Microbial contamination of grocery shopping trolleys and baskets in west Texas, 2020

The objective of this study was to identify food safety risk factors associated with supermarket trolleys (grills and handles) and handheld baskets. 

Indicator microorganisms evaluated were those detected by aerobic plate count (APC), yeast and molds (YM), Enterobacteriaceae (EB). Environmental listeria (EL), coliforms (CF), and E. coli (EC).  In addition, listeria monocytogenes, staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli O157 and salmonella sp. Were tested for.  Trolley grills (n=36) had 2.7 x 102 CFU/cm2.  Trolley handles (n=36) had 2.7 x 106 of CF and 5.2 CFU/cm2 of YM.  The bottom of handheld baskets (n=25) had 3.5 x 105 CFU/cm2 of CF and 5.07 CFU/cm2 of EC.  S. aureus was found on 96% of the baskets, 50% of the trolley handles (18 out of 36 samples), and 42% of the trolleys’ grills.  E. coli O157 was identified on 17% of baskets, 3% on trolley grills, and 3% on handles.  Salmonella sp. was detected on 16% of baskets and 8% of trolley grills.  L. monocytogenes was detected on 17% of the bottoms of handheld baskets but on none of the other samples. 

These results suggest the need for implementation of sanitation programs to regularly clean trolleys and baskets, as well as for consumer education. 

Microbial contamination of grocery shopping trolleys and baskets in west Texas, 2020

Food Protection Trends vol. 40 no. 1

Alexandra Calle, Breyan Montoya, Andrea English, and Mindy Brashears

https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/trilix/fpt_20200102/index.php#/10

They still suck: After years of bashing agriculture and GMOs, Chipotle reverses course

I started bashing Chipotle about 2006, when driving through Kansas City with a trailer full of stuff as I moved to Manhattan, Kansas, to follow a girl, and cited this billboard.

Any company focused on this stuff usually meant they were somewhat oblivios to basic food safety.

Unfortunately for all the thousands of sick people over the next 14 years, I was right.

I tried to call them out for the food safety amateurs they were.

Even worse, when Amy was pregnant with Sorenne, she would get Chipotle cravings and I would dutifully comply, because she was doing the heavy lifting in pregnancy.

Now I have an entire book chapter I’m working on, devoted to Chipotle.

Kevin Folta of the Genetic Literacy Project writes that after years of attacking conventional agriculture and crop biotechnology, Chipotle now seems to have found a love for the American farmer that is as warm and inviting as the gooey core of a steak burrito. With the launch of its “Cultivate the Future of Farming” campaign, the company seeks to raise awareness about the hardships facing American agriculture and offer some recommendations and seed grants to address the problems. According to the campaign website:

It’s time to take real steps to give the next generation of farmers a bright future. Through our purpose to Cultivate a Better World, we’re putting programs in place that make a real impact, including seed grants, education and scholarships, and 3-year contracts. Our vision is bold, but we’re starting with a mission to cultivate the future of farming by focusing on pork, beef, and dairy.

It is good to see a company raising awareness about these issues. But given Chipotle’s past cozy relationship with organic food marketers, this seems more like a marketing stunt to woo consumers who are growing increasingly concerned about the status of American farms, and less like a genuine example of philanthropy.

Chipotle is absolutely correct about one thing. The crisis in agriculture is real. Farmers are facing low prices for their products, astronomical costs, and strangling regulation.  Farms, from commodity crops to dairies, are going out of business daily. Farmer suicides are a barometer of how severe the problem is.

From Chipotle’s website- The “challenge is real” and “It’s a hard living.”

However, Chipotle’s new ag-vertisment seems too little, too late. The threats to farmers and the public’s negative perception of agriculture didn’t seem to bother the company just a few years ago. For example, it’s 2014 video Farmed and Dangerous was an assault on large-scale animal agriculture, the industry that produces the ingredients that go into Chipotle’s burritos. Farmed and Dangerous was not the restaurant chain’s first effort, either.  The video short The Scarecrow falsely depicted a sad, dystopian world of dairy production in which forlorn cows are locked in stacked metal boxes as milk is extracted by an extensive network of plumbing.

