Our church is the arena, our religion is hockey, so we don’t educate, we inform

Consumers in most developed countries have greater access to safer food than ever before, yet the issue of consumer perception on the safety of the food supply, the control infrastructure and existing and new process technologies is often not positive.

A series of high profile food incidents, which have been ineffectively managed by both the regulators and the industry, and where there has been a failure to be open and transparent, have sensitised a proportion of consumers to scary stories about the food supply. There has been concomitant damage to consumer confidence in (i) the safety of food, (ii) the food industry’s commitment to producing safe food and (iii) the authorities’ ability to oversee the food chain.

Threats to consumers’ health and their genuine concerns have to be addressed with effective risk management and the protection of public health has to be paramount. Dealing with incorrect fears and misperceptions of risk has also to be addressed but achieving this is very difficult. The competencies of social scientists are needed to assist in gaining insights into consumer perceptions of risk, consumer behaviour and the determinants of trust.

Conventional risk communication will not succeed on its own and more innovative and creative communication strategies are needed to engage with consumers using all available media channels in an open and transparent way. The digital media affords the opportunity to revolutionise engagement with consumers on food safety and nutrition-related issues.

Moving from risk communication to food information communication and consumer engagement

Npj Science of Food 2

Patrick Wall and Junshi Chen


Compel, not educate; E. coli O104:H4 spread at a family party possibly due to contamination by a food handler, Germany 2011

Primarily German researchers investigated a cluster of shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O104:H4 infections after a family party during a large STEC O104:H4 outbreak in Germany. To identify the vehicle we conducted a retrospective cohort study. Stool samples of party guests, and food and environmental samples from the catering company were tested for STEC. We defined cases as party guests with gastrointestinal symptoms and restaurant_food_crap_garbage_10laboratory-confirmed STEC infection. We found 23 cases among 71 guests. By multivariable analysis consumption of salmon [odds ratio (OR) 15, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2·3–97], herb cream (OR 6·5, 95% CI 1·3–33) and bean salad (OR 6·1, 95% CI 1·4–26) were associated with STEC infection. STEC O104:H4 was detected in samples of bell pepper and salmon. The food handler developed STEC infection. Our results point towards transmission via several food items contaminated by a food handler. We recommend regular education of food handlers emphasizing their role in transmitting infectious diseases.

Epidemiology and Infection / FirstView Article, pp 1-8

M. Diercke, M. Kirchner, K. Claussen, E. Mayr, I. Strotmann, J. Frangenberg, A. Schiffmann, G. Bettge-Weller, M. Arvand and H. Uphoff

Pink slime gone; but are companies, USDA really interested in choice?

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

If you believe proponents, critics and prison wardons, disputes about science and facts and personal relationships are failures in communication, in that you don’t agree with me.

It’s based on an authoritarian model and is the oldest excuse out there; all kinds of problems could be solved if everyone just communicated better, especially scientists and others.

For almost 30 years I have been told failures in communication underpin conflict when usually it is failure to commit – to an idea, a belief, a principle.

And it’s not new.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s line on BPI’s pink slime was, "All USDA ground beef purchases must meet the highest standards for food safety. USDA has strengthened ground beef food safety standards in recent years and only allows products into commerce that we have confidence are safe.”

Two hours later, USDA changed its tune, leaking the news that schools will have choice in response to requests from districts.

The official announcement came earlier today. “USDA only purchases products for the school lunch program that are safe, nutritious and affordable – including all products containing Lean Finely Textured Beef. However, due to customer demand, the department will be adjusting procurement specifications for the next school year so schools can have additional options in procuring ground beef products. USDA will provide schools with a choice to order product either with or without Lean Finely Textured Beef.”

Eldon Roth, founder of BPI, issued a statement today again focusing on safety, which is fine, but blamed media coverage. “As parents and consumers continue to make important decisions about the food they and their children eat, we hope that they listen to credible sources outside media sensationalists and take note of the overwhelming support from the government and scientific community who have routinely testified that our lean beef trimmings are 100% beef and are produced, and tested in a way that makes this food very safe. The facts can be found at pinkslimeisamyth.com.”

Facts are never enough.

BPI has followed the well-worn script of fact-based communication, and failure has followed.

The American Meat Institute backed a statement by BPI by saying, “First of all, it shouldn’t be referred to as ‘pink slime.’ That is part of the problem. What we need to do is better communicate the true facts to consumers. The accurate label is beef. It’s just lean, finely textured beef; not ‘pink slime.’”


Referring to last year’s E. coli O104-in-sprouts outbreak Germany’s ministerial director and federal director of food, agriculture and consumer protection, Bernhard Kühnle told a recent gathering, “We need to make sure we establish trusted scientists to communicate to the media before there is a crisis …The more days the crisis continued the more experts appeared in the media. Someone said it was certainly cucumbers, and someone else said it was raw milk. Someone even said it was caused by Al Qaeda.”

Yes, if only trusted scientists would communicate better. Didn’t help BPI.

BPI also made the fatal mistake of denying consumer choice.

BPI director of food safety and quality assurance Craig Letch told FoodQualityNews.com“Long-story short, the whole situation has been a gross-misunderstanding of the product and the processing measures involved with the product. It has directly stemmed from media-outlets trying to sensationalize and build up hype around the product.”

Letch added that consumers do not need to be informed that the product is included in another meat product as it is “meat, 100% lean meat.”

Choice is a good thing. I’m all for restaurant inspection disclosure, providing information on genetically-engineered foods (we did it 12 years ago), knowing where food comes from and how it’s produced.

But I want to choose safe food. Who defines safety or GE or any other snappy dinner-table slogan drop?

Self-proclaimed food activists are no better, claiming their educational efforts won the day. The number of people barfing from food will not be reduced by rhetoric. No one won.

USDA and the companies that previously outlawed pink slime acted expediently to manage a public-relations event. But they unwillingly undercut other efforts to provide safe, sustainable food.

What is USDA going to do about school lunch purchases containing genetically-engineered ingredients, hormones, antibiotics and a whole slew of politically-loaded ingredients?

Commitment means bragging about it. Market microbial food safety and hold producers and processors – conventional, organic or otherwise – to a standard of producing food that doesn’t make people barf. That’s something shoppers will support, instead of being told they can’t choose and have to become better educated about someone else’s limited perspective.

Corporate food safety lawyer talks food safety nonsense

The authors at the blog site, Defending Food Safety, need a lesson in microbiology.

One of them, some lawyer, Shawn Stevens, really comes across as a douchebag.

A microbiologically-challenged douchebag.

He runs this Defending Food Safety website, which is full of facts, but the kind not referenced in peer-reviewed journals but in his (and his clients’) mind.

He says in his latest missive that,

“If we are really serious about reducing food-borne (sic) illness, however, such initiatives and regulations are only one part of the overall equation. Much greater progress can likely be achieved – more quickly – if more consumers recognize the importance of properly handling and preparing raw animal foods. If all consumers can be educated to assume raw chicken, meat and eggs carry bacteria that can cause illness, to take additional precautions to avoid cross-contamination, and to cook all raw animal products to a safe temperature, consumers can significantly reduce their risk of becoming ill. In this regard, better “Educated People” will more quickly and readily translate into far more “Healthy People.”

What would Socrates say about the gap between reality and rhetoric for any of these food safety lawyer types? Like most, this dude needs an editor. Consumers don’t want to be educated. But I look forward to Stevens advocating toxic waste handling labels on all raw meat. Big, scary labels. And dangerous microorganisms are present on all raw foods, like potatoes and carrots and cantaloupes, not just animal proteins.