EU provides millions to enhance food safety in Georgia

I can’t figure why the EU has such an interest in Georgia’s food safety. Why not Montana? Or Rhode Island? Or Oklahoma.

I know some good folks at the Georgia Dept of Ag. And UGA is there.

Oh, it’s a different Georgia. The one that’s a country in Europe at the intersection of Eastern Europe and West Asia.

Georgia will receive €50 million from the European Union to improve national food safety standards.

A special agreement will be signed today in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi that outlines the start of the second phase of cooperation to establish food safety standards in Georgia.

The cooperation launched under the EU-funded European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD), which promotes agriculture and rural development policies and reforms to stimulate employment and improve the living conditions of Georgia’s rural population.

The main goal of the cooperation was to improve food safety and quality standards in Georgia, and improve the ways these standards and monitored and controlled.

The first phase included reforming and strengthening Governmental structures and building the capacity and capabilities of small farmers in Georgia to reduce poverty in Georgia’s rural areas.

From the joint cooperation between ENPARD and the Government, about 1,000 cooperatives were established and registered in Georgia and 52 consultation centres were created around the country to improve farmers’ access to agricultural information.

What foods make people sick? It’s complicated, so follow the bug

Sometimes it’s best to let things ruminate, ferment, instead of simply repeating public relations drivel.

bob-carol-ted-alice-1969-2Guess that’s one reason people write books. Or journal articles.

Various U.S. government agencies patted themselves on the back for their “improved method for analyzing outbreak data to determine which foods are responsible for illness” while underselling the actual report.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) co-authored a report (and threesomes never work out well), Foodborne Illness Source Attribution Estimates for Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157 (E. coli O157), Listeria monocytogenes (Lm), and Campylobacter using Outbreak Surveillance Data by the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC). A partnership of the three agencies, IFSAC focuses on foodborne illness source attribution, which is the process of estimating the most common food sources responsible for specific foodborne illnesses.

The report briefly summarizes IFSAC’s methods and results, including estimated attribution percentages for the four pathogens named in its title. CDC estimates that, together, these four pathogens cause 1.9 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States each year.

The agencies anticipate that IFSAC’s work will enhance their efforts to prevent foodborne illness.

Who doesn’t anticipate what threesomes will bring.

food.attribution.fbi.feb.15The new estimates, combined with other data, may shape agency priorities and support the development of regulations and performance standards and measures, among other activities. The recently developed method employs new food categories that align with those used to regulate food products and emphasizes more recent outbreak data.

As outlined in the report, IFSAC analyzed data from nearly 1,000 outbreaks that occurred from 1998 to 2012 to assess which categories of foods were most responsible for making people sick with Salmonella, E. coli O157, Listeria, and Campylobacter. IFSAC experts divided food into 17 categories for the analysis. The pathogens were chosen because of the frequency or severity of the illnesses they cause, and because targeted interventions can have a significant impact in reducing them.

The report presents the methods behind the results and provides the amount of uncertainty around the estimates. 

Some of the findings include:

More than 80 percent of E. coli O157 illnesses were attributed to beef and vegetable row crops, such as leafy vegetables.

Salmonella illnesses were broadly attributed across food commodities, with 77 percent of illnesses related to seeded vegetables (such as tomatoes), eggs, fruits, chicken, beef, sprouts and pork.

Nearly 75 percent of Campylobacter illnesses were attributed to dairy (66 percent) and chicken (8 percent). Most of the dairy outbreaks used in the analysis were related to raw milk or cheese produced from raw milk, such as unpasteurized queso fresco.

More than 80 percent of Listeria illnesses were attributed to fruit (50 percent) and dairy (31 percent). Data were sparse for Listeria, and the estimate for fruit reflects the impact of a single large outbreak linked to cantaloupes in 2011.

The figure on the right (the one other than Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice) is what they sent out to PR types. The figure on the left is what they actually wrote.

How to have fewer people barfing from food? Inspections and government are only one tool

It’s an easy story for beleaguered journalists: a belligerent government versus a belligerent union, with both making wild claims about food safety.

Lost in the rhetoric is any concern about the people who eat – pretty much all of us – and the people who barf.

The union representing federal food inspectors says Canada’s food safety system is being pushed beyond its limits.

restaurant.inspectionSome $35-million and 192 inspectors are on the food safety program’s chopping block over the next two years, according to online documents posted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The agency has also disbanded a team of inspectors dedicated to protecting consumers from food fraud throughout Metro Vancouver. The Consumer Protection Unit once boasted 11 inspectors, but that number dwindled to four due to attrition.

