Effective inspections: Be kind and considerate

Conducting food safety inspections requires interpersonal skills and technical expertise. This requirement is particularly important for agencies that adopt a compliance assistance approach by encouraging inspectors to assist industry in finding solutions to violations.

george-carlin-honestyThis article describes a study of inspections that were conducted by inspectors from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Food and Dairy Division at small-scale processing facilities. Interactions between inspectors and small processors were explored through a qualitative, ethnographic approach using interviews and field observations. Inspectors emphasized the importance of interpersonal skills such as communication, patience, empathy, respect, and consideration in conducting inspections.

This article examines how these skills were applied, how inspectors felt they improved compliance, the experiences through which inspectors attained these skills, and the training for which they expressed a need. These results provide new insights into the core competencies required in conducting inspections, and they provide the groundwork for further research.

Interpersonal skills in the practice of food safety inspections: A study of compliance assistance

Journal of Environmental Health , December 2016, Volume 79, No. 5, 8–12

Jenifer Buckley, PhD


If you barf when I barf, congrats; you’re empathetic

I’m full of empathy because I barf when you do. But not always.

There was this one time, as the plane from Tampa landed in Kansas City, and daughter Courtlynn decided to spew. I had the barfbag ready and carried it off the place like a pro.

Then there was this other time, and me and Amy and Sorenne and Katie were driving back from Florida to Kansas, and after 24 hours in the car with only an hour to go, Sorenne spewed all over the back seat.

And then I pulled over and barfed.

According to NBC News, if seeing someone hurl makes you gag, too, and then launch into a puffed-cheek, double-hands-to-the-mouth, chest-heaving dance before you either toss your own cookies or scurry safely (and dryly) away, well, we owe you a compliment.

People who feel the urge to barf when witnessing another person throw up are both compassionate and highly evolved, say two medical experts on the stomach-turning topic.

“There’s good news and bad news about why upchucking causes other people in the immediate vicinity to upchuck,” said Amy Morin, who teaches psychology at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield, Maine and works a licensed clinical social worker.

“The good news is, if it happens to you, it means you have empathy,” Morin said. 

In human brains, scientists have discovered “mirror neurons” that cause some people to feel the same emotions as others around us. This explains why you might tear up when you see someone in the room cry.

If that sounds like you, when you see someone vomit, your brain feels empathy and causes you to actually feel that disgust with the other person, and so the food in your gut wants to come out, explained Morin, who also writes for about.com at discipline.about.com.

“The bad news is, there’s not much you can do about it. If you are prone to upchucking or gagging at the site, smell, or mention of vomit, your brain is likely fairly hard wired to react by doing so,” she added.

This wretched reaction is, in fact, still laced into our brains from ancient times – as a pure survival instinct, said Dr. Jennifer Hanes, an emergency physician at Northwest Hills Surgical Hospital in Austin, Texas. 

Does organic food turn you into a jerk?

Do you like to pontificate about organic food, your CSA and the evils of big ag? Then you may feel morally superior to others; you may be a jerk.

Continuing with Dr. Oz-inspired themes of insufferability and sanctimony, a new study confirms what I’ve anecdotally observed for decades: preaching organic makes you a jerk – and not in the adorable Steve Martin way, more in the self-perceived moral superiority way.

A paper published last week in the Journal of Social Psychological & Personality Science found that exposure to organic foods can “harshen moral judgments.”

As cited by Time magazine, “There’s a line of research showing that when people can pat themselves on the back for their moral behavior, they can become self-righteous,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Kendall J. Eskine, assistant professor of the psychological sciences department at Loyola University in New Orleans, told NBC’s Today show. Eskine and his team showed research subjects photographs of food, ranging from überorganic fruits and vegetables to fattening brownies and baked goods. He then gauged the primed eaters’ moral fiber with stories that warranted judgment, like one about a lawyer who lurks in an ER to try to persuade patients to sue for their injuries.

Reacting to the events on a numbered scale, the organic-food participants were more judgmental than those in the comfort-food category. They were also more reluctant when asked to volunteer time to help strangers, the study found, offering only 13 minutes vs. the brownie eaters’ 24 minutes. It’s like the group had already fulfilled its moral-justice quota by buying organic, so it felt all right slacking off in other ethics-based situations. Eskine labeled it “moral licensing.”

