Food dyes could improve deli slicer food safety

Meatingplace reports this morning that two approved red food dyes, FD&C No. 3 and No. 40, stain the protein and fat in bologna and turkey lunchmeat and may help deli managers quickly determine areas of listeria contamination, according to a study by University of Arkansas researchers funded by the American Meat Institute Foundation.

Researchers noted that use of a 1:1,000 dilution of the dyes could enable deli managers to determine whether additional cleaning is required before sanitizing the slicker or beginning operations.

Researchers also found that heating deli slicer components in moist oven conditions caused a five-log reduction of listeria within three hours at 82 degrees C. However, because this treatment would not be feasible to use on an assembled deli slicer because of potential damage to the electrical components, continuing research involves using various sanitizers alone and in combination with moist heat to reduce potential listeria contamination of disassembled stainless steel and aluminum deli components.

Bakery source of 9 U.K. E. coli O157 illnesses; 6 more suspected

By bakery, the Brits mean deli-style, with cold-cuts, meat pies, and more of the traditional sources of E coli O157 other than bread.

Nine adults who bought food from a bakery in Gateshead have been confirmed as having the O157 strain of the infection, with a further six people currently undergoing tests.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said two people were receiving hospital treatment, with the remainder recovering at home.

Listeria causes illness in fetuses, infants, at much lower dose than previously thought

Chapman is here in Manhattan (Kansas) for a couple days, delivering a seminar later today, hanging out at the Missouri-Kansas State football game tomorrow, and primarily helping plot our research and extension activities for the next few years.

We’ve both sired offspring in the past year-and-a-bit, so the issue of listeria and pregnant women has been a recurring theme – on, in research proposals, and in our microbiological nerd discussions.

Researchers from the University of Georgia reported in the journal, Risk Analysis, this month, that pregnant women may get ill from Listeria at lower doses than previously thought.

The risk of fetal or infant mortality among pregnant women who consume food containing 1 million cells of the food-borne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes in soft cheeses and other food is estimated at about 50 percent, suggesting five stillbirths potentially could occur when 10 pregnant women are exposed to that amount.

A previous risk assessment estimated more than 10 trillion cells would result in stillbirths to 50 percent of pregnant women exposed, researchers said.

"We’re not saying there’s a new epidemic here, we’re suggesting we’ve come up with a more accurate method of measuring the risk and how this deadly bacteria impacts humans, especially the most medically vulnerable among us," study co-author Mary Alice Smith of the University of Georgia said in a statement.

When estimates are extrapolated from data in tests on laboratory animals, the results showed "Listeriosis is likely occurring from exposure to lower doses than previously estimated," Smith said.

That’s a convoluted way of saying Listeria happens, and it’s probably more deadly than anyone thought for developing babies. Given the ridiculously low levels of awareness amongst physicians, health professionals and expectant mothers, new messages using a variety of media are needed so parents-to-be are at least aware of the risks of certain refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated approximately 2,500 cases of Listeriosis occur annually in the United States, with about 500 cases resulting in death. In 2000, Listeria exposure resulted in a higher rate of hospitalization than any other food-borne pathogen and more than one-third of reported deaths from food pathogens, the CDC says.

Food safety culture means employees don’t contaminate food with brooms or forklift tires

If a company making ready-to-eat refrigerated deli-meats has a “strong culture of food safety,” would an employee shake a broom over a line of processed product?

If more inspectors are the answer to safer food, why would the inspectors need publicly reported accounts of foodborne illness and death to try harder?

And if the company and inspectors are doing lots of tests to ensure enhanced food safety, why aren’t they bragging about it instead of requiring an Access to Information request by a media outlet to discover that inspectors continue to find problems with Maple Leaf Foods infamous Bartor Road plant in Weston, Ontario.

Last night, Steve Rennie of The Canadian Press reported that Canadian federal food safety types found a troubling lack of hygiene at Maple Leaf Foods’ Toronto facility just weeks after it reopened last year from a temporary shutdown for cleaning – after 22 people were killed and 53 sickened with listeria linked to deli meat.

A Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspection report dated Oct. 10, 2008, found:

• slime on part of the meat-trimming table in the curing room;
• meat debris on two steel container bins and unidentified debris on the brine tank in the curing room;
•a moist and mouldy cardboard sheet on the base of a skid in the curing room that holds bags of salt;
•mouldy caulking on the walls of the meat-defrosting room;
•a stack of dirty, mouldy and broken skids left in the frozen packoff room during cleaning;
• food debris on knife holders, floor and meat containers in the formulation room; and,
• rust on equipment used to process mock chicken.

The Canadian Press obtained that inspection report and others under the Access to Information Act.

Another report says during visits on Oct. 20 and 21, an inspector watched as "an employee in a grey jacket lifted a floor broom over a finished food product conveyor belt during operation to sweep in between the conveyors." (No additional information as to whether the product was packaged or not).

Then on Oct. 22, the inspector saw a worker using a forklift to move ready-to-eat link sausages from the cooler to a line for packaging. The report notes the meat at the bottom part of the lift "was not protected for the potential wheel over spray or splash cross contamination."

That part is gross. And unacceptable.

On Aug. 23, 2008, ( passim ad nauseum) Maple Leaf CEO Michael McCain took to the Intertubes to apologize for an expanding outbreak of listeriosis that would eventually kill 22 people. As part of his speech, McCain said that Maple Leaf has “a strong culture of food safety.”???

On Aug. 27, 2008, McCain told a press conference, ??????“As I’ve said before, Maple Leaf Foods is 23,000 people who live in a culture of food safety. We have an unwavering commitment to keep our food safe, and we have excellent systems and processes in place.

Dr. Randy Huffman, Maple Leaf’s chief food-safety officer, took to his company’s Journey (worst band ever)-inspired Journey to Food Safety Leadership blog to say today,

“The average reader must be wondering how this plant could have so many issues only a month after re-opening from causing one of the worst food safety crises in Canada.”

I’m not sure what he means by average. I consider myself dull and below-average; does that mean I won’t be able to understand what he is saying?

Huffman: Over the past 12 -14 months- since these inspections were conducted – we have invested over $5 million in upgrades at the Bartor Road plant. This includes repair of floors and wall surfaces, air handling systems, caulking, better separation of raw and cooked areas of the plant, new pallets and new slicing and packaging equipment. We have implemented over 200 new operating procedures.

Why did it take 22 deaths and 53 illnesses to make this food safety investment?

Huffman: CFIA generates these reports and so does Maple Leaf, through our own inspections across all our plants. We welcome this government scrutiny.  Canadians hold us to a higher standard, as they should.

So why did the reports have to be obtained through an Access to Information request, and why doesn’t Maple Leaf just sidestep the government and make the reports public, along with other data, as it becomes available, to build trust with the buying consumer?

Would more inspectors have helped? Maybe if they were looking. Federal food inspection union thingy Bob Kingston said,

"In a normal operation that had not been through what they had been through, that might be a common occurrence. But in this facility, it’s very surprising that that would still be there. Because you would expect it to be spotless."

The best food producers, processors, retailers and restaurants will go above and beyond minimal government and auditor standards and sell food safety solutions directly to the public. The best organizations will use their own people to demand ingredients from the best suppliers; use a mixture of encouragement and enforcement to foster a food safety culture; and use technology to be transparent — whether it’s live webcams in the facility or real-time test results on the website — to help restore the shattered trust with the buying public.

And the best cold-cut companies may stop dancing around and tell pregnant women, old people and other immunocompromised folks, don’t eat this food unless it’s heated

Deli clerk refuses to sell UK mom-to-be cheddar cheese, says pregnant women shouldn’t eat cheddar; wrong

From the a-little-knowledge-is-dangerous category, a UK deli clerk at a Sainsbury’s supermarket refused to sell a pregnant woman a piece of cheddar cheese until she lied and promised she wouldn’t eat the cheese.

Janet Lehain wrote in a letter of complaint to Sainsbury’s that the female clerk at the Clapham, Beds store was "patronising" and said, “how lucky my generation are to have such information available as this was not the case ‘in her day’."

