Horse meat scandal: Finger-pointing and false trust

Supermarkets in the UK are really, really super mad about the horse meat scandal.

Probably not as mad and violated as consumers, but hey, we’re all in this together right, retailers, consumers, you, me – except only one makes money on the deal.

And how well do retailers know their suppliers?

In a public letter, 11 firms, including Tesco and Asda, said they shared mr.edshoppers’ “anger and outrage”.

BBC News reports UK retailers have rejected government criticism they “remained silent” over the horsemeat crisis – as they begin to release test results on beef products.

Earlier, Downing Street said big retailers selling affected products had a responsibility to answer key questions on the scandal.

Sources said it was not “acceptable for retailers to remain silent while customers have been misled about the content of the food they have been buying.”

Meanwhile, the results of up to one third of tests on the presence of horsemeat in processed meals ordered by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are being released.

Whitbread, which supplies thousands of pubs and owns Premier Inn, Beefeater Grill and Brewers Fayre, has confirmed two of its products have been found to contain horsemeat.

Compass Group, one of the biggest school food providers in the UK, says its tests have found between 5% and 30% horse DNA in burgers it sold in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Cottage pie delivered to 47 schools in Lancashire has tested positive for horse DNA. The product has now been withdrawn from kitchens. And beefburgers containing horsemeat had been withdrawn from hospitals in Northern Ireland.

That will be reassuring to parents and patients. You know, consumers, partners.

The French government has accused meat processing company Spanghero of knowingly selling horsemeat labeled as beef. The firm has denied the allegations, but apologized to British consumers, saying it was “tricked as well.”

Further to the arrests made yesterday in Wales and West Yorkshire in relation to suspected fraud, there have been seizures of evidence in Hull and London.

UK Food Safety Authority officers entered an additional three premises in England today with local authorities and the police; one was in Hull and two in Tottenham. Computers and documentary evidence have been removed from these premises, as well as meat samples that have been taken for testing.

FSA has submitted a full file and evidence on this issue to Europol.

France has pinned much of the blame for Europe’s meat scandal on a French firm that allegedly sold 750 tonnes of horsemeat as beef that ended up in millions of ready-to-eat meals sold across the continent.

Agence France-Presse reports Spanghero denied any wrongdoing, saying it had never ordered, received or resold any meat that it did not believe to be beef. 

The findings of an investigation by France’s anti-fraud office, presented by the Consumer Affairs Minister, Benoit Hamon, were staggering.

It said Spanghero, a meat-processing firm in the southwestern town of Castelnaudary, had knowingly sold 750 tonnes of horsemeat mislabelled as beef over a period of six months, 500 tonnes of which were sent to French firm Comigel, which makes frozen meals at its Tavola factory in Luxembourg.

That meat was used to make 4.5 million products that were sold by Comigel to d-day in animal house28 companies in 13 European countries, it said.

Mr Hamon said Spanghero would be prosecuted and officials said its licence to handle meat would be suspended pending further investigations.

The minister said that Comigel, which supplied millions of ready-to-eat meals to supermarkets, which have now removed them from their shelves, had been deceived by Spanghero.

But he said Comigel had failed to carry out tests or inspect paperwork that would have alerted it to the scam. He said Romanian abattoirs named in the affair appeared to have acted in good faith.

Focus on the sick people and farm conditions rather than the blame: lotsa time for that later; Indiana says official didn’t blame consumers for cantaloupe outbreak

With at least two people dead and 178 sick from Salmonella linked to cantaloupe in 21 states, Jim Howell of the Indiana Department of Health told growers improper food handling procedures may be to blame for a good portion of the illnesses.

But now the Indiana State Department of Health has insisted to the Evansville Courier and Press the report was inaccurate.

"Consumers are not to blame for the salmonella outbreak, and no member of the ISDH staff has ever stated or insinuated such a claim," said state health department spokeswoman Amy Reel.

Dr. James Howell, an assistant Indiana State Department of Health commissioner who heads the Public Health and Preparedness Commission, visited melon growers Monday at Vincennes Tractor Inc.

He was quoted in the Vincennes Sun-Commercial as saying that "most of the bacteria is on the surface" and that "people just need to clean their produce before they eat it." He also reportedly said consumers are increasingly unaware of how to handle fresh produce, reciting the stand-by that home economics needs to be re-introduced in schools.

