Hello, you want to do what with that food?

How to handle, store and prepare food were the most common questions Canadians had for a national food safety hotline according to new research.

But those results mask the more detailed questions callers often had about how food was produced.

The results, published in the current issue of Food Protection Trends, detail 3,764 telephone inquiries from January 2003 through December 2005 to a national food safety hotline that was established at the University of Guelph. Other prevalent themes were specific products and brands, food preservation, non-food safety topics and emerging issues.

“The call center was a unique contribution to Canadian food safety at the time,” said Dr. Douglas Powell, a professor of food safety at Kansas State University. “But information needs are continually evolving, which is why we publish daily food safety information in the form of an electronic mailing list (bites-l), a blog (barfblog.com) and twitter.

The other authors, Ben Chapman and Sarah Wilson, are both adjunct professors at Kansas State, and the three continue to collaborate on new food safety messages and delivery media.

By collecting data on information needs, an information service whether it’s a call center or social media — can serve as a research tool, revealing information gaps and opportunities to develop or improve resources.The citation is below, as is the original FSN gang (Food Safety Network, circa 2002).

Understanding food safety information needs: using a national information service as a research tool
Food Protection Trends, Vol. 31, No. 7, Pages 437–445
Sarah Wilson, Benjamin Chapman and Douglas Powell
In December 2002, a public information service was launched as a component of the Food Safety Network (FSN) at the University of Guelph. Its core activity was a national toll-free call center through which the Canadian public had direct access to food safety professionals. The call center received 3,764 inquiries from January 2003 through December 2005. Data were collected on call characteristics (day, time and call duration), caller demographics and themes of the inquiries. Analysis determined that inquiries came primarily from individuals identified as consumers and were largely focused on the themes of food storage, handling and preparation. Other prevalent themes were specific products and brands, food preservation, non-food safety topics and emerging issues. Callers obtained the call center’s contact information from a variety of sources, including government, the media, and referrals by food and health professionals. Food safety questions posed by callers varied widely in terms of the topic of concern and the degree of complexity. By collecting data on client information needs, an information service can serve as a research tool, revealing information gaps and opportunities to develop or improve resources. This project provides a blueprint for other organizations seeking to engage the public through an information service.

bites, barfblog and food safety need your continued support

There’s no shortage of food safety news; there is a shortage of evidence-based, incisive approaches that challenge food safety norms and may eventually lead to fewer sick people.

The International Food Safety Network evolved into bites.ksu.edu over the past year as a way of consolidating and making food safety news delivery more efficient. In addition to the web repository, the bites-l electronic newsletter is distributed 2-3 times a day to a dedicated subscriber base of some 10,000 in 60 countries; a list that has been focused and refined by offering continuous, daily food safety news since 1994. barfblog.com – averaging well over 10,000 unique hits a day — along with weekly food safety infosheets (available in multiple languages), and videos, are now prominent food safety resources.

Sponsorship opportunities are now available for bites.ksu.edu, barfblog.com, and the bites-l listserv (as well as the infosheets and videos; how about a movie?).

In addition to the public exposure – why not stick your company logo on the bites-l newsletter that directs electronic readers to your home site or whatever you’re flogging that week — and reaching a desired audience, you can receive custom food safety news and analysis. We’ve also resurrected the food safety risk analysis team – assessment, management and communication – and offer 24/7 availability and insanely rapid turnaround times. If your group has a food safety issue — short-term or long-term — work with us, rather than having us write it up in barfblog.com, book chapters and scholarly papers as another case study of what not to do.

The money is used to support the on-going expenses of the news-gathering and distribution activities, and to develop the next generation of high school, undergraduate and graduate students who will integrate science and communication skills to deliver compelling food safety messages using a variety of media. Research, training and outreach are all connected in our food safety world.

If you have a sponsorship idea, let’s explore it. Feeling altruistic? Click on the groovy new donate button in the upper right corner of bites.ksu.edu. Want to just send a check? Make it out to:

K-State Olathe Innovation Campus, Inc.
18001 W. 106th St., Ste 130
Olathe, KS 66061
913-541-1488 Fax
and send to the attention of Terri Bogina

Here’s some additional information.

bites.ksu.edu is a unique comprehensive resource hosted at Kansas State University for all those with a personal or professional interest in food safety. We find 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.

All bites activities emphasize 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 bites.ksu.edu 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 (me – dp) 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.

barfblog.com 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 (under barfblog or benjaminchapman) 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. They are now available in French, Spanish and Portugese.

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

These are the various information products we deliver daily, in addition to research, training and outreach. If you or your group is interested in sponsoring any or all of these food safety activities, please contact me directly.