Sainsbury’s said the worker was wrong, adding,

"It isn’t policy to refuse a sale on grounds goods may be unsuitable for pregnant women."

Whatever the policy is, Sainsbury’s could at least get the information correct: there are certain soft cheeses that should be avoided by pregnant women because of the potential to support growth of listeria. Amy has written extensively about this.

Me, I view the grocery store and the restaurant as my laboratory. I watch and ask questions of people, especially front-line staff. The head of food safety back at corporate HQ may know the correct food safety answer, but are they providing support to front-line staff, the people customers are most likely to interact with? That’s why we do food safety infosheets, a tool to provide continuous updates to employees, and that’s why we do secret shopper experiments.

The key findings after sending trained shoppers to a bunch of stores in southern Ontario in 2004?

“Although many grocery store employees appeared confident in their food safety knowledge, when asked for storage and handling advice, many were unaware of the proper methods within their department and were willing to offer incorrect advice. This advice often conflicted with the food handling information posted throughout the grocery store.”

Any organization is only as good as its weakest link. There’s already enough bad food safety information out there.

Secret shopper: Grocery store employee food handling practices from a customer’s perspective
Food Protection Trends
Lisa Mathiasen and Doug Powell

Food safety is critical along the entire agri-food chain, but it should be emphasized particularly in grocery stores because this may be the last opportunity to prevent food from becoming contaminated before it is purchased.

The responsibility for safe food handling has increased for the newer North American supermarkets, which offer a variety of additional food services and products. This research reports on food handling trends discovered by observing the food handling practices of grocery store employees and by inquiring about specific food safety-related topics in supermarkets across southern Ontario.

Ten researchers, trained to portray customers, visited 13 randomly selected supermarkets in Southern Ontario, three times. Observations and information were evaluated against the content of supermarket training programs and current literature. The triangulation of results was used to establish and confirm the observed trends.

During the store visits, a number of poor food handling practices were observed including improper glove use; cross contamination between raw and ready-to-eat meats and poultry; improper food storage; and poor personal hygiene. In addition, although many grocery store employees appeared confident in their food safety knowledge, when asked for storage and handling advice, many were unaware of the proper methods within their department and were willing to offer incorrect advice. This advice often conflicted with the food handling information posted throughout the grocery store.

This research highlights the need for more interactive training specific to individual departments within a supermarket, and will help in the improvement of training resources for grocery store food handlers.

Marketing food safety: Maple Lodge Farms deli-meat edition

Maple Lodge Farms is often confused with Maple Leaf Foods, the latter of the listeria mess in Canada a year ago that killed 22 people.

In an effort to protect their brand, Maple Lodge has taken to marketing food safety. And I’m all for it.

These full-page advertisements are from a couple of Canadian magazines, the Sept. 2009 issue of Today’s Parent (right), and the Oct. 2009 issue of Canadian Living (below, left).

There’s far too many sick people, and far too much bureau-dancing around foodborne illness: The best food producers, processors, retailers and restaurants should go above and beyond minimal government and auditor standards and sell food safety solutions directly to the public. The best organizations will use their own people to demand ingredients from the best suppliers; use a mixture of encouragement and enforcement to foster a food safety culture; and use technology to be transparent — whether it’s live webcams in the facility or real-time test results on the website — to help restore the shattered trust with the buying public.

Those companies that promote food safety culture can market their activities, and then consumers have a way to choose at the check-out aisle, providing feedback to those companies that make food safety a public priority.

Maple Lodge isn’t so much promoting a food safety culture as a technological fix. But at least they’re out there. A case could be made that the tomatoes, lettuce and sprouts pictured in these sandwiches also pose a significant food safety risk. That’s why buyers have to source food from safe sources.

Food safety Bill passes House – will it mean fewer sick people?

While the websphere, blogsphere and twittersphere were ejaculating electrons about the potential passage of new food safety legislation by the U.S. House– it passed — I was hanging out with some food safety dudes at Publix supermarkets HQ in Lakeland, Florida.