And of course, Chipotle’s penetrating campaign against genetic engineering (GE) sought to capitalize on the momentum of several failed GMO labeling efforts, which were designed to demonize crop biotechnology by suggesting to consumers that GE seeds were dangerous—an allegation known to be false.

Let’s get real. Chipotle’s decisions to criticize agriculture and then embrace it were not born of altruism.  Public-facing corporate positions are spawned from focus groups and surveys. As a multinational, billion-dollar food empire, Chipotle is no different. The company’s ad campaigns aim to reinforce consumers’ perceptions and identity, showing that Big Burrito shares their values. That is what we see in this latest pro-farm campaign. The public is becoming increasingly aware of the fragile state of US agriculture and the crisis that has hit rural North America hard, and Chipotle is responding.

So is “Cultivate the Future of Farming” just an ag-washing ornament to exploit farmer hardship, or is this a genuine change of heart?

If it is indeed the latter, it needs to start with an apology—an honest one. Chipotle needs to publicly reject its anti-science positions and profound misrepresentation of agriculture. In the six years since the fast food chain’s anti-farming efforts hit a feverish pace, public perception has changed. The fear-based misinformation campaigns are failing, and time has not treated such efforts well. Chipotle’s videos are a shameful reminder of the rhetoric that was so prevalent just a short time ago.

Imagine where we’d be today if in 2014 Chipotle and other brands  invested heavily in research, rural mental health, or resources to bring precision agriculture to farmers. I think the perception of Chipotle and the perception of crop and animal production would be very different.

Perhaps the most important takeaway is that you shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds in the first place. Targeting farmers who produce the products you sell is bad business—and it threatens a critical industry we all depend on.

Foodborne illness and the struggle for food safety

Public health advances step by step, as hazards are recognized and better control and prevention strategies are developed. How this happens, how new safety measures come into being, and how they are improved and become part of the way we live are the focus of this new book, Outbreak: Foodborne Illness and the Struggle for Food Safety.

Professor Timothy D. Lytton, a keen scholar of regulatory evolution, provides a lively and well-documented guide to 150 years of major advances in food safety regulation and prevention in the United States. He starts with the early efforts to cleanse and regulate the milk supply in the 19th century that ultimately led to near-universal pasteurization. Efforts to make canned food free of botulism in the 1920s led to a new focus on critical control steps in processing, using sufficient time and heat to eliminate the risk, and thus to a new general approach based on process control. Modernizing meat inspection with process control logic in the 1990s and the recent efforts to make fresh produce safer in the 2000s take the reader to the controversies of the present day.

industry and regulators to follow. He also deftly outlines the complex roles of third-party auditors, who provide information to one company about the safety practices of its suppliers, and provides a fresh perspective on the growing role that liability insurers may play in the future.

This is history that uplifts, showing how we honor those who suffered from and died of a foodborne disease that is now preventable in the form of better practices and safer food today. In the crucible of public action, it reminds us all how these advances begin and, with feedback and learning, how they can succeed.

Foodborne illness and the struggle for food safety, December 2019

Emerging Infectious Diseases vol. 25 no. 12

Timothy D. Lytton

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/25/12/19-1192_article

Health update, and sprouts still suck

Amy and Sorenne came to visit me last night at the Clinical Facility I’ve been staying at for the past two weeks and we went out for dinner (the seafood was fabulous).

That’s me and the kid last night at dinner (right).

I checked myself in because I have been randomly falling when walking — the sidewalk just sorta rises up and I smash my head yet again. The other day I endured two seizures while eating lunch in the cafeteria and the docs present shipped me off to Emergency.

Long-time skeptics are finally agreeing with me that these things are happening because of genetics, booze (which is primarily to provide numbness to the fog upstairs but I’m going without) 50 years of pucks to the head, dozens of concussions, epilepsy and whatever else may be happening in that precious organ known as the brain.

So I haven’t been writing much.

They shipped out to New Caledonia this morning for Amy’s work for a few days, so I made sure I was taken care of so she wouldn’t have to worry.

It is seemingly impossible to get a sandwich or salad in Australia without it being covered in raw sprouts.

This is Amy’s salad from dinner last night (left).

We document at least 55 sprout-associated outbreaks occurring worldwide affecting a total of 15,233 people since 1988. A comprehensive table of sprout-related outbreaks can be found here.