Reel said Howell’s comments were misconstrued, stating, "Assumptions were made that could detract from the important health message that consumers should be washing all produce to help reduce their risk of any foodborne illness. The current salmonella investigation is ongoing.”

But washing doesn’t do much, especially with Salmonella on cantaloupe. And what hasn’t been reported anywhere is the food safety precautions undertaken – or not – on the farm; the Food and Drug Administration will figure that out, and I’ll wait for the report.

There’s a rich tradition of people saying dumbass things in the midst of an outbreak.

Who’s to blame? Campy cases up almost 50% in UK, Ireland

Wales Online reports that sloppy food hygiene at home has been blamed for a worrying increase in cases of campylobacter food poisoning.

Carried by chickens, it is thought large numbers of raw chickens sold in supermarkets are infected with campylobacter, which can be spread to other foods in the kitchen via cross-contamination.

Tom Humphrey, a professorial fellow in food safety at the University of Liverpool, said: “Campylobacter doesn’t need any exaggerating; we don’t need to big up its importance. My daughter got it when she was seven and lost 7kg in two days. She was passing nothing but blood.

Official figures show there were 70,000 cases of campylobacter illnesses in the UK in 2010; the latest figures for Wales show there are some 3,000 a year but it is thought for every one reported case, a further 10 go unreported.

There were 2,440 official cases notified in the Republic of Ireland last year, a rise of 46.9pc over 2010.

Humphrey said because most poultry had campylobacter, “The importance, therefore, is very much on the careful handling of poultry. Studies have found campylobacter on domestic dishcloths, which is symptomatic of what is happening in the kitchen. We tend to take things for granted and can be a bit sloppy when it comes to food hygiene at home.

“All cows have campylobacter and all milk will have cow poo in it, if you don’t heat it, there’s a risk of campylobacter.

“Kittens and puppies can get diarrhea caused by campylobacter and, particularly for young children, being in contact with that is a risk factor.

“But overwhelmingly, the biggest factor is the consumption of under-cooked chicken – this makes up between 50% and 80% of cases.”

He added that intervention on the farm is the key to controlling campylobacter in chickens.

So is it the farm, home kitchens, food service, everywhere, what’s the message?

Blame the farm, not the shopper for listeria-in-cantaloupe; little consumers could do; any food is only as good as its worst grower

msnbc reports now that federal investigators have identified dirty equipment, faulty sanitation and bad storage practices at a Colorado farm as the likely cause of a cantaloupe listeria outbreak that has killed 25 people, top U.S. food safety experts say there’s one actor in this deadly drama that shouldn’t be blamed: The consumer.

"There’s nothing consumers could have done," said Dr. Doug Powell, a professor of food safety at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.

No amount of washing, scrubbing, bleaching or peeling would have cleaned cantaloupes contaminated by Jensen Farms’ packing practices enough to remove listeria bacteria that has sickened at least 123 people and killed 25 in the deadliest outbreak in a quarter-century.

The cold, moist environment maintained over time is exactly what listeria needs to thrive, said Dr. Mike Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and a food safety expert at the University of Minnesota.

The bacteria clearly contaminated a huge proportion of the more than 310,000 cases of cantaloupe — between 1.5 million and 4.5 million fruit — that were recalled by Jensen Farms in mid-September, said Powell.

"Given that 25 people are dead, this was a massive contamination to have that impact," he said.

It’s not clear whether people were infected by bacteria that clung to the fruit’s porous, bumpy rind, whether the germs somehow migrated into the flesh of the fruit, or whether people spread contamination through the fruit by slicing it with a knife, Powell said. Good hygiene and food safety practices can lessen the chance of infection, but the contamination shouldn’t be there in the first place.

"The idea that this is the consumer’s responsibility is just nonsense," he said. "What’s missing is any verification that individual farmers are doing what they’re supposed to be doing."

"Don’t rely on paperwork if your brand relies on selling safe food," Powell said. "Any commodity is only as good as its worst grower."

Rocky Ford farmers: listeria in Colorado cantaloupes wasn’t us, was someone else, no one here is sick

The director of the Farm Service Agency in Otero and Crowley counties told the Peublo Chieftain an ongoing investigation into ties to a listeria outbreak and Rocky Ford cantaloupes will show that the contamination did not come from the Lower Arkansas Valley.