And I saw far more in Lakeland that would impact daily food safety than anything the politicians, bureaucrats, hangers-on and chatting classes could ever come up with.

When it comes to the safety of the food supply, I generally ignore the chatter from Washington, as well as the wasted Internet commentaries and conspiracy theories. If a proposal does emerge, such as the creation of a single food inspection agency, or the bill that passed the House today – and just the House — I ask, Will it actually make food safer? Will fewer people get sick?

As the General Accounting Office pointed out in a report a year ago,

“The burden for food safety in most of the selected countries lies primarily with food producers, rather than with inspectors, although inspectors play an active role in overseeing compliance. This principle applies to both domestic and imported products.”

Publix, with over 1,000 supermarkets, its own processing plants, and thousands of food products moving through its shelves, can’t afford the luxury of chatter.

After my visit, I went to the local Publix in St. Pete Beach to check out what the food safety type said – sure, the boss knows food safety, but do the front-line staff?

I ordered some shaved smoked turkey breast from the deli, and the sealable bag the meat was delivered in contained the following:

“Publix Deli
The Publix Deli is committed to the highest quality fresh cold cuts & cheeses
Therefore we recommend all cold cuts are best if used within three days of purchase
And all cheese items are best if used within four days of purchase”

(The picture isn’t very good. Note to Publix: The label warning about shelf-life is a great idea, but can’t read it if the price sticker gets slapped over some of the text.)

This is the first time I’ve seen a retailer provide information to consumers on the accurate shelf-life of sliced deli meats. It didn’t require Congressional hearings; it didn’t require some hopelessly-flawed consumer education campaign; it required a food safety type to say, this is important, let’s do it.

I also went looking for some bread for turkey sandwiches tomorrow as we move down to Sarasota, and then Venice Beach. I asked an employee in the bakery for some whole wheat rolls, and she pointed out what was available, said packages of six were pre-packaged, but she could get me whatever number I wanted. I asked for four. There was no bin for me to stick my who-knows-where-they-have-been hands in to and retrieve a few rolls. The bins were turned so that only staff had access. The employee said it had been that way since she started three years ago, and that “there’s just too much stuff going around” to let consumers stick their hands into bun bins (most commonly found item in communal bun bins? False fingernails).

It’s nice that food safety is once again a Presidential priority and that politicians are trying to set a tone. But chatting doesn’t mean fewer sick people – actions do.

More testing, not inspectors may have prevented listeria says McCain; will test results be made public?

Micahel McCain, the president of Maple Leaf Foods, was correct yesterday when he told a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce event that adding more food inspectors to the plant floor would not have made a difference in preventing last August’s listeria outbreak at one of its Toronto plants that caused 22 deaths.

"What is very important to recognize about bacteria is that you cannot see it. We wish you could visually inspect for bacteria, but it can’t be seen with the eyes, tasted or touched."

The head of the $5.2-billion-a-year Toronto-based food giant was adamant that more testing was the only effective way to address the issue and that Maple Leaf has doubled the number of tests being undertaken.

Thank you for that lesson in microbiology, Mr. McCain. Yes, the inspectors’ union in Canada has been shamelessly exploiting the deaths of 22 people to get more shifts for its workers. Good of you to call them on it.

Now to the harder questions, which McCain continues to avoid.

Why didn’t Maple Leaf do more extensive testing prior to the outbreak? It’s not like there haven’t been listeria outbreaks in ready-to-eat refrigerated foods like cold cuts before.

Why won’t Maple Leaf make all of its listeria test results public, especially since it wants to build consumer confidence.

Will Maple Leaf put warning labels on its cold cuts to advise pregnant women and older folks that such products shouldn’t be eaten raw?

And to all the dieticians running the menus at the elderly folks homes where the 22 people died: what were you thinking serving cold cuts? How hard is it to heat a sandwich? Have any of you had any decent food safety training?

Maple Lodge to market food safety on deli meats; will Maple Leaf follow?

