Prevent E. coli before church

Looks like former U.S. undersecretary for food safety, Richard Raymond, is losing his religion.

richard.raymondIn a column he wrote for MeatingPlace, Raymond confesses, “Members of a church I used to belong to decide to start a community garden plot. I volunteered to be on the planning committee. The first item out of the gate was that the garden had to be organic. I asked what they considered to be organic. The main emphasis was no artificial fertilizer could be applied, meaning the fields would have to lie idle or grow legumes periodically to recharge the soil.

“It also meant they intended to spread cow manure on the field, a great way to turn an organic garden plot into an E coli O157:H7. Field of Nightmares.

“I resigned.”

Good on ya.

Should dogs prance around produce?

 While America’s farmers of fresh produce try to figure out what is a good agricultural practice (GAP) and how best to limit animal incursions, the first dog gets a portrait in the midst of the presidential garden.

Retailers expect farmers to have some control over deer crapping on strawberries or apples and killing people, so maybe it’s not a bright idea to promote pooches in the garden.

I look forward to a full discussion of microbial food safety risks and fresh produce in Michelle Obama’s upcoming book, Grown: How the White House Kitchen Garden Inspires Families, Schools, and Communities, announced today by the Crown Publishing Group. Beleaguered cantaloupe farmers may also appreciate some First guidance on allowable animal incursions.

Local food means anything; safe food means no barfing

Sorenne and I started some seeds a few weeks ago (right, exactly as shown), and promptly brought them in during a cold snap, but spring seems to have sprung.

We do OK with the herbs and berries, greens, tomatoes, beans and peas. But I wouldn’t depend on the yields.

Food from my yard is local, but I still take care to control microbial food safety risks (see the 2009 video, below).

Associated Press reports the No. 2 official at the U.S. Agriculture Department recently got a real-life lesson in the loose definition of the trendiest word in groceries: "local."

Walking into her neighborhood grocery store in Washington, Kathleen Merrigan saw a beautiful display of plump strawberries and a sign that said they were local produce. But the package itself said they were grown in California, well over 2,000 miles away.

But what does local mean? Lacking common agreement, sellers capitalizing on the trend occasionally try to fudge the largely unregulated term. Some grocery stores may define local as within a large group of states, while consumers might think it means right in their hometown.

"It’s a sales gimmick," says Allen Swann, a Maryland farmer who became frustrated when he realized a nearby grocery chain was selling peaches and corn from New York and New Jersey as local produce. "They are using the word local because of the economic advantage of using the word local."

Vermont defines "local" as grown within the state or within 30 miles of where it is sold. Massachusetts has similar restrictions for the word "native." And numerous other states have made it easier for local farmers to advertise that their food was produced in-state.

Whole Foods Market says a food cannot be labeled as local unless it traveled to the store in seven or fewer hours by car or truck. Wal-Mart labels produce as local if it is from the same state where it is sold. Supervalu, which operates some Albertsons stores, Jewel-Osco and other supermarket chains, defines local as within regions that can encompass four or five states. Safeway defines local as coming from the same state or a one-day drive from field to store. Many retailers just leave it up to individual store managers.

Whatever local means, and whether it’s better or not, I’ll have fun puttering with my family and make sure it’s safe.

Grown in greenhouse or garden, produce must be safe to serve

Ariz.-based Eurofresh Farms has, according to The Packer, developed a new food safety system, EnviroLock, that requires workers, and anyone entering produce-producing greenhouses, to pass through a sanitation facility before entering, wash and disinfect their hands and forearms, and don color-coded hospital-style scrubs, shoes, hairnets and gloves through the duration of their shift of stay.

That’s because anything that comes into contact with fresh produce has the potential to contaminate, is difficult to wash off, and outbreaks of foodborne illness are disastrous.

In Chicago, the Public School gardens are full of chubby tomatoes, heavy squash and fragrant basil but none of the produce ever finds its way into CPS lunchrooms. Instead, because of rules set by the district and its meal provider, the food is sold or given away.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the policies are in place despite the high obesity rate among Illinois children and experts’ concerns that young people are eating few fresh vegetables.

And that’s the problem with these stories, playing safety off against local and little kids.

Why not teach kids about food safety; instead of complaining that local is magically immune to microorganisms, embrace and market the food safety advantages of local markets – but only if it can be backed up with data.

Put the rhetoric aside and combine microbiologically safe with local – that means answering the same questions the big, controlled access greenhouses have to answer to sell their produce to Walmart and Costco and others: know and test the source of irrigation water, pay attention to the quality of soil amendments, let kids know the importance of handwashing and how dangerous bugs move around.

Big or small, be the bug, and be safe.

Safe gardening: Legionnaires’ disease linked to potting compost in Scotland, 2008-2009

I keep meaning to start my seedlings for the garden, which I should have done weeks ago. But it has been unseasonably cold and, after four years in Kansas, I’m liking the warmer weather. So bring it on. ‘Tis the season. And maybe I’ll get motivated.

With others in the U.S. also starting their seedlings there is the usual nonsense about how home-grown is safer. That depends on who is crapping in the garden. But apparently, I should be more concerned about playing with the potting soil.

Eurosurveillance reports today that three cases of Legionnaires’ disease caused by Legionella longbeachae Sg 1 associated with potting compost have been reported in Scotland between 2008 and 2009. The exact method of transmission is still not fully understood as Legionnaires’ disease is thought to be acquired by droplet inhalation. The linked cases associated with compost exposure call for an introduction of compost labelling, as is already in place in other countries where L. longbeachae outbreaks have been reported.

It has been reported that various Legionella strains have been isolated from different types of potting soils including peat. In Australia, where cases and outbreaks of L. longbeachae have been reported, the standards for composts, soil conditioners and mulches provide clear guidance to commercial producers of compost on how to process organic materials into compost in a safe and effective way. These standards also include requirements for labelling bags and promoting safe and healthy gardening practices. Public health advice includes the risk of Legionnaires’ disease following exposure to compost or potting soil.

The cases reported here emphasize the need for a voluntary use in the UK of an industry-agreed warning label for potting soil, as the risk of Legionnaires’ disease associated with compost is now clearly identified.