Mice droppings found in Belfast food shop

Food safety inspectors have confirmed mice droppings and bread for sale, which had been gnawed by rodents, were both found at an Iceland store in west Belfast.

Belfast City Council staff carried out an inspection of the premises on 19 September, 2008 which uncovered "a number of serious breaches of food hygiene legislation.

"Officers observed mouse droppings on and under shelving, and bread which was displayed for sale had been gnawed by mice."

The store was fined £400 plus £66 costs after the inspection.

In a statement, Iceland Foods Limited claimed it "was not charged for or fined for any pest-related issues".

But the council said the firm had been fined for "food safety offences."

Direct video observation of adults and tweens cooking raw frozen chicken thingies

One of the first things I did after officially joining Kansas State University in 2006 was try and figure out some novel research. Chapman flew in from Guelph, we had a beer with Phebus at a local bar and sketched out a proposal on the back of a napkin, to observe people cooking chicken.

Sarah Wilson, my composed colleague from the Guelph days, drafted the proposal and it got funded by the American Meat Institute.

The observational research was conducted in 2007 and the results were published this week by the British Food Journal.

Chapman created a novel video capture system to observe the food preparation practices of 41 consumers and the press summary is below, as is the abstract.
A Kansas State University study has shown that when preparing frozen foods, adolescents are less likely than adults to wash their hands and are more susceptible to cross-contaminating raw foods while cooking.

"While half of the adults we observed washed their hands after touching raw chicken, none of the adolescents did," said Casey Jacob, a food safety research assistant at K-State. "The non-existent hand washing rate, combined with certain age-specific behaviors like hair flipping and scratching in a variety of areas, could lead directly to instances of cross-contamination compared to the adults."

Food safety isn’t simple, and instructions for safe handling of frozen chicken entrees or strips are rarely followed by consumers despite their best intentions, said Doug Powell, K-State associate professor of food safety who led the study.

As the number and type of convenience meal solutions increases — check out the frozen food section of a local supermarket — the researchers found a need to understand how both adults and adolescents are preparing these products and what can be done to enhance the safety of frozen foods.

In 2007, K-State researchers developed a novel video capture system to observe the food preparation practices of 41 consumers – 21 primary meal preparers and 20 adolescents – in a mock domestic kitchen using frozen, uncooked, commercially available breaded chicken products. The researchers wanted to determine actual food handling behavior of these two groups in relation to safe food handling practices and instructions provided on product labels. Self-report surveys were used to determine whether differences exist between consumers’ reported food handling practices and observed behavior.

The research appeared in the November 2009 issue of the British Food Journal. In addition to Jacob and Powell, the authors were: Sarah DeDonder, K-State doctoral student in pathobiology; Brae Surgeoner, Powell’s former graduate student; Benjamin Chapman, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University and Powell’s former graduate student; and Randall Phebus, K-State professor of animal science and industry.

Beyond the discrepancy between adult and adolescent food safety practices, the researchers also found that even when provided with instructions, food preparers don’t follow them. They may not have even seen them or they assume they know what to do.

"Our results suggest that while labels might contain correct risk-reduction steps, food manufacturers have to make that information as compelling as possible or it will be ignored,” Chapman said.

They also found that observational research using discreet video recording is far more accurate than self-reported surveys. For example, while almost all of the primary meal preparers reported washing hands after every instance in which they touched raw poultry, only half were observed washing hands correctly after handling chicken products in the study.

Powell said that future work will examine the effectiveness of different food safety labels, messages and delivery mechanisms on consumer behavior in their home kitchens.

Self-reported and observed behavior of primary meal preparers and adolescents during preparation of frozen, uncooked, breaded chicken products
British Food Journal, Vol 111, Issue 9, p 915-929
Sarah DeDonder, Casey J. Jacob, Brae V. Surgeoner, Benjamin Chapman, Randall Phebus, Douglas A. Powell
Purpose – The purpose of the present study was to observe the preparation practices of both adult and young consumers using frozen, uncooked, breaded chicken products, which were previously involved in outbreaks linked to consumer mishandling. The study also sought to observe behaviors of adolescents as home food preparers. Finally, the study aimed to compare food handler behaviors with those prescribed on product labels.
Design/methodology/approach – The study sought, through video observation and self-report surveys, to determine if differences exist between consumers’ intent and actual behavior.
Findings – A survey study of consumer reactions to safe food-handling labels on raw meat and poultry products suggested that instructions for safe handling found on labels had only limited influence on consumer practices. The labels studied by these researchers were found on the packaging of chicken products examined in the current study alongside step-by-step cooking instructions. Observational techniques, as mentioned above, provide a different perception of consumer behaviors.
Originality/value – This paper finds areas that have not been studied in previous observational research and is an excellent addition to existing literature.

