prepared fruit consumed as a fruit salad. The virus was phylogenetically classified as a novel GIV genotype.

Rare norovirus GIV foodborne outbreak, Wisconsin, USA

Emerging Infectious Diseases vol. 27 no. 4

Leslie Barclay, Tim Davis, and Jan Vinjé

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/27/4/20-4521_article?ACSTrackingID=USCDC_331-DM52806&ACSTrackingLabel=Emerging%20Infectious%20Diseases%20Journal%20-%20Volume%2027,%20Issue%204%20-%20April%202021%20Issue%20Now%20Online&deliveryName=USCDC_331-DM52806

Canadian boy permanently brain damaged after eating lettuce contaminated with E. coli

Tyana Grundig, Greg Sadler and Asha Tomlinson report for CBC’s Marketplace (see below) that the last decade has seen recall after recall of tainted romaine lettuce coming into Canada from the United States. At least seven people have died, and hundreds have been sickened or hospitalized in both countries.

Toddler Lucas Parker was one of them.

In the fall of 2018, his parents, Nathan Parker and Karla Terry of Richmond, B.C., took Lucas and his siblings to Disneyland, their first trip outside Canada. But what they couldn’t know at the time was that a few bites of romaine salad Lucas ate one night at a small California roadside restaurant would change their lives forever. 

Soon after that dinner, an outbreak of E. coli O157: H7 contamination spread across both Canada and the United States — eventually leaving 35 people hospitalized.

Like most people who get sick from this strain of E. coli, Lucas, then two years old, didn’t show symptoms right away. When he started feeling unwell, the family headed out for the long drive home. By the time he was in a Canadian hospital, the E. coli had shut down one of his kidneys and led to two brain injuries. There are no current treatments for E. coli that can help alleviate infections or prevent complications. 

Lucas can no longer walk, talk or see. 

“Lucas was just a beaming ray of light … he was a caring person … a cheeky boy, a loving brother,” said his father, Nathan Parker. “I remember him in the hospital waking up out of a coma and looking around, just lost, not talking, not walking, not moving much. Such a brain injury that his brain was so swollen that there was no comfort, there was nothing. It was just hell.”

Bill Marler, an American lawyer and food-safety advocate who has been fighting for food safety for almost 30 years, represents Lucas and his parents. Marler has filed suit on behalf of the family against the restaurant where they ate, as well as the farm and suppliers of the lettuce; the case is currently in the discovery phase in a court system slowed down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Lucas, “is the most devastatingly injured human who has survived a food-borne illness outbreak — ever,” said Marler. “The fact that he survived at all and his parents care for him as gently and as caringly as they do is a testament to them.”

Young children and older adults are most at risk of developing serious complications from E. coli O157: H7 contamination. While most people simply experience an upset stomach, some develop life-threatening symptoms, including stroke, kidney failure and seizures — and some die. 

Between 2009 and 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say they identified 40 food-borne outbreaks of infections from this strain of E. coli in the U.S. with a confirmed or suspected link to leafy greens.

Marler says he believes cows — and a society that values convenient, bagged lettuce — are to blame.

Yersinia enterocolitica outbreak over in Sweden, iceberg lettuce is suspected

Outbreak News Today reports in a follow-up on the Yersinia enterocolitica outbreak in Sweden, The Swedish Public Health Agency says the outbreak of Yersinia enterocolitica is over.

During the period January and up to the beginning of February, twice as many people fell ill with Yersinia infection as during the same period in a normal year. Of a total of 53 cases of Yersinia enterocolitica, 33 were resident in the regions of Stockholm, Västra Götaland and Halland.

Isolates from 24 of these cases were typed by whole genome sequencing, and 16 outbreak cases with clustered isolates could be identified.

A contaminated batch of iceberg lettuce distributed to a restaurant chain is the suspected source of infection.