Variation on mouse in a beer: rodent found in can of rum

An Australian woman got a nasty surprise when she cracked open a can of rum and cola to honor her grandfather – a dead mouse.

The Northern Star newspaper has reported that Casino mother-of-four Linda Foster drank the can of Bundaberg rum only to find a mouse in the bottom of the can.

Miss Foster, 26, bought a six-pack of the drop, which she intended to drink with her family following the funeral of her grandfather, who was a life-long drinker of the product in question.

"I hardly ever drink," Miss Foster said.

"Straight away I vomited – it was disgusting, absolutely revolting."

Miss Foster said she tried repeatedly to contact the company that produced the beverage on its consumer feedback phone number, which is printed on the can, but despite leaving messages received no response.

A spokesperson for the company which produced the drink said it was "committed to the highest standards of product quality and all our products undergo rigorous quality assurance testing at every stage of the production process."

Best Breakfast in Kansas

I’m a sucker for Sunday brunch, especially if a good Bloody Mary is involved. On more than one occasion we’ve thought of trying The Chef café in downtown Manhattan (Kansas). But each time we see the line stretching out the door and down the block, we decide to take our small child somewhere without a wait. Today “Downtown Manhattan, Inc.” shared on Facebook that The Chef was rated the best breakfast in Kansas by the Food Network. The story says The Chef makes its own chorizo for their frittatas, which appear to be amply cooked, but chorizo should be handled with care to avoid food safety risks (see for a lively discussion). While I’d vote for Doug’s cooking as the best breakfast in Kansas, the next time Sorenne wakes up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday, we just might be first in line.

Roy Costa to star on Dr. Oz Tuesday; Powell dresses up and gets in a couple of zingers

In the beginning there was Oprah, and all was ideal.

Oprah begat Dr. Phil, and all was ideal, at least until his ratings started to fall.

Then Dr. Oz appeared – 55 times on Oprah – and Oprah eventually begated Dr. Oz.

The Dr. Oz show started in September 2009 and is syndicated throughout the U.S.

After hours of providing material to Dr. Oz producers about supermarket food safety, I got the call – be in New York City, Studio 6A where Conan used to shoot, we want you on the show.

On Monday, Oct. 19, 2009, Amy, Sorenne and I (I don’t like to travel without my family, that aging thing) drove from the Little Apple of Manhattan (Kansas) to Kansas City and then flew to the Big Apple of Manhattan (New York).

We got picked up by a big car and stayed at a nice hotel in Gotham.


The next morning, Amy, Sorenne and I ventured off to 30 Rock – Rockefeller Center – for the taping. My friend Roy Costa was also there, and they gave us a dressing room with muffins and water.

It soon became apparent that 10-month-old Sorenne was not going to be comfortable waiting around for the excess of television –lots of waiting around for a couple of minutes of screen time – so Amy and Sorenne went back to the hotel.

Roy got to share the stage with Dr. Oz because of his experience as an inspector and he did a great job bobbing and weaving, trying to keep the show on track. I got to be the expert in the audience with a couple of pithy statements.

Our supermarket food safety bit is competing with the National Sex Experiment — a 50-state, 90-day incentive challenging you to have the best sex of your life — and a bunch of D-list celebrities who need the help of Dr. Oz. It is scheduled to be broadcast Tuesday, Nov. 3.

And, as in TV, the show was done with us just like that. We walked around Times Square a bit, took in the sideshow, and then went home.

I’m bona fide. I’m the paterfamilias. I have a residency card and can leave the U.S. and get back in

Or something like that from George Clooney in the 2000 movie and Courtlynn favorite, O Brother Where Art Thou.

As far as the U.S. government is concerned, I am indeed somewhat more bona fide, having received my permanent residency (below), so let the food safety world tour begin.

First stop – the motherland, U.K., in early January. Amy has a conference in Manchester, so thought we’d see some of my relatives in Newport, some friends in Cardiff, and visit the statue of my now confirmed great-great-great-great grandfather, William ‘The Tipton Slasher’ Perry, bare-knuckle boxing champ of England in 1850 and 1856, in Birmingham.

bites barfblog and food safety: information procedures

People often ask me, “Doug, how do you choose the information that goes in Do you have a basis for any of your food safety rants on barfblog? Why are you such a jerk?

People often ask Ben, “Why do you write so much about vomit?”

People often ask Amy, “Why are you with Doug?”

When we ran the food safety information centre back in Canada, we had detailed procedures for how to answer questions, what information was provided and why. We don’t answer questions so much anymore, but we do provide a lot of information so I figured we better clearly understand what we do and why. This is more for us and all the students that come through my lab than it is for you. Really, it’s me, not you. is a unique comprehensive resource for all those with a personal or professional interest in food safety. Dr. Powell of Kansas State University, and associates, search out credible, current, evidence-based information on food safety and make it accessible to domestic and international audiences through multiple media. Sources of food safety information include government regulatory agencies, international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), peer-reviewed scientific publications, academia, recognized experts in the field and other sources as appropriate.

