Food Safety Talk live in Geneseo, NY

Don and I are recording a live show tonight at SUNY Geneseo thanks to an invite from Dr. Beth McCoy. Beth has been a listener since close to the beginning. It’s always cool to find out that someone actually listens to the stuff we talk about. As I did some prep for the show, I stumbled upon a local bar and grabbed a Genny Cream Ale. The bartender saw the Food Safety Talk decal I have on my MacBook and we struck up a conversation about what it’s like to work in the back of the house of a restaurant.

My most valuable experience as a food safety person remains washing dishes in a local Guelph bar.

Sex & drugs & rock and roll.

And food safety.

We talked food safety myths, eating leftover pizza, stuff both of us have seen in the kitchen and cleaning up puke (and dragging the mop bucket back into the kitchen).


Food Safety Talk 163: Grown on Chia Pets

The episode starts with the ongoing history of Canadian cuisine, landing on peameal bacon and how it came to be an Ontario delicacy. The guys go on to talk creamers dropping in hot coffee and contamination potential. The guys put out a request to listeners to send on listener’s food safety in everyday life (send pics). The guys talk date balls, chia and immunocompromised individuals. Ben tells a story about navigating the public health investigation world from a victims perspective and Don provides his insight. They both then go on to chat about risk communication in deception studies with human subjects. The episode ends on rapid listener feedback on double gloving (again), washing onions and cutting boards.

Episode 163 is available on iTunes and here.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Shirley Surgeoner — legend

When I first became a prof in 1996, Gord Surgeoner took me aside and said, stick close to the farmers.

He introduced me to the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers and we did some cool work.

I ran the counties of ag meetings, giving my spiel, and always knowing Gord approved.

And behind Gord was Shirley.

Shirley was always gracious, kind to my kids, and would tell me life advice like, Gord goes out and makes the life, I make the life worth living.

From my hometown of Brantford, Ontario (that’s in Canada), Shirley was in the Cockshutt family while I was firmly in the Massey-Ferguson camp.

Gord and I spent a lot of hours on the 401, I watched him practice speeches at 6 am in hotel rooms, and would say, Surgeoner, go back to bed, but Shirley was always on his mind, and he didn’t want to screw up.

Gord’s one of about three people I would drop everything for and fly halfway around the world if I thought I could be of use. The two daughters both worked with me at various times when I was in Kansas, and they each produced some cool science shit.

Here’s the official obit:

Shirley Diane Surgeoner

1948 – 2018

It is with joyful memories and heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Shirley Diane Surgeoner (nee Vaughan). Shirley passed away on September 3rd at Norfolk General Hospital surrounded by her family.

Shirley was born in Brantford Ontario on February 20, 1948 to Audrey (nee Waring) and Edwin Vaughan; the oldest sister to Gary (Patsy) and Lary (Carrie). Shirley attended the University of Guelph where she graduated B.A. Sc. in 1972. She was a great advocate of the University of Guelph and the Mac-FACS-FRAN Alumni Association. Shirley received the prestigious Lincoln Alexander Medal of Distinguished Service in 2002 and the Alumni Volunteer Award in 2011.

For 45 years Shirley was the devoted wife and best friend of Gordon Surgeoner. Shirley and Gordon renovated a beautiful historic home in Fergus ON where they raised their three children: Brae (Luke), Drew (Jen) and Jade (Ben). She left behind a poem that brings us all to tears, but highlights the wonderful life she created at 169 Garafraxa St. E, “There’s a home whose rooms I know by heart. Where I tended the garden and read my books. Where dreams were dreamt and memories made. Where children grew up and I grew old. There’s a home where life was lived. A house where I belong” – Author Unknown. A loving and inspirational mother, she was also the proud grandmother of Aspen, Lily and Rilen.