The federal health ministry referred questions to the CFIA, which responded to the union’s claims with a broad e-mail.

“The statements by the union are false. There have been no cuts to food safety. Canada has one of the safest and healthiest food systems in the world,” it said.

The agency acknowledged there have been recent changes to how it handles the Vancouver area.

Time to change the discussion and the approach to safe food. Time to lose the religion: audits and inspections are never enough.

• Food safety audits and inspections are a key component of the nation’s food safety system and their use will expand in the future, for both domestic and imported foodstuffs., but recent failures can be emotionally, physically and financially devastating to the victims and the businesses involved;

• many outbreaks involve firms that have had their food production systems verified and received acceptable ratings from food safety auditors or government inspectors;

• while inspectors and auditors play an active role in overseeing compliance, the burden for food safety lies primarily with food producers;

• there are lots of limitations with audits and inspections, just like with restaurants inspections, but with an estimated 48 million sick each year in the U.S., the question should be, how best to improve food safety?

• audit reports are only useful if the purchaser or  food producer reviews the results, understands the risks addressed by the standards and makes risk-reduction decisions based on the results;

• there appears to be a disconnect between what auditors provide (a snapshot) and what buyers believe they are doing (a full verification or certification of product and process);

• third-party audits are only one performance indicator and need to be supplemented with microbial testing, second-party audits of suppliers and the in-house capacity to meaningfully assess the results of audits and inspections;

• companies who blame the auditor or inspector for outbreaks of foodborne illness should also blame themselves;

• assessing food-handling practices of staff through internal observations, externally-led evaluations, and audit and inspection results can provide indicators of a food safety culture; and,

• the use of audits to help create, improve, and maintain a genuine food safety culture holds the most promise in preventing foodborne illness and safeguarding public health.


Audits and inspections are never enough: A critique to enhance food safety


Food Control

D.A. Powell, S. Erdozain, C. Dodd, R. Costa, K. Morley, B.J. Chapman


Internal and external food safety audits are conducted to assess the safety and quality of food including on-farm production, manufacturing practices, sanitation, and hygiene. Some auditors are direct stakeholders that are employed by food establishments to conduct internal audits, while other auditors may represent the interests of a second-party purchaser or a third-party auditing agency. Some buyers conduct their own audits or additional testing, while some buyers trust the results of third-party audits or inspections. Third-party auditors, however, use various food safety audit standards and most do not have a vested interest in the products being sold. Audits are conducted under a proprietary standard, while food safety inspections are generally conducted within a legal framework. There have been many foodborne illness outbreaks linked to food processors that have passed third-party audits and inspections, raising questions about the utility of both. Supporters argue third-party audits are a way to ensure food safety in an era of dwindling economic resources. Critics contend that while external audits and inspections can be a valuable tool to help ensure safe food, such activities represent only a snapshot in time. This paper identifies limitations of food safety inspections and audits and provides recommendations for strengthening the system, based on developing a strong food safety culture, including risk-based verification steps, throughout the food safety system.

Feds mess up food safety rules in US again

This is why I don’t pay attention to grand, federal government initiatives.

It doesn’t make food safer.

People do a lot of talk.

OMB Watch reports the 390 Americans who recently got sick from Salmonella in seafood probably missed out on holiday celebrations. But they weren’t the only ones who weren’t celebrating: food safety advocates were also bemoaning yet another missed Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) deadline.

July 4, 2012 was the statutory deadline for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to enact final "prevention-based requirements for food companies" to develop plans to identify and address possible sources of contamination. That sounds straightforward enough – yet the proposed rules have been waiting for approval from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) since late 2011.

What is the value of government oversight? Lots of rhetoric, little reality

Folks who produce and sell food should not make their customers barf.

And they should not require the government to babysit.

But the California cantaloupe growers have decided to follow the leafy greens types and ask the government to make sure bad producers are kept in check, because apparently they can’t do it themselves.

At the end of a meeting yesterday to figure out what to do to bolster consumer confidence in cantaloupes after 32 died from listeria last fall, the best growers could come up with is government oversight.

Scott Horsfall, President and CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement said, “When our program was formed in 2007, it was very clear to our industry that mandatory government oversight was the best way to verify compliance with food safety standards. Government inspectors are uniquely positioned to provide independent food safety audits because they are a true independent third-party audit with safeguards in place to prevent conflicts of interest.”

Got any references for that? As an outside observer, the LGMA has succeeded in toning down public discussion of lettuce outbreaks; that’s it.