Australia’s food safety system falls well short

Adele Ferguson of The Age writes that food safety is again in the headlines following an investigation into the Grill’d burger chain.

The long list of food safety transgressions at hamburger chain Grill’d outlined in a series of leaked internal food and safety audit reports, internal documents, a council report, and dozens of photos from staff, triggered a social media backlash.

In an attempt to dilute the public’s disgust Grill’d announced it would hire a global food auditor to review its food safety and work practices.

But in the process of exposing the worker exploitation and uncleanliness scandal it became clear there was another scandal that has been festering away: an overall lack of enforcement by the relevant authorities of food hygiene regulations and fines that are so low they fail to act as a deterrent.

Take for instance, Grill’d in Windsor, Victoria, the local council, Stonnington, issued an inspection notice of “major non-compliance” in October 2018. It said it didn’t have effective cleaning systems in place, which is the basic requirement of any restaurant.

What was even more disturbing was the council admitting that the same non-compliances were happening every year and that “infringement notices may be issued if this continues”.

In other words, the council’s inspection notice and wishy-washy threats were ineffectual.

This was no better demonstrated in early December when a photo was taken and posted on The Age and Sydney Morning Herald websites of a mouse inside a tray of hamburger buns sitting on the floor at Grill’d in Windsor.

The council’s reaction was to keep the public in the dark. It refused to say how many years of non-compliance it had recorded at the Grill’d Windsor restaurant and its only reaction to the buns stored on the floor, which attracted a mouse in the pest infested restaurant, was that it would act if someone lodged a complaint.

On a broader level, it illustrates shortcomings in the food safety system in Australia. It seems the public only get to know what’s going on when it is too late.

The Victorian Health register of convictions of food safety is an eye-opener. In 2019 only a few cases went to court and received a conviction, which attracted a minuscule fine.

The laws may be strict but if they aren’t properly monitored and enforced then things fall apart.

How professors help rip off students

From the time I started teaching at university in 1984, I never once recommended a textbook.

They were a student rip-off.

Tim Wu of The New York Times writes that as the semester ends, instructors at universities and community colleges around the country will begin placing their orders for next year’s textbooks. But not all professors will pay enough attention to something that students complain about: the outlandish prices of the books we assign. Having grown at many times the rate of inflation, the cost of a leading economics book can be over $250; a law school casebook plus supplement can cost $277. Adding to such prices is the dubious trend of requiring students to obtain digital access codes, averaging $100, to complete homework assignments.

Professors love tough questions. Here’s one we need ask ourselves: Are we helping rip off our students?

We all need someone to love: Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network

FoodNet Fast provides online access to information reported to the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet). FoodNet’s surveillance area includes about 15% of the U.S. population.

You can use FoodNet Fast tools to search data and see results displayed on interactive graphs and charts.

Pathogen Surveillance Tool: See how rates of illness have changed in FoodNet’s surveillance area since 1996 for nine pathogens transmitted commonly through food: CampylobacterCryptosporidium *, Cyclospora, ListeriaSalmonella, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), ShigellaVibrio, and Yersinia.

Diagnostic Laboratory Practices Tool: Find out how diagnostic testing practices in FoodNet’s surveillance area have changed over time for 10 pathogens: Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium *, Cyclospora, Listeria, norovirus, Salmonella, STEC, Shigella, Vibrio, and Yersinia.

Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) Surveillance Tool: HUS is a life-threatening condition, most often triggered by STEC infection. See how rates of pediatric HUS and STEC infection have changed in FoodNet’s surveillance area since 1997.

Question authority: Science skepticism

My friend Ronald Doering, the first president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, writes persuasively in this Food in Canada column last week:

In September, there were several media reports of a survey by 3M that found that 32 per cent of Canadians are “skeptical of science.” The results were universally treated as “worrisome,” “alarming” and “depressing” because such a lack of trust in scientists might skew policy discussions to non-science considerations (bad) and perhaps, as well, undermine funding for scientists (very bad).

As readers of this column over the years will know, I have a different view. While, of course, it depends on what you mean by “science,” generally my opinion is that everyone should be more skeptical of science. I’m not saying that science is not important. CFIA scientists and their 10 laboratories are critical to the work of the agency. We can never have too much good science.