Dr. Douglas Powell
associate professor, food safety
dept. diagnostic medicine/pathobiology
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS
cell: 785-317-0560
fax: 785-532-4039

Bye bye, listservs

This is what I sent out to all the previous subscribers of my various listservs over the years. I’m grateful for all the support I received and still pissed that the University of Guelph just scooped up the leftover money for their paper clip fund. Seriously, I left $140,000 that all you great supporters provided for news, and Guelph just sucked it up. Why anyone would ever give them another dime is beyond me. But I’m just a widget; I get that.

The listserv you have been subscribed to no longer exists. All of the activities of the International Food Safety Network at Kansas State University have been consolidated under bites.ksu.edu.

The 9,000 or so direct subscribers to fsnet-l have been transferred to bites-l. We’re still working on a daily digest version, so will keep the istserv going for now.

It’s a listserv, and you can subscribe with instructions below.

The fastest way to get breaking food safety news is to subscribe to barfblog.com. We’re also working on moving all the barfblog history to bites.ksu.edu.

The University of Guelph copyrighted the name, Food Safety Network in Canada, without telling anybody. And then they shut it down (no one ever talked with me, they just wanted the cash; what total assholes). I decided the name was old. A Network was cool before Al Gore invented the Internet in 1995, but now?

So everything is at bites.ksu.edu.

And everything is archived at http://archives.foodsafety.ksu.edu/fsnet-archives.htm and bites.ksu.edu

You can subscribe to bites-l

To subscribe to the listserv version of bites, (subscription is free), send mail to:

leave subject line blank
in the body of the message type:
subscribe bites-L firstname lastname
i.e. subscribe bites-L Doug Powell

If you only want specific news, you can subscribe to RSS feeds to get just the news you want:

RSS (Rich Site Summary, or Really Simple Syndication) is a format for delivering regularly changing web content. Many news-related sites, weblogs and other online publishers syndicate their content as an RSS Feed to whoever wants it.

If you only want stories about animal welfare, or norovirus, go to bites.ksu.edu and click on that section. Then click on the RSS symbol, and add to your reader.

Dr. Douglas Powell
associate professor, food safety
dept. diagnostic medicine/pathobiology
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS
cell: 785-317-0560
fax: 785-532-4039


Food Safety Network year-in-review

I was walking around the vet college at Kansas State the other day with baby Sorenne strapped to me, and was telling anyone who would listen that Kansas State now had the foundation of a NCAA woman’s hockey program, if only they would build an arena in Manhattan.

Someone asked me, what is it you like about hockey, and I said it’s so fast and violent and requires skills like no other game. Don Cherry, right, agrees.

You can see that on display right now as Canada and the U.S. are playing in the World Junior Hockey Championships in Ottawa. I’m in Manhattan, Chapman is in North Carolina, and we’re both watching hockey on the NHL channel. Nerds.

Daughter Braunwynn, below, – herself a great skater and hockey player – arrives tomorrow for a visit.  And while I’m all nostalgic, here’s the year in review.

I’m not sure what to make of these statistics. Like media hits, I had thousands if all the media appearances are counted, and I’m not sure what to count anymore. And am too busy doing to count what I’m doing.

The listservs have peaked and I need to exploit new technology to get the news out. That will be happening soon enough. For this year, I developed 2 on-line courses which will start being offered in Jan. 2009, and got together 16 journal articles and book chapters. So I was doing that academic thing.

Top 10 food safety issues 2008 – the PR version

Researchers at Kansas State University’s International Food Safety Network use blogs, YouTube videos, food safety info sheets and other means to remind people about food safety hazards. The researchers are among more than 150 K-State faculty and staff active in the food safety and animal health arenas. Since 1999, K-State has dedicated more than $70 million to related research.

"During an outbreak, food safety is at the top of many people’s minds," said Doug Powell, scientific director of the International Food Safety Network at K-State, where he is an associate professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology. "The real challenge is to compel everyone, from farm to fork, to practice safe food habits before an outbreak occurs. It’s sort of boring, but it reduces the number of sick people."

Casey Jacob is a research assistant working with Powell. A May 2008 K-State bachelor’s graduate in food science and industry, Jacob compiled a list of the top 10 food safety issues of 2008 available at http://tinyurl.com/4q4efw

Salmonella-laden tomatoes and/or peppers topped Jacob’s list, highlighting the importance of being able to trace fresh produce to its source.

"Companies that can provide efficient traceability systems for their products provide an advantage to the retail food service sector during recall and outbreak situations," Jacob said.

Other top food safety issues on the list were melamine in Chinese infant formula, listeria in deli meats and soft cheeses, and E. coli O157:H7 linked to negligent butchers in the United Kingdom. Jacob said that these incidents demonstrated the importance of knowing one’s food suppliers, warning vulnerable populations of food safety hazards associated with certain foods, and establishing a culture of food safety among food handlers.