Surplus groceries sold at auctions

Half-price cream cheese? And the brand name, no less! I saw they were getting close to their expiration dates, but I bought three, anyway. They’ll keep just fine in the freezer until I’m ready to bake another pumpkin cheesecake.

Lots of shoppers buy groceries with this money-saving mentality, which has opened the market for expired food sold at discounts. It has also sparked an increase in grocery auctions for the sale of damaged, dented or surplus foodstuffs that are often close to passing their expiration dates.

At Big Harry’s Auction in New Jersey, regular runs to regional food distribution centers and a wholesale food auction provide an ever-changing variety of food items for the public to bid on.

"And while Big Harry’s is subject to health department inspections and offers a money-back guarantee on food purchases," writes an Asbury Park Press staff writer, "buying frozen food at auction requires something of a leap of faith. [Auction operator Vince] Iacono says he’d never sell perishable frozen food that was thawed and then refrozen, which can cause spoilage, but all he can do is trust that his haulers will abide by the same policy."

That’s true for all food businesses: they have to rely on everyone before them in the farm-to-fork food chain to handle products as safely as they do. It’s always important to know your suppliers.

Norovirus in frozen raspberries

Albert Amgar, a food safety consultant in Laval, France for the past 21 years and the provider of all things French and food safety for bites.ksu.edu, steps out in his first barfblog post.

National Food Safety Authority Evira recommends that foreign frozen raspberries always be properly heated before use. Norovirus epidemics have occurred in different parts of Finland over the spring and the cause is suspected to be foreign frozen raspberries used in cakes without heating.

Evira urges consumers and mass caterers to check the origin of frozen raspberries and to only use foreign raspberries after adequate heating in order to avoid food poisoning. Frozen raspberries of foreign origin should be heated for at least two minutes at 90 degrees Celcius.

The problem is well known. In 1995, scientists from Denmark reported that "imported frozen raspberries caused a series of norovirus outbreaks". But in the conclusions the authors noted, very friendly to their other European colleagues, "As Polish frozen raspberries are known to be exported to several European countries, it would be extremely surprising, if Denmark were the only country where there were recent outbreaks due to frozen raspberries.”

Valley Meats ground beef recalled due to E. coli

Almost 100,000 pounds of ground beef are being recalled today after an epidemiological investigation linked E. coli O157:H7 infections in three states to the products.

The meat—sold frozen as ground beef, chopped steak, and pre-formed patties—was produced by Valley Meats LLC of Coal Valley, Illinois, on March 10, 2009 and distributed to various consignees nationwide.

A USDA FSIS press release states,

“The problem was discovered through an epidemiological investigation of illnesses. On May 13, 2009, FSIS was informed by the Ohio Department of Health of a cluster of
E. coli O157:H7 infections. Illnesses have been reported in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.”

The pathogen, found in the poop of warm-blooded animals, can be killed with sufficient heat

However, as the president and chief executive of the American Frozen Food Institute, Kraig R. Naasz, stated today in a letter to the editor of the New York Times,

“While food safety is a shared responsibility among food producers, government agencies and consumers, we recognize that the primary responsibility rests with food producers. Providing consumers with safe and nutritious products is a responsibility frozen food producers stake their names and reputations on.”

The letter was written in response to the Times’ May 15 article on frozen entrees, which Naasz felt did not “fully depict the frozen food industry’s commitment to product safety.”

With the name and reputation of Valley Meats on the line, will they be able to demonstrate a similar commitment to the safety of food? As the data on those sickened by Valley Meats’ products are released, it’s likely we’ll find out.

Child stricken with HUS in France; link to frozen ground beef patties

Our French correspondent Albert forwarded a press release issued yesterday by the French Ministry of Health and Sports; Amy translated.

Following notification on February 11, 2009 to InVS (The French Institute for Public Health Surveillance) of a case of hemolytic uremic syndrome in a child who is hospitalized in the Parisian region, health authorities have begun an investigation to identify the source of contamination.

The tests done on the child indicated he or she was infected with E. coli.