Throughout her life Shirley maintained a sweet and simple demeanor that won the hearts of many. Her signature gift was that of giving. Shirley gave unconditionally to her family, friends and community. More than anything her family is grateful to her selfless years spent raising her children, supporting her husband and devotedly caring for her aging grandparents and parents. Shirley’s mantra in life was that life can provide many unexpected challenges, so enjoy every day and tell those that surround you how much you love them. She will be missed by many. Cremation has taken place at McCleister’s Funeral Home in Brantford. A celebration of Shirley’s life will be held at a later time to be announced. In her memory donations may be made to the Groves Memorial Community Hospital in Fergus. 

Food Safety Talk 162: FST Bolo Ties

The show opens with a bit of discussion about other podcasts, but quickly moves to the main subject at hand: a recent study on the increased isopropanol tolerance of certain bacteria found in hospitals.  The guys weigh in on the strengths and weaknesses of the study, including it’s relevance to food safety, with some help via listener feedback. The next topic is Chipotle’s recent problem with Clostridium perfringens in their beans. The guys introduce a new segment on Canadian foods, before moving to listener feedback on fermented foods, CSPI, and thermometer calibration, times and temperatures, food dehydrators, handwashing, and double gloving. The show ends with a discussion of a recent cookbook recall.

Episode 162 is available on iTunes and here.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

It’s free guacamole day and Chipotle investigated as source of another outbreak

Chipotle appears to be linked to another outbreak of foodborne illness. Maybe it’s just two cases (according to Chipotle via CNBC reporting) or maybe it’s way more according to Patrick Quade over at 

There are lots of things that can go wrong in the restaurant like poor handwashing, cross-contamination or improper temperature control. Or folks showing up to work while ill (and Chipotle’s seen this before).

The pathogen isn’t clear, nor is what dish/practice caused the illnesses. It’s too early to tell.

What we do know is that the local health department is investigating:

From the duh files: Human behavior and corporate culture impact on hygiene, food safety

Easy to talk about; harder to do.

Leadership and efficient communication in food companies have a large impact on hygiene and food safety, as proven by research at Ghent University.

Many food processing companies have implemented a food safety management system to comply with the severe measures to deliver hygienic and safe food. Nevertheless, consumers can be exposed to unsafe food, with food poisoning as a result.

Research at Ghent University shows that human behavior and corporate culture may have an impact on these problems.

Researchers Elien De Boeck, Prof. Liesbeth Jacxsens (faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University) and Prof. Peter Vlerick (faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Ghent University) took a closer look at food companies and their management systems.

“Food safety is often looked at from a purely technological approach”, De Boeck explains. “Many companies choose to obtain a food safety certificate merely because their customers demand it; not because they are intrinsically motivated to improve their company’s hygiene and food safety. As such, certificates risk to become merely a checklist with requirements and lose their original goal: to safeguard and improve hygiene and food safety.”

A certificate is no guarantee for safe food”, the researcher continues. “Some companies with certificates still encounter food safety problems.”

Their study shows that in many cases, food safety problems are caused by the behavior of individual employees, who are, in turn, influenced by the corporate culture with respect to food safety and hygiene.

De Boeck: “As a company, you make choices: for instance, how do we manage food safety? Is it our priority to produce safe and hygienic food, or to increase production? This organizational culture reflects on all aspects in production and processing, and on the behavior of employees. If you give employees sufficient time to do their job well, they will get the signal that quality and food safety are more important than quantity. Furthermore, stress and burn-out are clearly linked to a weak food safety culture.”

A strong leading management and efficient communication seemed crucial to realize a better food safety culture.

“Every food processing company should have strong leaders on crucial positions in the company”, De Boeck advises. “These persons have a positive influence on the behavior of individual employees.”

Also good communication is important, to make employees aware of the importance of food safety and hygiene, for example by organizing frequent food safety and hygiene training.

In certification of companies, food safety culture will become more important in the future.

“Food companies need to aim for a good food safety culture, in which every employee is aware of the importance of safe and hygienic food”, the researcher concludes.

Electrolyzed water: a pretty good review

An old friend of the blog emailed today looking for some info for someone he was working with who wanted to know about whether electrolyzed water, on it’s own, was a good replacement for sanitizers.