“There’s something about being exposed to organic food that made them feel better about themselves,” he told the Today show. “And that made them kind of jerks a little bit, I guess.”

The research doesn’t mean much, and I’m probably citing it only because it confirms my worldview, but still, there are a lot of preachers out there.

I’ll stick to focusing on food that makes people barf: organic, sustainable, local, dolphin-friendly or otherwise.

The abstract is below:

Wholesome foods and wholesome morals? Organic foods reduce prosocial behavior and harshen moral judgments
Social Psychological and Personality Science
Kendall J. Eskine
Recent research has revealed that specific tastes can influence moral processing, with sweet tastes inducing prosocial behavior and disgusting tastes harshening moral judgments. Do similar effects apply to different food types (comfort foods, organic foods, etc.)? Although organic foods are often marketed with moral terms (e.g., Honest Tea, Purity Life, and Smart Balance), no research to date has investigated the extent to which exposure to organic foods influences moral judgments or behavior. After viewing a few organic foods, comfort foods, or control foods, participants who were exposed to organic foods volunteered significantly less time to help a needy stranger, and they judged moral transgressions significantly harsher than those who viewed nonorganic foods. These results suggest that exposure to organic foods may lead people to affirm their moral identities, which attenuates their desire to be altruistic. 

Food safety risk communication – theory and practice

Folks are rightly skeptical about the safety of the food supply. Outbreaks of foodborne illness are happening daily, and some of the outbreaks involve levels of deception, malfeasance and yukkiness that are criminal.

Levels of trust ain’t good.

Lynn Frewer, formerly of the U.K. and now based at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, has been doing the food safety risk communication thing for a long time and is darn good at it. Frewer and colleagues published a new paper in Food Policy last week that summarized much of the existing research and some new work to map out a strategy for those who talk about food safety in public arenas.

The results validated what a bunch of us have been saying for decades:

• understand consumer risk perceptions and information needs;
• segment and target communications;
• institutions and industry must stress risk mitigation activities, including prevention and the effectiveness of enforcement systems;
• account for cultural and at-risk populations when creating messages;
• enhance transparency by making public information about ongoing management and research activities, the processes adopted regarding establishing regulatory and resource allocation priorities, and whether rapid responses by food risk managers to mitigate food safety incidents have been made;
• consumer protection and public health must be the top priority; and,
• tell ‘em what you don’t know (I’m sure that’s a scientific term).

How are such recommendations executed, especially during an outbreak of foodborne illness, when consumers are paying attention?

Gustavo Anaya, the owner of Oregon’s Los Dos Amigos Family Mexican Restaurant, issued a written apology to its customers after 30 patrons were sickened in a Salmonella outbreak linked to the Jackson Street, Roseburg, business.

Gustavo and his son, Manny Anaya, delivered letters to media outlets in Douglas County on Friday.

“We send our sincerest apologies to the people and family members who were affected by the salmonella outbreak,” the letter stated.

Saying, I’m sorry, is not always an admission of blame. It’s also a sign of empathy, that most basic of human traits, which is crucial in building trust.

Communications alone, however, are never enough. The restaurant will have issues if it is discovered to have improperly assessed or ignored food safety risks.

Cope, S., et al. Consumer perceptions of best practice in food risk communication and management: Implications for risk analysis policy. Food Policy (2010), doi:10.1016/j.foodpol.2010.04.002



As a consequence of recent food safety incidents, consumer trust in European food safety management has diminished. A risk governance framework that formally institutes stakeholder (including consumer) consultation and dialogue through a transparent and accountable process has been proposed, with due emphasis on risk communication. This paper delivers actionable policy recommendations based on consumer preferences for different approaches to food risk management. These results suggest that risk communication should be informed by knowledge of consumer risk perceptions and information needs, including individual differences in consumer preferences and requirements, and differences in these relating to socio-historical context associated with regulation. In addition, information about what is being done to identify, prevent and manage food risks needs to be communicated to consumers, together with consistent messages regarding preventative programs, enforcement systems, and scientific uncertainty and variability associated with risk assessments. Cross-cultural differences in consumer perception and information preferences suggest a national or regional strategy for food risk communication may be more effective than one applied at a pan-European level.