Food Safety Talk 67: John Bassett

Food Safety Talk, a bi-weekly podcast for food safety nerds, by food safety nerds. The podcast is hosted by Ben Chapman and barfblog contributor Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor at Rutgers University. Every two weeks or so, Ben and Don get together virtually and talk for about an hour.  They talk about what’s on their minds or in the news regarding food safety, and popular culture. They strive to be relevant, funny and informative — sometimes they succeed. You can download the audio recordings right from the website, or subscribe using iTunes.1411999879196

In episode 67, Ben is on hiatus and Don talks with John Bassett. The scene opens with a vivid description of a picturesque English village with pigeons pooping on the eaves and birds chirping in the background.

John starts by telling the listeners a bit about his background. He is a veterinarian by training, having earned his degree in New Zealand.  He spent seven years as a veterinary practitioner; a bit like that depicted inAll Creatures Great and Small in Epsom (that’s in England). John returned to New Zealand and began a small animal practice but quickly transitioned to work for a government biosecurity laboratory inWellington (that’s in New Zealand) where he solved problems during extended coffee breaks taken in trendy cafes. John got his start in risk assessment using the OIE approach.  John’s next career move was to industry as a risk assessor with Unilever; this took him back to England (that’s in the United Kingdom).  The guys got sidetracked and discussed the sole-crushing bureaucracy that can be found in big industry (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  John’s latest career change finds him in a new mode as food safety consultant.

The guys discussed the recent Chobani mold incident.  From here the conversation jumped into tea.  Iced tea with added sugar was discussed as a possible growth medium for generic E. coli (special concern was expressed for sun-brewed tea) and the potential for herbal (pronounced ‘erbal’ by some) tea as a source of bacteria and maybe pathogens.

John talked about some of his current risk assessment work, and the difficulty of making risk management decisions for low-frequency events.  John explains his recent interest in Gael Risk assessment techniques. This approach can be used for semi-quantitative risk assessment, and may have value in preventing problems like the recent horse-meat food scandal.  The value of audits in science-based food safety was questioned and discussed, and Don and John disagreed about the value of semi-quantitative risk assessments.

Bandwidth on John’s end starts to suffer (perhaps due to John’s kids arrival home from school) so the conversation is paused briefly, while John (the poopy-head) sorts it out.

The show resumes with a discussion on whether HACCP is risk based or not.  John notes that one key to “selling” a risk assessment might be based on saving money in the long run, perhaps from a reduced need for testing and auditing.  A discussion of the Elliott Review takes place before the guys re-iterate the need for using computerized systems for effective traceback in the food supply chain; especially ones that do not need to be linked via paper documents.

John mentions that he will not be at IAFP 2014 due to lack of a wealthy sponsor; but he does plan to attend the IAFP European Symposium in Cardiff in 2015. Don reveals his IAFP presidential party plans (Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ), while John contemplates pork ribs somewhere closer to home.

John mentioned the use of the sear and shave technique to produce safer raw burgers in the UK.  Don didn’t seem convinced, and will continue using his iGrill and tip sensitive digital thermometer, as suggested for use in previous Food Safety Talk episodes, “because everyone’s gotta have a hobby”.  Both guys reminisced over outbreaks of Campylobacter jejuni from seared chicken livers that occurred in the UK and USA.

In the After Dark portion, Don transitioned into talking about Doctor Who, and John explained he was late for the podcast meeting because of a meeting with McDonald’s own Bizhan Pourkomailian.

South Korea PM vows to improve food safety at school cafeterias

South Korea will prohibit food suppliers that fail to meet certain safety criteria from providing school meals, Prime Minister Chung Hong-won said Wednesday.

belushi.cafeteria“Food suppliers that fail to meet standards set forth by the HACCP system will not be able to enter a bid to provide meals in school cafeterias,” Chung said.

“We also plan on canceling the HACCP license of any supplier that violates food safety measures, even if it’s just a one-time offense,” he added.

Food safety inspections will be conducted later this month at some 7,500 restaurants near popular summer destinations, Chung said.

Dr Pepper don’t know HACCP

Sometimes, when Amy is feeling nostalgic, she’s go to the Americana section of the grocery store in Australia and buy a Diet Dr. Pepper for, oh, about $2 a can.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned Dr Pepper Snapple Group (DPS) bottler the American Bottling Company after an inspection revealed serious HACCP failings at a Texas plant.

Beverage Daily reports that in a letter to the company dated July 10, but published last week, the FDA said an inspection of the firm’s facility in Irving, Texas revealed serious violations of Regulation 21, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 120, relating to juice hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP).

“Your lemon and lime juices are adulterated in that they have been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health,” FDA Dallas District director Reynaldo R. Rodriguez wrote to American Bottling Company president and CEO Larry Young (who is also DPS CEO and president).