I came across this 2016 review paper in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety.

Electrolyzed Water as a Novel Sanitizer in the Food Industry: Current Trends and Future Perspectives

SME Rahman, Imran Khan, and Deog-Hwan Oh


Electrolyzed water (EW) has gained immense popularity over the last few decades as a novel broad-spectrum sanitizer. EW can be produced using tap water with table salt as the singular chemical additive. The application of EW is a sustainable and green concept and has several advantages over traditional cleaning systems including cost effectiveness, ease of application, effective disinfection, on-the-spot production, and safety for human beings and the environment. These features make it an appropriate sanitizing and cleaning system for use in high-risk settings such as in hospitals and other healthcare facilities as well as in food processing environments. EW also has the potential for use in educational building, offices, and entertainment venues. However, there have been a number of issues related to the use of EW in various sectors including limited knowledge on the sanitizing mechanism. AEW, in particular, has shown limited efficacy on utensils, food products, and surfaces owing to various factors, the most important of which include the type of surface, presence of organic matter, and type of tape water used. The present review article highlights recent developments and offers new perspectives related to the use of EW in various areas, with particular focus on the food industry.

It’s Not the Mayonnaise: Food Safety Myths & Summertime Food

Matt Shipman, Research Communications Lead at NC State News Services (and all-around great guy) writes,

When folks get sick after a picnic, people often blame the potato salad. Or the chicken salad. Or whatever other side dish was made with mayonnaise. But that’s usually not the culprit.

“It’s not always the potato salad…except when it’s the potato salad,” says Ben Chapman, a food safety researcher at NC State University. “There are lots of other foods at a cookout that can also lead to illnesses.”

Potato Salad

When it is the potato salad, the culprits are usually Staphylococcus aureus or Clostridium perfringens. And a combination of factors can lead to problems. In most “salads” of this type, low-acid potatoes, chicken, pasta or hard-boiled eggs are added to the mayonnaise. The mayonnaise is acidified to make it safe, but the low acidity of the potatoes (or foods) offsets the acidity of the mayonnaise, creating an environment where bacteria can thrive.

That sets the stage. Then poor hygiene comes into play. S. aureus, for example, can often be found on our faces, particularly around the eyes or nose. So, S. aureus can be introduced to salads when people touch their face and then – without washing their hands – touch the food.

However, in order for bacteria to become a problem, there also has to be “temperature abuse,” meaning that the potato salad isn’t kept below 41°F.

“For example, above 90°F, foodborne pathogens in potato salad increase tenfold in as quickly as an hour,” Chapman says. “In ideal temperatures for bacteria, such as body temperature, bacterial populations can double in less than 20 minutes.”

So, it’s rarely the mayonnaise. Instead, it’s the combination of mayonnaise and other salad ingredients, plus poor hygiene and poor temperature control.

But, in rare cases, it can be the potatoes. An outbreak of botulism poisoning in 2015 stemmed from potato salad made using potatoes that had been canned improperly by a home cook.

“Potatoes need to be ‘pressure canned,’ using a boiling water bath,” Chapman says. “These potatoes weren’t, which led to 29 illnesses and two deaths – the largest botulism poisoning in 40 years.”

Why It’s Not the Mayonnaise (And When It Could Be)

A big reason that mayonnaise rarely causes foodborne illness these days is that most people buy their mayonnaise, rather than making it from scratch.

“Commercially produced mayonnaise is acidified to reduce spoilage and kill off human pathogens,” Chapman says. “It’s really low risk on its own.”

However, many mayo recipes for the home cook don’t include acid, which makes it possible for pathogens – like S. aureus, C. perfringens and Salmonella – to grow and become a health risk.

“So, if you’re making mayonnaise at home, pick a recipe that uses pasteurized egg products and incorporates acid – such as vinegar or lemon juice – to reduce risk” Chapman says. “And refrigeration is still incredibly important, as recipes may not incorporate enough acid to address risks.”

