Afternoon with Bert

It was an all-Ontario gabfest yesterday as Chapman and I and our kids had the pleasure of lunching with Dr. Bert Mitchell (Ontario Veterinary College, ’64), and then visiting with his wife Linda at their home in Sarasota, Florida, yesterday.

Among other achievements, Bert was Director of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs at Health Canada from 1982-1988, and an associate director at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine from 1988-2001.

We shared stories, spoiled the kids, and deeply enjoyed the company. You’ll notice from the pic that Bert is the fittest of us three.

Food preparer Gordon Ramsey is boring, ineffective and inaccurate

The National Hockey League season debuted on Thursday, and all 30 teams played on Saturday, including games in Finland and Sweden, the later featuring a ceremonial puck dropping by one of Heston Blumenthal’s love fathers, former Toronto Maple Leaf Mats Sundin.

The less I play hockey, the more I watch, which is somewhat sad. But it is fun to watch various coaching styles. The yellers never prosper, because after awhile, the players just don’t respond to the yelling.

Struggling microbiologist and food preparer Gordon Ramsey is an “,” and that’s probably why people watch him. But he’s a lousy coach.

Gonzalo sent me this youtube clip from Hell’s Kitchen last week, demonstrating coach Ramsey’s unique take on determining whether chicken, and later fish, is cooked or not.

About 1:25 minutes into the clip, Ramsey puts his slimy hands on some chicken and declares,

“Pink bloody chicken. That one is cooked, that one is raw.”

And Ramsey does a full Baby Huey by kicking a garbage can; that’s what happens when the yelling doesn’t work.

Gordon, baby, color is a lousy indicator of whether a piece of chicken is cooked or not. This picture of chicken courtesy of Pete Snyder (left), has been cooked to the required 165 F.  Stick it in, man. And stop being so boring.

Canadian listeria coverage still sucks

Daughter Braunwynn returned to Ontario last night after a great visit.

Her super-sweet 16 is less than two weeks away, so during lunch on Sunday with Amy and Sorenne and Bob, we asked what she might be studying at university (not a fair question cause I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up).

She mentioned science, psychology, maybe journalism – she liked writing.

Amy and I sorta jumped, saying that if she wanted to write, then write, and that maybe J-school wasn’t the best place to learn writing.

I teach a journalism class on food safety reporting, but there’s not much to teach: writers write, and just like scientists, they need to ask the right questions.

Braunwynn, the 15-year-old, gets it; Canadian journalists covering Michael McCain, Maple Leaf and listeria? Not so much.

There are exceptions, like Rob Cribb at the Star, but a couple of holiday puff pieces stood out. On Jan. 4, 2009, the Canadian Press correctly noted that the Canadian government has not yet named the leader of a promised probe into the listeriosis outbreak that killed 20 people — a lag critics say discredits an already suspect process.

But then they go on to excessively quote the union dude who thinks that inspectors with beer-like listeria googles are the solution. He represents the food inspectors union. Of course he wants more inspectors. As new NC State professorial thingy Ben wrote, more inspectors is not the answer.

Then there’s the researchers. They always want more research. And new technology. Oh, and to blame consumers. Because you know, consumers are the weak link when it comes to ready-to-eat deli meats. And when the researcher making such public proclamations is an advisor to Maple Leaf, that should be disclosed. Journalism 101. I’m sure glad my previously pregnant wife didn’t rely on your expert advice.

Bert Mitchell had it right the other day when he wrote that while Michael McCain has been gathering year–end goodwill for his handling of the Maple Leaf  listeria outbreak, “it is too early for applause. Effective long term solutions have not been put in place.”

For the budding journalists, there are still basic questions to be answered, questions that have nothing to do with more research, more inspectors, a public inquiry or any other narrow special interest, but questions that may help prevent any future unnecessary deaths of 20 people and  unnecessary illness of hundreds if not thousands of people:

• who knew what when;

• why aren’t listeria test results publically available; and,

• if listeria is everywhere, why aren’t there warnings for vulnerable populations?

Bert Mitchell: Canadian listeria controls lacking

Bert Mitchell saw jim Romahn’s Dec. 22/08 piece about listeria and Maple Leaf Foods in FSnet and, and decided he had to write.

Dr. Mitchell’s no lightweight. Among other achievements, he was Director of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs at Health Canada from 1982-1988,an associate director at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine from 1988-2001, and the current president of the American Association of Retired Veterinarians.

Bert says:

I want to congratulate and encourage Jim Romahn for his article Maple Leaf, Michael McCain, and Unanswered Questions. I read his article on the FSnet list serve webpage. I do not claim to be an expert in the microbiology of Listeria or manufacturing procedures to avoid it but I do want to encourage Jim, and others in his profession, because the picture of cause and control in this Maple Leaf case is incomplete.

While Michael McCain seems to be gathering year–end goodwill for his handling of the Listeria contamination in the Maple Leaf plant, I think it is too early for applause. Effective long term solutions have not been put in place.

Jim is on-point in arguing for better health protection in Canada. He is helping expose a glaring lack of complete information that should be readily available from Health Canada, CFIA, or Maple Leaf Foods about the source and spread of the Listeria found in sliced meat cold cuts that killed 20 Canadians and sickened many others. Specifically, he is spotlighting the continuing lack of the better labeling and improved manufacturing procedures needed to protect elderly, immune weakened, and pregnant persons. This example of poor health protection in Canada has been seen before. Listeriosis in people has occurred previously in Canada and because of regulatory inaction, it can happen again.

Listeria in cold cuts is a health threat that continues to exist in Canada. The recent hype from Maple Leaf in advertising the end of Listeria risk is just talk without support. If the company or the federal bureaucracy have evidence that labeling and manufacturing procedure changes are unnecessary, they should publish the evidence for the public to see.

As a result of inadequate labeling/manufacturing regulations, inadequate enforcement, and excessive collegiality between the federal bureaucrat and the industry it regulates, the Listeria public health threat continues to exist in Canada. About 10 years ago, the U.S. found Listeria in wieners. They changed labeling and required a post packaging cooking step. These changes appear to be the reason for no Listeria in U.S. cold cuts. For these 10 years, an apparently effective regulatory example has been on paper and worked effectively in practice to prevent Listeria in cold cuts in the U.S. The evidence of need for better Canadian labeling and manufacturing procedures for cold cuts seems obvious. What am I missing in this seemingly black-white image?

Investigative journalism is an important factor in uncovering the stinking wet spots that can exist within big bureaucracies and industries. Investigative reporting is particularly important in instances in which the public is indifferent to the issue or prefers to believe that the government can be trusted to always do what is right. Everyone has a responsibility to be vigilant about government action and inaction.

The investigative journalist reviews the evidence, thinks about alternatives, asks questions, and writes articles. In this case they write articles about why Canadians have died unnecessarily. Investigative journalism is a critically important element in effecting change. Jim Romahn has the right line of questions. He deserves nomination for yet another journalistic award.

In Canada, the labeling and manufacturing controls needed to control Listeria in cold cuts are not in place. Just as Canadians experienced no outbreak of Listeria for a decade, there may be none for years to come. What we do know is that the 2008 Listeria outbreak in Canada has not motivated sufficient change to prevent another outbreak and more unnecessary deaths. It is this flaw that Jim Romahn is addressing and the investigation I applaud.