Horsfall added, with the dutiful reference to food safety culture without stating what it means that, “No food safety system is perfect. … The goal is to create a culture of food safety in our operations and this is something we have succeeded in doing. It is the right thing to do.”

Got any references for that? Data? Evidence of any kind?

To build public trust and foster a food safety culture, make inspection data truly transparent, brag about accomplishments with data, not rhetoric, and market all those fabulous food safety efforts at retail using multiple media and multiple messages so consumers actually have a choice.

Don’t bring me down; California cantaloupe growers going government way, want state marketing order

Is government inspection better at ensuring safe produce?

Steve Patricio, Chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, provided the following statement today during a Cantaloupe Food Safety press conference:

"The California cantaloupe industry has never been associated with a foodborne illness outbreak. However, in the past 20 years, the California cantaloupe industry has invested in research to ensure our growing, harvesting and packing practices are the safest possible. We were the first commodity group to work with government agencies, scientists and food safety experts to craft Commodity Specific Guidance for Melons and we are 100 percent committed to continuing work to improve the existing guidance and to funding new priority research projects that will lead to a safer product for consumers.

"In keeping with the leadership position we have always taken with respect to food safety, the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board is pledging today to move forward to establish a mandatory state marketing order with government oversight to focus on food safety in the production of California cantaloupe. We are asking for and anticipate participation from other western cantaloupe producing regions and we hope that other cantaloupe producers around the world will follow our lead."

"We are taking this step for two reasons — first because it is the right thing to do. Consumers must be assured that our products are safe. Additionally, it was made clear by the participants at yesterdays Center for Produce Safety working symposium that the trade is demanding nothing less than a program based upon mandatory government inspections. The California cantaloupe industry intends to quickly act and to have such a program in place prior to the coming harvest season."

Salmonella-tainted eggs linked to U.S. government’s failure to act; screw consumers

Government is hopeless. Endless meetings, competing agendas, bruised egos – all in an effort to get a national salmonella-egg rule passed going back to the 1980s.

The Washington Post has a blow-by-blow account of the bureaucratic wankfest that is federal egg safety, which will keep politicos intrigued with their Saturday morning lattes and eggs Benedict, but offers nothing for the over-easy crowd.

The salmonella-in-eggs outbreak this summer sickened over 1,900 with plenty of blame to go around – negligent ownership, lax inspections, awful auditors and retailers who didn’t want to know. But after reading the Post account, does anyone really want the feds in charge?

Lester Crawford, whose own bout with salmonella in 1986 turned the issue into a personal battle, pushed for egg regulation while running the food safety program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1987 to 1991, and he said he was stunned by the lack of progress when he joined the Food and Drug Administration as acting deputy commissioner in 2002.

"The system certainly was at its worst. … I went nuts. I was told it was ready to go and all we needed to do was say yes, so I said yes.”

He kept up the fight through 2005, when he left the agency.

The regulations that took effect this year require farmers to buy chickens that are certified free of salmonella, test those chickens while they are laying eggs and, if there is a positive test, stop selling whole eggs.

In the absence of federal regulation, some states began in the 1990s to enact their own rules, many focused on refrigeration. But the varying requirements created headaches for producers selling nationwide.

The health of chickens falls under the USDA, but the FDA oversees the safety of whole eggs. Once an egg is broken and made into an "egg product," responsibility for its safety switches back to the USDA.

The USDA also oversees transportation of whole eggs, but the FDA dictates how they should be stored once they reach restaurants or stores.

Because salmonella wasn’t making chickens sick, the USDA initially decided not to intervene. USDA inspectors are in packing facilities, but henhouses normally are the purview of the FDA. And the FDA rarely inspected henhouses.

The FDA has not routinely inspected egg farms because it has not established rules or standards, Deputy Commissioner Joshua M. Sharfstein said.

I get that the feds failed. But as a consumer, am I supposed to have faith that FDA has checked out Salmonella Jack DeCoster’s operations, now that his eggs are back on retail shelves?

What if I want to avoid DeCoster’s eggs, because he has a bad track record and will soon be slip-slidin’ away to the lowest common denominator?

Repeated outbreaks have shown there are good producers and bad producers, good retailers and bad retailers. As a consumer, I have no way of knowing.

Tell consumers about salmonella-testing programs meant to reduce risks; put a URL on egg cartons so those who are interested can use the Internet or even personal phones to see how the eggs were raised and testing data. The best producers and processors will go far beyond the lowest common denominator of government and should be rewarded in the marketplace.