Chuck Hanagan said, "Everybody eats this (Rocky Ford) cantaloupe. Heck, the field workers that are picking it and all the farmers are eating it every day. If it’s contaminated here, why isn’t anyone sick here?" he asked. "It doesn’t make sense to me. … Somebody in the handling system may be to blame. They may be putting it in contaminated trucks, unloading it in a warehouse with contaminated handling . . . There are several other ways it could be contaminated on that other end.”

Mike Bartolo, an extension agent for Colorado State University, said the state health department’s focus on Rocky Ford is like "a dagger through the heart" for the agricultural area, which has a melon as its mascot.

Farmers are convinced the listeria problem is in warehousing, trucking or other distribution areas, Bartolo said, because melons are cooled and washed in a chlorine bath before shipping. Listeria occurs naturally in many soil conditions, and growing and production methods are in place to keep contamination out of the food chain, he said.

The growers are frustrated with the state health department announcements that seemed like an "undiscriminating nuclear bomb" rather than zeroing in on a specific problem, he added.

State health officials said they are working with federal health agencies to test all possible contact points for the melons, including distribution centers and the farms.

In July and August 1991, more than 400 people in the western U.S. were sickened by salmonella poisoning that was traced to cantaloupes and melon growers throughout the West paid the price.

"I remember there were a number of farmers who lost their melon crops over that scare," recalled Frank Sobolik, the former Colorado State University Extension Agent for Pueblo County. "That time, the suspicion was the tainted melons were coming up from West Texas."

Dr. Lawrence Goodridge, a food biologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins (left, sorta as shown), said contamination investigations can end that way — a dead end that just points towards a general region. That’s what happened in the summer of 1991. The hunt for the salmonella-tainted melon source ended without finding the source. All the evidence was either eaten or thrown away.

A table of cantaloupe- (or rock melon) related outbreaks is available at

E. coli outbreak spreading in Germany; 80 sick, dozens hospitalized

Two victims of a potentially fatal strain of E. coli have been placed on artificial respiration machines, a Frankfurt hospital said Monday, while hospitals across Germany were reporting a surge in infections.

German media report that EHEC, or Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli, is a virulent strain of gut bacterium which can cause stomach cramps and diarrhea, and can lead to anaemia and kidney damage.

The strain of E. coli is not specified in media reports, but the kidney failure bit makes it sound like a Shiga-toxin producing E. coli.

In Frankfurt, 10 people had been hospitalized, of whom four were in intensive care, while a further 50 people were ill with mild symptoms of EHEC.

A total of 40 people were being treated in Hamburg, most of whom were female, the city’s health authorities said.

Around 800 to 1,200 cases of EHEC are recorded in Germany each year, predominantly affecting children. The current outbreak is unusual for causing severe symptoms in adults, primarily women.

The bacterium is commonly transmitted through contaminated raw or undercooked ground meat products or milk, but disease experts said there was evidence that uncooked vegetables might have helped to spread the latest outbreak.

Gerard Krause of the Robert Koch health authority responsible for epidemiology, said,

“Women prepare food more often, and it is there they could have come into contact with it, possibly while cleaning vegetables or other foodstuffs.”

In a German version of blame-the-consumer, the Robert Koch Institute has recommended people improve kitchen hygiene, making sure in particular that cutting boards and knives are clean.

It’s doubtful that all 80 sick people practiced lousy kitchen cleanliness at the same time across Germany.

Bureaucrats babbling: Health Canada blames consumers

Health Canada said today while telling pregnant women to be especially careful about the 11 million cases of foodborne illness that strike Canadians each year that,

“Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.”

Please, please, oh please. Show us mortals the data on which that statement is based?

And since Health Canada advises pregnant women to “make sure to cook hot dogs and deli meats until they are steaming hot before eating them,” please, please, oh please, stand up and say the advice provided by the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children Motherrisk program is complete nonsense.

Blame the consumer, Hong Kong style

Public reminded to prevent E. coli O157:H7 infection.

That was the headline on a press release from Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection today.

Consumers are important. So is everyone else in the farm-to-fork food safety system. But CHP chooses to focus on people as the critical control point:

CHP today (July 20) reminded people to observe good personal, food and environmental hygiene to prevent intestinal infection caused by E. coli O157:H7 bacteria.