What I am saying is that there are many reasons why ordinary citizens, and especially consumers, should always be skeptical of science:

  1. Most science is a lot more uncertain than is usually acknowledged. In food and nutrition science, for example, you name the issue and I can give you conflicting science. Over the years in this column, I have demonstrated vastly conflicting science on, for example, genetically engineered foods, food irradiation, the safety of BPA in food packaging, the safety of farmed salmon, the safety of water fluoridation and food additives. We have seen that Canada’s top two scientists on the safe level of salt in our diets disagree so intensely that they routinely resort to vicious name-calling. Canada and the U.S. consider the science on folic acid so clear that they require mandatory fortification of certain foods, while every EU country interprets the science to be so dangerous that they refuse to fortify; both groups insist their policy is “science-based.” It is illegal to sell raw milk in Canada and Australia but legal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; both sides insist their policies are “science-based.” Nutrition science vacillates wildly. With such pervasive uncertainty, isn’t it just common sense to be skeptical?
  1. Consumers get their science information on food and nutrition from newspapers, magazines, television and social media, none of which have trained science reporters anymore and all of which trade in alarmist “investigations,” food company bashing, celebrity advice and 45-second clips. Most consumers cannot understand most food labels. Health claims are more about marketing than health. Scientific illiteracy and innumeracy abound. As Mark Twain observed, if you don’t read magazines and newspapers you are uninformed, and if you do, you are misinformed. (Of course, this column is an exception). In the face of such widespread misinformation, isn’t it just common sense to be skeptical?
  1. One of the most pervasive myths is that science and policy can be separated. When I was president of Canada’s largest science-based regulator, I dealt regularly with scientists who were seemingly unaware of how much their science advice was imbued with unstated policy considerations. Policy implications enter into the risk assessment at virtually every stage of the process. Moreover, in our system, scientists don’t make policy. After the scientist does the science-based risk assessment, elected politicians and their senior advisors carry out the policy-based risk management responsibility by weighing the science with the economic, political, legal, environmental, and ethical considerations. This is not the politicization of science; this is evidence-based policymaking. These two separate functions are often conflated and the outcome presented as driven purely by science. Isn’t it just common sense to be skeptical of this “science?”
  1. A scientist friend recently highlighted another reason to be skeptical. The university system still insists that professors publish or perish, which accounts for why so much published science is both unread and unreadable, contributing nothing of value to the public that pays for it. It is certainly common sense, he says, to be skeptical of this science. Given the growing recognition of the importance of diet for health and the growing threat of foodborne illness, we need more and better science to aid in policymaking. Having said that, the public should always be skeptical of the science that comes their way.

On-farm food safety more important: Does washing produce with anything actually work

Human norovirus (HuNoV) is a foremost cause of domestically acquired foodborne acute gastroenteritis and outbreaks. Despite industrial efforts to control HuNoV contamination of foods, its prevalence in foodstuffs at retail is significant. HuNoV infections are often associated with the consumption of contaminated produce, including ready-to-eat (RTE) salads.

Decontamination of produce by washing with disinfectants is a consumer habit which could significantly contribute to mitigate the risk of infection. The aim of our study was to measure the effectiveness of chemical sanitizers in inactivating genogroup I and II HuNoV strains on mixed salads using a propidium monoazide (PMAxx)-viability RTqPCR assay. Addition of sodium hypochlorite, peracetic acid, or chlorine dioxide significantly enhanced viral removal as compared with water alone. Peracetic acid provided the highest effectiveness, with log10 reductions on virus levels of 3.66 ± 0.40 and 3.33 ± 0.19 for genogroup I and II, respectively. Chlorine dioxide showed lower disinfection efficiency.

Our results provide information useful to the food industry and final consumers for improving the microbiological safety of fresh products in relation to foodborne viruses.

Effectiveness of consumers washing with sanitizers to reduce human norovirus on mixed salad

Eduard Anfruns-Estrada, Marilisa Bottaro, Rosa Pinto, Susana Guix, Albert Bosch

https://www.google.com/url?rct=j&sa=t&url=https://www.mdpi.com/2304-8158/8/12/637/pdf&ct=ga&cd=CAEYACoTMzg5Njg3MDc5MDQ0MzQ4MDY2MTIaYjhlODI0Y2UzN2MyNjM2MDpjb206ZW46VVM&usg=AFQjCNHrQjbPOtC5w9HRrDeMpQBa1mdgCw

Predatory journals: A rant by Scott Weese of Worms and Germs Blog

I’m proud of the 70 peer-reviewed journals and book chapters my group published over the years, and none in a predatory journal.