Sorenne, eggs for breakfast?

New egg safety plans unveiled by industry and government

Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reports exclusively this morning that egg producers and government regulators are separately taking steps to improve egg safety in the wake of a nationwide salmonella outbreak that was tied to farms in Iowa.

Producers "want nothing else to happen like what happened in Iowa," said Howard Magwire, vice president of government relations for the United Egg Producers. The trade group is developing safety standards for the industry that would go beyond federal regulations.

Good. Because government sets minimal standards that repeatedly cannot even catch the food safety outliers. Consumers, the ones who buy eggs, and producers, the ones who sell eggs and all suffer during an outbreak, deserve better, and the best way to do that is take charge and stop waiting for Godot or government.

The United Egg Producers is developing industry standards that will mirror the agency’s production rules and go a step further by requiring participating producers to vaccinate all hens against salmonella. Because of contamination that the food agency found in feed at one of the Iowa operations, the producers’ group also is considering writing sanitation standards for feed mills, Magwire said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced plans to inspect every major farm in the nation, starting with operations that have had past trouble with government officials, and it is working on coordinating oversight with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sixteen inspections had been carried out by midmonth. The agency expects to conduct about 600 inspections in the next 14 months.

Meanwhile, the USDA and FDA have given themselves until Nov. 30 to come up with a plan for training employees to spot food-safety problems, according to a Sept. 15 letter. "It is imperative that field employees are properly educated as to these responsibilities," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote in the letter. Vilsack told The Des Moines Register that the food agency will train USDA egg inspectors to spot problems on egg farms.

About time.

I’m from government and here to help

“Hi, I’m from the government, I’m here to help” is the worst thing to say to a farmer.

We discovered that decades ago by hanging out with farmers, and help them develop meaningful, but non-intrusive on-farm food safety programs.

I don’t understand why a whole bunch of food safety types waste enormous amounts of energy and goodwill lobbying Washington and asking the feds to do more.

Walmart, Costco and McDonald’s do more to advance food safety in a day than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does in a year. All those people doing the Potomac two-step in Washington, wanting more food safety inspections, and ignoring the advice of former Food and Drug Administration food safety czar David Acheson, who last year said there is a lot more to ensuring a food supply than writing laws, and that “food safety is cultural,” are getting exactly what is to be expected.

The New York Times reports this morning that a delay in sending safety inspectors to egg farms after this summer’s salmonella outbreak and egg recall can be traced in part to a parking mistake outside a pair of Pennsylvania henhouses, according to industry executives and state government officials.

Marilyn F. Balmer, a top egg expert for the Food and Drug Administration, was training inspectors in July to enforce the agency’s new egg safety rule when she parked the van she was driving near a henhouse at a farm in Manheim, Pa. She did it again during another session at a farm in Lancaster.

Ms. Balmer was in Pennsylvania to teach inspectors about how to keep germs away from poultry flocks, known as biosecurity. But the industry executives and state officials said she was breaking a basic biosecurity rule: keep vehicles, which may have driven through manure on rural roads or other farms, as far from the hens as possible.

All of that prompted the F.D.A. to re-evaluate the training program, contributing to a delay in preparing the inspectors to enforce the new safety rule. The rule went into effect July 12, but inspections began only last week at farms not involved in the recall.

Recycling politically convenient foodborne illness myths

There are some recurring myths in the public discussion of foodborne illness and the reasons 76 million Americans barf every year from the food and water they consume, and the New York Times is recycling them all.

Author Eric Schlosser (“Unsafe at Any Meal,” New York Times, Op-Ed, July 25) overstates the protective role of government while casting aspersions against what he calls industrial agricultural and unchecked corporate power. His rant on the Colbert Report last year was legendary.

Henry Miller who used to do biotechnology work at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration writes in the Times this morning, “The vast majority of food poisoning is caused by individuals’ mishandling of food; common lapses include the mishandling or undercooking of poultry and the inadequate refrigeration of food. More expansive, expensive, onerous regulation is not the answer; better education of consumers is.”

Our review of the data found a complete mish-mash about where “the vast majority of food poisoning illness is caused” and that no conclusions could be drawn. Produce, pot pies, pet food and pizzas don’t have much to do with consumers. And how would this better education be conducted?

If someone wrote in and said Americans have the safest food supply in the world, all the big three mythologies would be represented.

Food safety is not simple and the public discussion – which affects individual behaviors from farm-to-fork – is a mess.