The appeal followed the confirmation by laboratory test of a local case involving a 13-month-old girl living in Yuen Long. This is the fourth case of E. coli O157:H7 infection reported to the CHP this year.

A CHP spokesman said,

"People are advised to cook meat thoroughly. The core temperature of food should reach 75 degrees Celsius (that’s 167 F, guess they like hockey pucks for burgers) for at least two to three minutes, until the cooked meat is brown throughout and the juices run clear.”

Color is a lousy indicator. Use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer and stick it in. And next time, remind everyone else of their responsibility to reduce the loads of dangerous pathogens entering any kitchen rather than placing all the blame on consumers. There’s lots of blame to go around.

Protection against pot pies; blame the consumer – Ottawa style

There’s some sort of frozen chicken thingie outbreak going on in Ontario (that’s in Canada) but public health folks are dancing around the issue.

On June 22, 2010, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health said there was an increase in Salmonella Enteritidis cases across the province, and that a contributing factor was believed to be improper handling of food in the home, including inadequate cooking of breaded, processed chicken products, such as chicken strips, burgers and nuggets.

A public health type is now repeating the message that consumers need to do more with frozen chicken thingies instead of asking, WTF is salmonella doing in frozen chicken thingies?

Yesterday, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) advised residents of an increase in the number of salmonellosis cases reported in the city and is reminding residents to protect themselves by using safe food handling and cooking practices

Dr. Vera Etches, Associate Medical Officer of Health with OPH, said, "A significant number of these cases appear to be related to undercooked or inappropriately stored processed chicken products."

OPH is reminding residents to use safe food handling and cooking practices when preparing all food, and specifically, processed chicken products such as chicken strips, nuggets and burgers. These products are often sold frozen and although they may appear to be partially or fully cooked, many have not been heat treated to destroy bacteria such as salmonella.

At some point Ontario public health may stop blaming consumers who get sick from a microwaved chicken nugget and represent the folks they work for and ask:

• what is salmonella doing in these things;

• are the cooking instructions scientifically verified and clear; and,

• why is the consumer the critical control point on a frozen-looks-cooked-but-may-be-raw chicken thingie?

From the douchebag files

Some people are lawyers and specialize in rhetoric. It’s that Plato thing.

Some of us submit our opinions to cat scratching peer review, take our lumps and get better.

There’s this bunch of lawyers who say they’re Defending Food Safety.

Probably the worst blog name since Maple Leaf’s “Our Journey to Food Safety Leadership.”

One of them, Shawn Stevens ( wrote on Oct. 22/09 that each year, American families eat somewhere in the neighborhood of 328.5 Billion safe meals – and countless more safe snacks. While any illness or death linked to the consumption of food is one too many, the fact remains that (at three meals a day) you and I are 20 times more likely to die this year from pneumonia or drowning than from a food-borne illness. Although not perfect, the statistics are quite impressive.

As the Sloan song says

When you find you’re a conformer
Take pride and swallow whole

Stevens goes on to say,

As consumers, we are inundated by media “fear-mongering,” and made to believe that with each meal consumed, we draw closer to the precipice of some fathomless tragedy. We are also taught to be suspicious and wary of the people who have dedicated their lives to ensuring that our families are fed, and that our food is wholesome.

You see, food safety is a complicated and dynamic issue. It is easy to be a cynic. It is easy to attack others with the benefit of extended hindsight. It is easy to simplify things to a level that a third grader would find devoid in both substance and fact. The real challenge, however, lies in embracing a reasoned and proactive approach that not only recognizes the limits of technology and science, but, at the same time, within these limits, best reduces the risks most likely to occur to the greatest extent possible.

Dude, you just failed my intro class for most horrible and unsubstantiated metaphors.

But why not reference  our paper, Where does foodborne illness happen–in the home, at foodservice, or elsewhere — and does it matter? Because that would conflict with your world-view?

In any event, for those who continue to ignore science and reason, who contend that food safety is the responsibility of food producers alone, and who wrongly proclaim that food safety is only as simple as “not eating poop,” I say this: given the statistics, what goes into one mouth is often far less harmful than what comes out of another.

I e-mailed the lawyer in question on Friday about the don’t eat poop line, and he decided not to answer. Seriously I don’t want to know what is coming out of his mouth.