Maple Lodge Farms is Canada’s largest independent chicken processor and I’ve been to the slaughter plant in Brampton, Ontario. With all the Maple Leaf listeria stuff over the past eight months, Maple Lodge has been sorta quiet.

Until today.

Maple Lodge chief executive officer Michael Burrows unveiled a new high-pressure method of killing listeria and other bacteria in sliced luncheon meats after the package is sealed. The process applies water under extremely high pressure to the packaged product, has no adverse impact on the product itself, and has been approved by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

So Maple Leaf, using that newfangled blogging technology, responded by saying Maple Leaf Foods was an early adopter of Ultra High Pressure (UHP) technology in Canada and began using it in Maple Leaf Simply Fresh entree products when they were introduced more than two years ago, in a bunch of other products, and will look at using it in deli meat if it can provide added food safety assurance to consumers.

Maple Leaf, seriously, you need better writers.

But this is what I like about the Maple Lodge approach:

They came out and said internal research showed consumer demand for higher levels of food safety has risen sharply in the past year, and that consumers would be willing to pay a premium of 1-2 cents per 100 grams of product to get it.

Maybe, consumers will say anything on a survey but vote with their money at checkout.

But Maple Lodge is going to label the stuff with a" SafeSure" sticker and market food safety at retail.

Good for them. Rather than lecturing consumers, let them choose. At checkout.

Maple Leaf discovers food safety – too late

During the Bite Me ’09 road trip, a very prominent food safety colleague told a very public audience that he wasn’t so impressed when a company hired a chief food safety dude after the poop had hit the fan.

Me thinks he was talking about Maple Leaf Foods, a Canadian company doing $5.5 billion a year in sales that decided it needed a chief food safety officer after killing 21 people with its listeria-laden deli meats last fall.

On March 25, 2009, Maple Leaf announced it was launching an external company blog at The first posting, "The Journey to Food Safety Leadership," is a letter written by President and CEO, Michael McCain.

Anything mentioning Journey should be banned. So many times while flipping the radio during the Bite Me ’09 3600-mile roadtrip, a Journey song would come on. And they’re on some new ad. Horrible, horrible music.

So it’s apt that Maple Leaf Foods chose a Journey to food safety because like the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, they are all aggressively mediocre.

The letter from McCain is not a blog post: it’s a missive that needs some serious editing for brevity. There’s been a couple of other posts that run the gamut from boring to pedantic. My group has written a paper on what makes a good blog post. McCain may want to check it out.

McCain and his food safety hire, Randy Huffman, are apparently touring the editorial boards of the remaining newspapers in Canada as a prelude to parliamentary hearings that begin next week on the future of Canada’s food safety system.

“We are going to be advocating more regulation, not less. More-stringent protocols, not less-stringent protocols. We’re going to be advocating more transparency and a stronger role for government, not a reduced role.”

Of course they are. Just like leafy green growers and the dude from Kellogg’s. Isn’t it embarrassing when industry – the ones who make a profit – says, we can’t do this ourselves, we need a babysitter.?

He (McCain) was accompanied by the company’s new chief food safety officer, Randy Huffman, whose appointment and position are being touted as evidence of Maple Leaf’s responsiveness to the crisis.

I’ll defer to my very prominent food safety colleague.

McCain also told the Globe and Mail this morning,

“We have to be candid and open and honest to the Canadian public, as does the industry and government. In the world of food safety we can do the very best job we can, but zero risk is not achievable based on what we know today.”

Dude, I co-wrote a book called Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk back in 1997 that said zero-risk was unachievable and consumers actually don’t want that. They just want to know that whoever is in charge is doing what can be reasonably expected to reduce risk. Twelve years later and McCain feels it necessary to lecture the Canadian public about this stuf? Had McCain really never heard about the 1998 outbreak of listeria associated with Sara Lee hot dogs?

Back to the questions the Globe editorial board apparently forgot to ask while fawning over McCain: should Maple Leaf products contain warning labels for pregnant women and old folks; why aren’t Maple Leaf listeria results publicly available; and who knew what when in the days leading up to the Aug. 2008 recall?