Scott Weese seems to spend his mornings like I dowaking up every day to a variety of invitations to submit to journals.

No good journal does that. They have lots of submissions.

The spam emails highlight the wild west of predatory journals, often with names that try to imitate real journals. Today’s was the “New American Journal of Medicine”, a not-so-subtle variation of the New England Journal of Medicine or the American Journal of Medicine. It looks like that journal has published a total of 8 papers in 2019. I looked at one of them and ‘crap’ is my generous assessment. It’s a paper that recommends a treatment for pregnant women and it’s one page long, does not disclose the funding source, fails to fulfill pretty much every standard reporting requirement for a clinical trial and reports essentially no specific data or analysis. But, it’s ‘published data’ and on someone’s CV.

The state of the scientific literature is pretty messed up. “Show me the study” has been a common refrain, but it’s not as useful these days because anything can get published.

Why?

Too many journals.

Predatory journals.

Profit.

Good journals screen out the weak articles. High impact journals publish a minority (5-25% of submissions…and most often people only send their best papers to those journals). Some journals are still good quality and take lower impact papers that are still good science. Some journals take whatever they can get, trying to screen out the bad science.

Others…they take whatever they can get, as long as the authors can pay. Sadly, there are literally thousands of those.

Some people don’t realize we don’t get paid to write scientific papers. Some journals publish at no cost, but increasingly, there are publication fees that may range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. That, itself, isn’t necessarily the problem. Some journals charge fees so that the papers can be open access (available to anyone, without a need for a subscription). However, some journal charge a couple thousand dollars, make a nice profit and don’t particularly care about the science.

As someone who’s an associate editor, editorial board member and frequent reviewer for many journals, I see the good and bad.

I see papers that should be published accepted.

I see good quality papers rejected by good journals, knowing they’ll still end up in another good journal.

I see bad papers rejected.

However, I also see…

Horrible quality papers rejected that I know will end up published somewhere.

It’s frustrating to be reviewing a paper that’s complete crap, knowing it will find a home in a journal eventually. Yes, it will most likely be in a bottom feeder journal that many of it of us in the scientific community know is dodgy. However, not everyone will realize that and there will still be ‘published data’ to refer back to. Sometimes, that’s just frustrating, because poor quality science shouldn’t be published. However, when it deals with clinical matters (e.g. diagnosis, treatment…) it can be harmful, since poor quality or invalid data shouldn’t form the basis of decisions. Yet, it happens.

There have been a couple ‘stings’, where fake (and clearly garbage) papers have been submitted to journals. The highest profile was one that was published in Science (Bohannon, 2013).  The author submitted a paper to various journals, with the following set-up “Any reviewer with more than a high-school knowledge of chemistry and the ability to understand a basic data plot should have spotted the paper’s short-comings immediately. Its experiments are so hopelessly flawed that the results are meaningless.” More than 50% of open access journals accepted it.

There are many reasons these dodgy journals are used.

“Publish or perish” isn’t quite true but it’s pretty close. Junior faculty need to show productivity to keep their positions or move into the increasingly elusive tenured positions. Scientific papers is a key metric, because it’s easy to count.

Some people get taken advantage of, not realizing the journal is predatory (or that fees are so high, until after the paper is accepted).

Commercial profit. Companies want to say their products are supported by published data. If the data aren’t any good, the amount of money that it takes to get something published is inconsequential for most companies.

Open access isn’t inherently bad. There are excellent open access journals that charge a couple thousand dollars per paper but have high standards. Open access is ideal as it means the science is available to everyone. It just has to be acceptable science, and that’s where things start to fall apart.

Anyway…enough ranting. I always like to say “don’t talk about a problem without talking about a solution” but I don’t have an easy solution. More awareness is the key, which is why sites that track predatory journals, such as Beall’s List, are important. It’s a good update on a sad state of affairs.