The list includes signs that restaurant inspection disclosure systems are on the rise.

"The food service sector should recognize that certain diners are interested in the information provided by inspection reports and summaries," Jacob said. "This increase in transparency highlights the importance of maintaining — or improving — compliance with food safety regulations during inspections."

The list also recalls how patrons are using cell phone cameras to document food safety issues. In Toronto, a passerby took a photo of rats on a countertop at one of the most prominent restaurants in the city’s Chinatown. Public health authorities shut the restaurant down.

"Everyone eats, and in a networked world, consumer experiences can really impact what people know about food safety," Powell said. "At the International Food Safety Network, we try to develop tools to help consumers share their wisdom with everyone in the farm-to-fork food chain and hope that leads to fewer people getting sick."

More information about the International Food Safety Network is available at http://www.foodsafety.ksu.edu/en/

Bastards, bullshit and babies

I’m gonna drop the Food Safety Network name.

Just doesn’t seem to fit anymore.

Too many hacks and posers.

I started sending out news shortly after I began my PhD in 1993. Jack-in-the-Box had just happened, Al Gore hadn’t invented the Internet yet, but I was plugged in through the various twists and turns of life, and started sharing stories — in real time —  with my science-geek colleagues.

They seemed to like it, and research confirmed it was useful.

In 1993, food safety types were conditioned to reading about outbreak investigations when CDC’s MMWR arrived in the mail six months later. That’s still way faster than the Canadian government types write up any outbreak investigation.

I originally called the news distribution the Food Safety Network cause network was sorta new. Sure, it seems dated now, but at the time, we rocked. Now, it just rolls.

The whole idea of calling my lab the Food Safety Network rests with Lester Crawford. I wanted to create a group modeling Georgetown University’s Center for Food and Nutrition Policy (which has since moved). Lester spent a couple of days in Guelph, and told me, whatever you do, make it bigger than yourself. No one cares about Doug Powell’s lab. So give it a name. And bring in others.

So I did.

Unfortunately, due largely to my unfailing optimism, others went for the short game. In the spirit of open and honest collaboration, the University of Guelph went and trademarked Food Safety Network in Canada the day I resigned — and didn’t bother to tell anybody. Then they scooped up whatever money was left to cover the deficit in their paper clip fund.

The actions of so many have been small and petty. But there have always been a few that make it worthwhile.

Katija Blaine and Ben Chapman have both been with me in various capacities since 1999. Still are. We’ve traveled the various minefields of genetically engineered sweet corn and on-farm food safety programs for fresh produce, and now we’re all having babies.

Katija was first up on Saturday, delivering Cormac (right). Congrats to Katija and Jeff.

Ben and Dani and due in Sept.

And me — forever trying to hang out with the cool kids — me and Amy are due the end of November.

Got no time for posers.

E-mailing Doug Powell? Don’t send it to Guelph

Canadian journalists contact me regularly. This morning I was in Toronto’s Globe and Mail, offering sage words about food safety and travel.

"Take a look at the bathroom. You want to see soap, paper towels and lots of running water. If you don’t see those, you’ve got a problem, because those are the essentials for good hand washing."

Ok, not so sage, Boring

The journos — and many others — often contact me through my University of Guelph e-mail address.


I mean yes, contact me, I love the attention, but don’t go through Guelph.

In Feb. 2007, my previous institution, the University of Guelph, Canada, unilaterally decided not to continue a partnership with Kansas State, and eliminated access to my staff and funds that I had established in Guelph (about $750,000). An additional $135,000  the fine supporters of the Food Safety Network had provided to produce news has also magically disappeared.
And no one at Guelph will talk about it.

Now, the University of Guelph has frozen my e-mail account. They didn’t tell me, it just stopped working. So if you sent an e-mail to my Guelph account — and I was getting about 100 a day on that account — please resend to dpowell@ksu.edu. You won’t get an error message from the Guelph account, so you’ll just think I’m being aloof or something and not bothering to respond. You may think that anyway. When I inquired about what had happened, since an e-mail account is fairly standard for adjunct professors and alumni, I was eventually told, and this is a direct quote from an admin-type,

"Your name (was removed) from sponsored accounts as we could not think of any reason why you needed a UofG account."

Oh well. The hacks and posers can busy themselves with e-mail account access management. I have news and research to produce. In the 68 F sun. With my family. In Kansas.

And there are some big changes coming to the daily news. If you have any suggestions, please e-mail me, at Kansas State University, dpowell@ksu.edu.

Don’t eat poop.