Throughout all bites activities, the emphasis is on engaging people in dialogue about food-related risks, controls and benefits, from farm-to-fork. bites strives to provide reliable, relevant information in culturally and linguistically appropriate formats to assist people in identifying, understanding and mitigating the causes of foodborne illness.

The listserv is a free web-based mailing list where information about current and emerging food safety issues is provided, gathered from journalistic and scientific sources around the world and condensed into short items or stories that make up the daily postings. The listserv has been issued continuously since 1995 and is distributed daily via e-mail to thousands of individuals worldwide from academia, industry, government, the farm community, journalists and the public at large.

The listserv is designed to:

•    convey timely and current information for direction of research, diagnostic or investigative activities;
•    identify food risk trends and issues for risk management and communication activities; and
•    promote awareness of public concerns in scientific and regulatory circles.

The bites listserv functions as a food safety news aggregator, summarizing available information that can be can be useful for risk managers in proactively anticipating trends and reactively address issues. The bites editor, Dr. Powell, does not say whether a story is right or wrong or somewhere in between, but rather that a specific story is available today for public discussion. is where Drs. Powell, Chapman, Hubbell and assorted food safety friends offer evidence-based opinions on current food safety issues. Opinions must be evidence-based – with references – reliable, rapid and relevant. The barfblog authors edit each other – viciously.

Breaking food safety news items that eventually appear in bites or barfblog are often posted on Twitter for faster public notification.

Food safety infosheets are designed to influence food handler practices by utilizing four attributes culled from education, behavioral science and communication literature:

•    surprising and compelling messages;
•    putting actions and their consequence in context;
•    generating discussion within the target audiences’ environments; and
•    using verbal narrative, or storytelling, as a message delivery device.

Food safety infosheets are based on stories about outbreaks of foodborne illness sourced from the bites listserv. Four criteria are used to select the story: discussion of a foodborne illness outbreak; discussion of background knowledge of a pathogen (including symptoms, etiology and transmission); food handler control practices; and emerging food safety issues. Food safety infosheets also contain evidence-based prescriptive information to prevent or mitigate foodborne illness related to food handling. And now, available in French, Spanish and Portuguese.

bites bistro videos
A nod to the youtube generation, but we don’t really know what we’re doing.

Plans and guidelines don’t make food safe. People do

That’s what I told the Topeka Capital-Journal last week in a story published today.

Mike Heideman, KDHE spokesman, said the most common food-borne illnesses in Kansas are salmonella and E.coli, both transmitted by eating food contaminated with human or animal feces.

Don’t eat poop.

Top 5 food-safety questions journalists should be asking

The editor of Nieman Watch at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University tracked me down in Florida a couple of weeks ago — it’s not hard, I’m always plugged in, zing — and asked me to pen the following, which he greatly improved with some editing. Below, Powell’s take on the top-5 food-safety questions journalists should be asking.

Food safety is not a trivial issue. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that up to 30 per cent of individuals in developed countries acquire illnesses from the food and water they consume annually. Active disease surveillance by U.S., Canadian and Australian authorities suggests this estimate is accurate.

WHO has identified five factors of food handling that contribute to these illnesses: improper cooking procedures; temperature abuse during storage; lack of hygiene and sanitation by food handlers; cross-contamination between raw and fresh ready-to-eat foods; and acquiring food from unsafe sources.

There has been some excellent media coverage of microbial food safety issues since the 1993 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to Jack-in-the-Box that killed four and sickened over 600; there has also been some terribly misleading coverage.
Reporters interested in covering this important story should be asking these five questions:

1. Will more government involvement mean fewer sick people?

While the Internet and the mainstream media were all excited about the potential passage of new food safety legislation by the U.S. House in early August — 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 and hangers-on were talking about.

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

As the Government Accountability Office pointed out in a report a year ago, “The burden for food safety in most … 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 a  visit to headquarters in Lakeland, Fla., I went to the local Publix in St. Petersburg Beach to verify what I’d heard at HQ. Sure, the bosses know 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 bore the following message:

“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.”

This was the first time I’d 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 the company’s food safety officials to say, this is important, let’s do it.

Same thing with fresh fruits and vegetables — the leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S. for the past decade.

Late last month, U.S. regulators announced plans to strengthen safety protocols for fresh fruits and vegetables — except those plans are simply extensions of plans published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1998. Plans and guidelines don’t make food safe: people do.

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

Journalists can hold politicians, producers and industry accountable. There are lots of plans and proposals, but will any of them translate into fewer sick people?

2. Is local/natural/sustainable/organic/raw food really any better than other types of food?

A U.S. government extension agent with a PhD and at a prominent university e-mailed the other day to ask if I had any data on foodborne illness from farmers’ markets because she was preparing for a presentation and was, “trying to make the case that there are very few cases of foodborne illness from local foods relative to our globally based food system.”

But the idea that food grown and consumed locally is somehow safer than other food, either because it contacts fewer hands or any outbreaks would be contained, is the product of wishful thinking.

Barry Estabrook of Gourmet magazine recently invoked the local-is-pure fantasy, writing: “There is no doubt that our food-safety system is broken. But with the vast majority of disease outbreaks coming from industrial-scale operations, legislators should have fixed the problems there instead of targeting small, local businesses that were never part of the problem in the first place.”