Among the foods consumed was frozen ground beef patties on which tests were conducted. The results of these tests were relayed today to health authorities and demonstrated the presence of E. coli. The link between this case and the consumed food will only be confirmed after further testing which is currently in progress.

While waiting for those results, the authorities have asked the producer to proceed with a  recall of CERGEL brand frozen ground beef patties sold in boxes of 10 with a best-by date of 10/31/09.

The health authorities are asking people who have bought these patties to not eat them and to return them to where they were purchased.

The Ministry also has some general advice, which seems a bit lacking, but maybe it got lost in translation.

Generally you are reminded that:

–    Ground meat ordered at the butcher shop must be consumed that day and frozen ground meat must be used without any prior defrosting;

–    Cooking the ground beef patties through to the center prevents the consequences of E. coli contamination. The bacteria is destroyed by a temperature of 65°C (149°F). Children and pregnant women should not consume rare meat.

–    Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) is an illness most frequently originating in food, rare in France, and potentially serious for the very young and very old. It can cause acute renal insufficiency in children under the age of 3.

How can you be sure microwaved frozen chicken is safe to eat?

Judy Foreman of The Boston Globe says the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends no matter how frozen chicken is cooked, from whatever kind of meal or chicken thingies, use a thermometer to ensure the internal temperature has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Good advice.

So why at the end of the brief article is Roger Fielding, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University, quoted as saying, "Always cut it open and make sure it is white, not pink or translucent. You really have to be careful."

Bad advice.

What you really have to be careful about is taking food safety advice from nutrition professors at Tufts University.

Color is a lousy indicator. Use a digital, tip-sensitive thermometer.

Frozen to cooked in plastic to done – the bird worked out

Amy and I usually host a Thanksgiving dinner for the Manhattan  (Kansas) stay-at-homes. With Amy almost 40 weeks pregnant and me driving to the Kansas City airport to pick up my youngest, Courtlynn, we kept things simple.

I was going to do another of those fresh turkey breasts, but the store was sold out. So in the name of science, or reality cooking, I got one of those Jennie-O turkeys I’d seen advertized. Pete Snyder has posted a method for cooking a bird direct from frozen, but I wanted to try out this technology.

The bird comes in a plastic bag, and while I’m not a fan of cooking things in plastic bags, this seemed to work. A half-dozen slits, into the oven, off the airport. Too much salt for my taste, and overcooked due to travel, but that’s what the gravy is for. And a day later, the leftovers are yummy.


What Brits do on the toilet

I remember when Chapman got a blackberry, the first in our little group to get one. He sent me an e-mail, and then another shortly thereafter:

“I wrote and sent that e-mail while sitting on the toilet.”

Today, it’s almost impossible to enter a public restroom without wondering who’s talking – it’s someone sitting on the toilet with verbal diarrhea into their cell phone.

So in honor of World Toilet Day, a survey of more than 2,000 people commissioned by charity Tearfund found that reading, chatting and texting are among the favourite activities of Britons on the toilet.

The study suggests more than 14 million people in the UK read newspapers, books and magazines on the loo.

The poll points to eight million people talking – either on the phone or to family – and one in five send texts.

The study also suggested people mostly thought about food while on the toilet, and that men were more likely to look around for a distraction than women.

Microwaves are great for reheating, not so great for cooking

An outbreak of salmonella in raw, frozen, breaded stuffed chicken has sickened 32 people in 12 states. As the number of frozen, meal solutions increase – chicken kiev, cordon blue, strips, nuggets and others – a Kansas State professor is warning consumers to be careful with that entrée.

“Some of these frozen meals are fully cooked and just need to be reheated, and some are raw,” says Dr. Doug Powell, associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University. “It doesn’t seem fair, but consumers really have to read the labels. Raw product should always be cooked in an oven, not a microwave, and needs to be checked with a digital, tip-sensitive thermometer to make sure the food has reached a safe temperature of 165F.”

Investigators from the Minnesota Department of Health notes that this is the sixth outbreak of salmonellosis in Minnesota linked to these types of products since 1998. The findings prompted the officials to urge consumers to make sure that all raw poultry products are handled carefully and cooked thoroughly, and to avoid cooking raw chicken products in the microwave because of the risk of undercooking.

A table of the relevant outbreaks is available at http://www.foodsafety.ksu.edu/en/article-details.php?a=3&c=32&sc=419&id=1245

and below.