Do they work? Do they really work? FDA says prove those hand sanitizers work

Maggie Fox of NBC News writes that hand sanitizers are everywhere – at supermarket entrances, in public rest rooms, in schools and cafeterias. People believe they work and give them to their kids. Now U.S. the Food and Drug Administration says makers of the products need to show they’re safe and hand.sanitizerwork as well as people believe they do.

It’s the latest stage in FDA’s ongoing review of cleaning and hygiene products, forced in part by pressure from Congress and a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

It’s not that there is any indication the products are not safe or do not work, the FDA stresses. But there are some very vague hints from just a few studies that suggest some of the ingredients might be absorbed through the skin. And since they are so heavily used by pregnant women and small children, it’s best to check out even the most unlikely risks.

“Today, consumers are using antiseptic rubs more frequently at home, work, school and in other public settings where the risk of infection is relatively low,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

“These products provide a convenient alternative when hand washing with plain soap and water is unavailable, but it’s our responsibility to determine whether these products are safe and effective so that consumers can be confident when using them on themselves and their families multiple times a day. To do that, we must fill the gaps in scientific data on certain active ingredients.”

FDA wants manufacturers to provide data for ethanol or ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol and benzalkonium chloride. “Since 2009, 90 percent of all consumer antiseptic rubs use ethanol or ethyl alcohol as their active ingredient,” the FDA said.

“New safety information also suggests that widespread antiseptic use could have an impact on the development of bacterial resistance,” the agency says in its proposal.

Go evidence or go home: some online journals will publish fake science, for a fee

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – Canada – we ran the national food safety info line.

You can imagine rotary phones, but it was a tad more sophisticated.

The question we grappled with was, who’s evidence is right?

We came up with specific guidelines for how to answer questions based on the preponderance of scientific evidence, and were completely transparent about the the.sting.publishinglimitations, using a sound risk analysis framework.

When answers in the scientific literature seemed, uh, weird or missing, we’d go do our own original research and fill in the gaps.

We questioned everything and still do. It’s good for science, but can be hard on relationships.

Any time some hack said, here’s the science to prove something, we would question it.

Apparently with good reason.

As reported by NPR, an elaborate sting carried out by Science found that many online journals are ready to publish bad research in exchange for a credit card number.

The business model of these “predatory publishers” is a scientific version of those phishes from Nigerians who want help transferring a few million dollars into your bank account.

To find out just how common predatory publishing is, Science contributor John Bohannon sent a deliberately faked research article 305 times to online journals. More than half the journals that supposedly reviewed the fake paper accepted it.
“This sting operation,” Bohannan , reveals “the contours of an emerging Wild West in academic publishing.”

Online scientific journals are springing up at a great rate. There are thousands out there. Many, such as PLOS, are totally respectable. This “open access” model is making good science more accessible than ever before, without making users pay the hefty subscription fees of traditional print journals.

(It should be noted that Science is among these legacy print journals, charging subscription fees and putting much of its online content behind a pay wall.)

But the Internet has also opened the door to clever imitators who collect fees from scientists eager to get published. “It’s the equivalent of paying someone to publish the.sting.noseyour work on their blog,” Bohannan tells Shots.

Bohannan says his experiment shows many of these online journals didn’t notice fatal flaws in a paper that should be spotted by “anyone with more than high-school knowledge of chemistry.” And in some cases, even when one of their reviewers pointed out mistakes, the journal accepted the paper anyway — and then asked for hundreds or thousands of dollars in publication fees from the author.

A journalist with an Oxford University PhD in molecular biology, Bohannan fabricated a paper purporting to discover a chemical extracted from lichen that kills cancer cells. Its authors were fake too — nonexistent researchers with African-sounding names based at the fictitious Wassee Institute of Medicine in Asmara, a city in Eritrea.

With help from collaborators at Harvard, Bohannan made the paper look as science-y as possible – but larded it with fundamental errors in method, data and conclusions.

The highest density of acceptances was from journals based in India, where academics are under intense pressure to publish in order to get promotions and bonuses.

“Peer review is in a worse state than anyone guessed,” he says.

The Internet and open access are great tools, but like any technology, hucksters will be there to exploit the tool for personal (PhD) gain.

Maybe the peer-review system needs to open up, and the Internet can help with that.

Jamie’s Ministry of Food to run mobile kitchen in Queensland

Anyone who proclaims they have a ministry – especially a ministry of food – is suspect.

UK chef-celebrity Jamie Oliver, who practices terrible food safety on his numerous TV shows, is bringing his ‘pukka tucker’ to the Gold Coast with the help of the Queensland government, running weekly cooking classes teaching locals how to prepare healthy, nutritious and tasty meals.

This is a terrible idea.

If Jamie Oliver wants to promote health cooking, good for him; that doesn’t mean that taxpayers of Queensland, like Amy, should support this shill and his terrible food safety, in any way.

It’s embarrassing.