But whenever you hear someone say there’s “no doubt” in this field, you should be filled with doubt. Foodborne illnesses are vastly underreported. Someone has to get sick enough to go to a doctor, the doctor has to be bright enough to order the right test, the state has to have the known foodborne illnesses listed as reportable diseases, and so on. For every known case of foodborne illness, there are an estimated 10 to 300 other cases, depending on the severity of the bug. Most foodborne illness is never detected. It’s almost never the last meal someone ate, or whatever other mythologies are out there. A stool sample linked with some epidemiology or food testing is required to make associations with specific foods.

Maybe the vast majority of foodborne outbreaks come from industrial-scale operations because the vast majority of food and meals is consumed from industrial-scale operations. To accurately compare local and other food, a database would have to somehow be constructed so that a comparison of illnesses on a per capita meal or even ingredient basis could be made.

Then there are the whoppers that are repeated daily, somewhere, like this one by raw milk advocate Sally Fallon, who said, “Raw milk is like a magic food for children. … Without the green grass, you’re missing a lot of vitamins. Also, it’s much safer. When cows are eating green grass, you don’t find pathogens in their milk.”

With such statements, public advocacy becomes public health risk.

The natural reservoir for E. coli O157:H7 and other verotoxigenic E. coli is the intestines of all ruminants, including cattle — grass or grain-fed — sheep, goats, deer and the like. The final report of the fall 2006 spinach outbreak identifies nearby grass-fed beef cattle as the likely source of the E. coli O157:H7 that sickened 200 and killed four.

A table of raw dairy outbreaks is available at Kids are often the ones that get sick.

And be wary of claims that food is local.

3. Is that food safety advice really accurate?

Everyone eats, so everyone’s an expert when it comes to food. Food, Inc. may be a popular movie among the foodies, but has some terrible food safety advice. Microorganisms that make people sick exist in whatever kind of food production and distribution system we smart humans come up with. But government, industry and academic advice can often be of limited use — or wrong. Do people really need to wash their hands for 20 seconds — or will 10 seconds suffice? It will.  Does the water have to be warm? No. Are paper towels better than blow driers at removing pathogens? Yes, it’s the friction that counts. Food safety types argue about these things all the time. If someone says, “food safety is simple, just follow this advice,” don’t believe it. Question everything.

4. With all of the attention, resources and talk, why hasn’t there been a reduction in the estimated incidence of foodborne illnesses in the past five years?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported in April 2008 that foodborne illness remains a significant public health issue in the U.S., with Salmonella infections increasingly problematic: “Although significant declines in the incidence of certain foodborne pathogens have occurred since 1996, these declines all occurred before 2004,” the CDC reported.

“Outbreaks caused by contaminated peanut butter, frozen pot pies, and a puffed vegetable snack in 2007 underscore the need to prevent contamination of commercially produced products. The outbreak associated with turtle exposure highlights the importance of animals as a nonfood source of human infections. To reduce the incidence of Salmonella infections, concerted efforts are needed throughout the food supply chain, from farm to processing plant to kitchen.”

The CDC data show existing efforts to reduce foodborne illness have stalled. Signs stating “Employees must wash hands” may not be the most effective way to compel good food safety behavior. New messages using new media should be explored to really create a culture that values microbiologically safe food.

5. Why don’t producers, processors, and retailers market microbial food safety directly to consumers?

There’s lots of marketing of food safety, but it is done indirectly. One of the reasons people buy organic/natural/local/whatever is they perceive such food to be safer — in the absence of any microbiological data. Grocery stores say all food is safe, yet the weekly outbreaks of foodborne illness — the ones that consumers hear about — suggest otherwise. The best farms, processors, retailers and restaurants should brag about their microbial food safety efforts and accomplishments. With so many sick people each year, there’s an attentive audience out there.

Dr. Douglas Powell is an associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University. He also runs, a blog about food safety.

‘Multiple little failures add up’ and cause outbreaks

This is a food safety story with no dead bodies, no sick people, and a company responding appropriately to questions raised by inspectors.

Mike Hughlett writes in tomorrow’s Chicago Tribune today that,

When food-safety inspectors called on Panera Bread Co.’s Chicago dough plant earlier this year, they found a host of manufacturing deficiencies.

For instance, a worker was spotted welding near a batch of bread dough — a contamination risk — while some dough was observed in dirty containers.

Panera’s records also indicated that in just over a year, the Chicago plant, which makes bread dough for 124 outlets in four states, fielded 10 complaints from consumers who had found foreign objects, mostly metal, in their food, including a washer discovered in a whole-grain bagel. …

The lesson is: Deviations from good manufacturing practices, which are at issue at Panera’s plant, often are at the heart of food-safety fiascoes. Companies either learn from the errors, as Panera said it did, or the risk increases that the next incident will be more serious.

Doug Powell, a food safety expert at Kansas State University, said,

"It’s multiple little failures that add up; these are warning signs.”

Martin Cole, who heads the Illinois Institute of Technology’s National Center for Food Safety and Technology agreed, adding,

such failures are "fairly common, I’m afraid."