More Likely Culprits

If it’s probably not the mayonnaise salad, what are the more likely culprits behind foodborne illness? The answer may surprise you.

“Fresh fruits and vegetables are responsible for more outbreaks of foodborne illness than any other type of food; they’ve been linked to 46 percent of foodborne illnesses between 1998 and 2008,” Chapman says.

That does not mean that you shouldn’t eat your fruits and veggies. Just beware of risks.

Unfortunately, in most cases, contaminated produce was contaminated before the consumer bought it – at any point between the field where it was grown and the shelf where the consumer picked it up.

That said, you can still take steps to reduce risk

First, you really want to avoid cross contamination, which is when pathogens from uncooked food (like raw meat) are transferred to food that’s ready to eat. That can happen if you don’t wash your hands, for instance, or if you use the same cutting board for cutting chicken and preparing salad.

You can also reduce risk by washing your produce – though that won’t eliminate risk altogether.

And, if you are growing your own fruits and vegetables, make sure you’re that you are following some fundamental food safety guidelines for gardeners: using a clean water source (not your rain barrel); keeping wildlife from contaminating your garden; keeping your hands and gardening gear clean; and not using uncomposted manure.

As for grilling, check out our “5 Things You Should Know About Grilling Burgers (To Avoid Getting Sick).” There are good tips in there!

Bon appétit!

Parasites in poop fossils reveal the crappiness of ancient human hygiene

Sarah Sloat of Inverse reports you can learn a lot from poop. These days, scientists look at people’s feces to figure out their diets and what type of drugs they’re partying with. According to a study released Wednesday, ancient poop is just as revealing. In PLOS One, researchers report that they found a bunch of parasite eggs in feces piled up in ancient latrines, and that this fantastically gross endeavor has provided clues into the lifestyles of humans that lived thousands of years ago.

Ancient latrines found in Bahrain, Jordan, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Lithuania are the focus of the new paper, authored by a team of Danish and Dutch scientists. The samples of ancient waste range significantly in age, with the oldest, found in Bahrain, dating to 500 B.C. to the most recent, found in the Netherlands, dating to 1700 A.D. Microscopy techniques allowed them to pinpoint parasite eggs within the old poop, and DNA analysis of those parasites revealed not only what these humans ate but also the animals they interacted with and the parasites that plagued their stomachs.

“Using a novel approach of applying shotgun sequencing on ancient parasite eggs that have been purified by filtering, we have obtained a new and much more detailed insight into parasitic infections of human populations of the past,” the authors write.

When parasitic worms infect an animal, they lay eggs in the intestine, which are then later plopped out when that animal defecates. The scientists had at first reasoned that there were several ways the eggs could have gotten into the poop: They might have been spread from human to human, passed to humans from animal hosts, or introduced through the consumption of already infected animals.

The team’s analysis showed that most of the parasite DNA came from parasites that spread from human to human. The second most common parasite came from a species that’s spread when people eat raw or undercooked fish and pork.

Via shotgun sequencing, the scientists reconstructed the mitochondrial genomes of some of the parasites. Doing this revealed the species of parasites lurking in the ancient poop, which included the giant roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides) and human whipworm (Trichruis trichiura). While humans, especially those in Europe, were commonly infected with intestinal worms until the last century, today roundworm and whipworm are fortunately only highly prevalent in countries with low levels of sanitation, insufficient water refinement, and animals that live close to humans.

Their analysis also turned up parasites known to infect sheep, horses, dogs, pigs, and rodents, indicating that the humans who used these latrines lived in close proximity to those animals, with their feces ending up in the same dump. Some poop samples really let the researchers dig into the details of the lives of their makers: For example, feces harvested from the Danish samples, dated from 1018 to 1400 A.D., hints that those ancient people dined on fin whales, roe deer, and hares. Meanwhile, plant DNA found in the feces from North European latrines dated to the same period shows that the veggies of choice were cabbages and buckwheat.