Escape from Australian Salmonella outbreak nightmare for small business

The owner of a family-owned business identified as the source of a salmonella bacteria outbreak says he has avoided a “nightmare” by having the correct food safety procedures in place.

consultantMax Schofield is the founder of Fresh Fodder, which employs 20 people and manufactures dips, sauces and salads in the regional New South Wales town of Orange. Its products are stocked by independent retailers across the country, including IGA Supermarkets, fruit shops and delicatessens.

A recall was issued on Monday for a batch of Fresh Fodder’s Blue Cheese and Pistachio Dip, with a best before date of November 11, which was found to have been contaminated by salmonella.

The affected dips were available for sale in NSW, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory.

But Schofield told SmartCompany this morning the contamination was identified in-house by Fresh Fodder and no one has fallen ill from eating the products.

The batch included 830 tubs of dip, 392 of which had been distributed before Fresh Fodder’s definitive testing results confirmed the presence of salmonella.

Schofield says Fresh Fodder received a presumptive notice on Friday of the presence of salmonella and acted quickly to issue an informal recall of the products from supermarket shelves. The swift action meant all but 18 packets of the dips were isolated within 24 hours.

“If we didn’t have the right procedures in place it would have been a nightmare,” admits Schofield.

“We had brought in a food safety consultant 18 months ago to get our systems up to a higher standard … Before that our systems were not as in depth so if something like this happened it would have been much worse.”

Being able to isolate the contaminated products early also meant the food safety authority agreed to allow Fresh Fodder to issue in-store notices for the individual retailers which received the products, instead of forcing the company to advertise the recall nationally.

Peanut-man Parnell back to work as nut consult

Associated Press reports that Stewart Parnell, former president of the now-bankrupt Peanut Corp. of America whose filthy processing plants were blamed in a salmonella outbreak two years ago that killed nine people and sickened hundreds, is back in the business.

Parnell is working as a consultant to peanut companies as the federal government’s criminal investigation against him has languished for more than 18 months, The Associated Press has learned.

Parnell, who invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying before Congress in February 2009, once directed employees to "turn them loose" after samples of peanuts had tested positive for salmonella and then were cleared in a second test, according to e-mails uncovered at the time by congressional investigators.

In an interview with the AP, Parnell expressed exasperation and said he wants the pending criminal investigation resolved — one way or another.

"They just say we’re still investigating," Parnell said. "I feel like I wish they’d come on and do what they’re going to do. I’d like to get this behind me."

Parnell also said he has been directed by his lawyers not to discuss his case with family members of the nine people who died in the salmonella outbreak blamed on his processed peanuts.

"My God, when are we going to hold anyone responsible?" said Jeff Almer, whose mother, Shirley Almer, was the first known death from the outbreak in Minnesota. "So far to this day, nothing’s happened to this man. I think every person in America who was affected by this, every family who lost someone, deserves to hear the truth from this guy."

New York restaurants turn to consultants for inspection help

Trying to navigate the ever-changing demands of local health codes, restaurants in New York City are increasingly seeking out consultants to improve hygiene standards before a city inspector shows up.

It’s not a new concept; the big chain restaurant and grocery stores have been using outside consultants or their own people to ensure their food offerings produced and sold in a safe and hygienic manner. Government inspection sets a minimal standard that the best places strive to exceed – and no one wants to be written up in the local paper or have to display a lousy inspection result because of mistakes that could have been prevented.

The New York Times reports this morning there is an almost entirely unregulated cottage industry that has evolved in New York to run interference with the health department, even pleading the restaurants’ cases at the administrative tribunal where violations can be reduced or dismissed.

Note the conspiratorial angle.

Though the number of consultants in New York appears to be rising, a precise figure is difficult to come by. The health department began requiring that consultants register their names and contact information only last year; as of March 16, the department listed 104. They typically represent about one-third of the restaurants appearing before the tribunal, and display varying degrees of competence in doing so.

Thomas Merrill, the department’s general counsel, said,

“There’s people we have a tremendous amount of respect for. Some of them I don’t know if we’d all hire if we had a restaurant.”

Just like with third-party food safety auditors.

The inspectors issue punitive points for infractions like food kept at the wrong temperature, cutting boards with potentially bacteria-harboring grooves or a lack of proof that the croissants were made without trans fats.

The number of points, and the severity of the penalties, vary with the offense; according to the department’s guide, a “woman in gray slacks carrying poodle on service line” is much less serious than a “woman in gray slacks carrying poodle on service line, man with mustache with a parrot on shoulder at the salad bar, a child with a rabbit at the dining table and a woman with a cat on a leash at coffee bar.”

Who writes this stuff?