Queensland’s chief health officer, Dr Jeanette Young, told the Courier Mail the mobile kitchen would help Gold Coasters make healthier eating choices.

She provided no evidence to support such claims.

#FS2012 Canadian supermarket mogul says farmers’ markets could kill people

It’s not that a grocery mogul told a supposed food safety conference that “one day, (farmers’ markets) are going to kill somebody;” it’s that no one in the farmer’s market community responded with any kind of microbiological food safety comment, resorting instead to, trust us and we’re inspected.

The Toronto Star reports mega-billionaire Galen-hey-now-Weston (right, exactly as shown), head of Canadian mega-grocer Loblaws, with over 1,000 stores, told the Canadian Food Summit yesterday, "Farmers’ markets are great … One day they’re going to kill some people, though. I’m just saying that to be dramatic, though.”

Robert Chorney, the executive director of Farmers’ Markets Ontario, responded, "We strenuously object" to Weston’s remark. That was awful."

Ontario’s 175 farmers’ markets do more than $700 million in sales every year. Chorney promoted a few food safety myths of his own, saying that markets are regularly inspected and food is easily traceable because consumers know who they’re buying from.

Inspections don’t mean much. And just because someone drives to the Food Terminal in Toronto to load up on produce at 3 a.m. and then sell it at a premium at the local market adds nothing to traceability.

“The association said that four surveys since 1998 have shown that 83 per cent of respondents feel market food is as safe or safer than supermarket food.”

Surveys suck; people’s perceptions often have no basis in reality.

"A question for Galen Weston Jr: Have you ever been to a farmers’ market?" tweeted Gail Gordon Oliver, publisher and editor of Edible Toronto. "Have you ever REALLY spoken to a farmer?"

I have. And I ask questions. Like quality of irrigation water, what kind of shit soil amendments are used, and employee handwashing programs. I ask about microbial test strategies and results as verification that the farmer, whether she bought it from the Food Terminal or grew it herself, has a clue about dangerous microorganisms. Most answer with variations of, trust me.

There’s already enough faith-based food safety out there.

“Some delegates whispered among themselves on coffee breaks that supermarkets sell most of the food that’s recalled by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).”

That’s because supermarkets sell most of the food that is consumed in Canada.

“Farmers’ Markets Ontario works with Ontario’s 36 public health units, each of which has a champion responsible for markets. It has a food safety manual on its website.”

A manual? Awesome, my faith is restored.

I don’t care if it’s a farmer’s market or the Loblaws megalomart: provide evidence that the food you’re flogging is microbiologically safe. The best producers and retailers will market food safety at retail. People want it, that’s one reason they go to markets and buy all sorts of weird categories of food, but it’s not safer; it’s hucksterism.

And being a big company like Maple Leaf of 2008 listeria-in-cold-cuts fame that killed 23 Canadians is no guarantee or even hint that microbiological food safety matters. Regardless of size, or production method, or retail experience, providers either know about microbial food safety risks and take serious steps to control those risks – or they don’t.

In the 1990s as outbreaks were increasingly associated with unpasteurized apple cider, I would ask my cider provider at the Guelph local market (that’s in Canada) what he was doing to ensure the microbiological safety of his product. He could recite a variety of measures taken on the farm, and even set up a modest micro lab on the farm for testing. I bought his cider.

UK FSA publishes updated science strategy

Is cooking food until it’s ‘piping hot’ a science-based recommendation?

The Food Standards Agency has published its updated Strategy to 2015, Safer food for the nation with five core principles:

• putting the consumer first;
• openness and transparency;
• science and evidence-based;
• acting independently; and,
• enforcing food law fairly.

And six core outcomes:

• foods produced or sold in the UK are safe to eat;
• imported food is safe to eat;
• food producers and caterers give priority to consumer interests in relation to food;
• consumers have the information and understanding they need to make informed choices about where and what they eat;
• regulation is effective, risk-based and proportionate, is clear about the responsibilities of food business operators, and protects consumers and their interests from fraud and other risks; and,
• enforcement is effective, consistent, risk-based and proportionate and is focused on improving public health.

Sounds great. But what are the details?

Of the estimated £135m annual budget, £20m is allocated to ensuring consumers have information necessary to make informed food choices, with priorities for improving public awareness about good food hygiene at home; increasing visible information on hygiene standards when consumers eat out or shop; and improving public awareness of healthy eating.

For that amount of money, the science-based FSA could do much better than telling citizens their meat is safe when it’s “piping hot” and “the juices run clear.”

Piping hot is not science or evidence-based; color is a lousy indicator of safety; using a tip-sensitive digital thermometer is the only safe way to determine if food has reached a safe temperature.

FSA also states “The strategy is written in a way that consumers can understand and explains the range of work we do across the UK.“

It’s not clear whether anyone asked consumers if they could understand, but FSA did state one of its main priorities was to “improve public awareness and use of messages about good food hygiene practice at home.”

Use of messages improves nothing; using practices recommended in messages may translate into fewer sick people, but those messages need to be evidence-based.