Recounting “serious deviations” at the site, the FDA told the managers that the company must include control measures in its hazard analysis and HACCP plan to “consistently produce at a minimum, a five-log* reduction of the pertinent microorganism for at least as long as the shelf life of the product when stored under normal and moderate abuse conditions.”

These were required under 21 CFR 120, the FDA wrote, but the company’s plan for its ReaLemon 100% Lemon Juice and ReaLime 100% Lime Juice brands did not provide such controls in relation to Listeria monocytogenes.

Only microbial verification studies relating to Salmonella and E.coli O157:H7 were evaluated, the FDA added, but “the pertinent microorganism in the juice from these concentrates is Listeria monocytogenes.”

“In addition, the study did not evaluate or identify the critical factors necessary for achieving a 5-log reduction (i.e. specific Brix, acidity, temperature, preservatives), and the time of holding necessary for achieving a 5-log reduction.”

Why Canadian bureaucrats stalled on HACCP

In 1989, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was a world leader in studying the application of HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) in meat-packing plants.

Veteran Canadian ag reporter Jim Romahn says he wrote a lot of critical columns about the CFIA sitting on the sidelines while the United States ended up taking the lead in implementing HACCP requirements for the meat-packing industry.

(CFIA was created in 1997 and included the meat inspection program of Agriculture Canada but is referred to as CFIA herein because the same people were involved.)

“I have learned that the reason for Agriculture Canada’s hesitation was political fears that HACCP standards in Canada would be challenged in the World Trade Organization as a non-tariff trade barrier.

“Now, isn’t that just wonderful! The Canadian public remains faced with a food-safety risk because our politicians are too afraid to do the right thing.

“Of course, as soon as the U.S. moved to require HACCP, all of our packing plants that export to the U.S. had to comply.

“Politics is blocking another simple benefit for Canadian consumers. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency could change from over-the-shoulder meat inspection to point-of-sale sampling and testing and punishingly-expensive recalls that could also destroy the reputation of a brand.

“I don’t pretend to know all of the ins and outs of the debates that bureaucrats have advanced to bog things down, but in essence it seems that a retail-level standard for meat safety would intrude on provincial jurisdiction and their weak-kneed failure to require some of the more expensive aspects of food safety. The federal bureaucrats say legislation would be required and the politicians refuse to go there.

“So, food safety is compromised by politics. It’s the Canadian way where politicians boast that we have the safest food in the world – or, since they’ve been found out – "our food is among the safest in the world". What they say does not match with what they do or, in this case, fail to do.

“And don’t buy into the excuse that it would cost governments too much. What’s so expensive for governments in requiring companies to ensure the safety of the products they market?”

Fresh produce-associated outbreaks: A call for HACCP on farms?

Jan Mei Soon, Louise Manning, Paul Davies and Richard Baines write in the British Food Journal that a desktop study of recent outbreaks and recalls that have occurred in the US and EU was undertaken with a view to determining the produce items implicated and factors causing the emergence of outbreaks. The question, ‘A call for HACCP on farms?’ is explored.

Minimally processed fresh-cut produce, represents a particular challenge to food safety. The research has highlighted the need to mitigate risk at all stages but with specific emphasis at the pre-farm gate stage. A more comprehensive and integrated approach to risk management is arguably needed. A call for HACCP on the farm or farm food safety management system may be warranted in future if fresh produce outbreaks continue to rise. However, further research is needed to establish the guidelines of HACCP adoption at the farm level. At present, the rigorous adoption of GAP as a pre-requisite and the practice of HACCP-based plans is a good indicator of the importance of pre-harvest safety.

Is it in the sauce? Single pork product responsible for 23 per cent of USDA salmonella-positives

 Pork barbecue with vinegar and pepper-based sauce is the source of 23 per cent of salmonella-positive samples the U.S. Department of Agriculture reviewed from 2005 to 2010. The contamination has not caused any known illnesses.

Exactly what part of the dish is contaminating it with salmonella isn’t clear. FSIS notes that it “may have come from the addition of contaminated ingredients (such as the pepper) to the sauce, or from cross-contamination of the product or sauce in the post lethality processing environment.”

During processing of these products, the pork was cooked first, and the barbecue sauce was added after the cooking step. The lack of a lethality treatment for the sauce or its ingredients could result in contamination of the final product. reports inspectors were told to plan an awareness meeting on the subject, and to ensure that the plants they inspect have a HACCP plan that enables them to determine whether the establishment had a way of evaluating the safety of the ingredients added after the lethality step.

Marketing food safety, but what does HACCP mean?

A colleague sent me these pictures of fish seasoning purchased in a San Francisco Asian supermarket. The back mentions both HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) and ISO 9001, but doesn’t say what either mean.

In Brisbane, we bought a pint of fresh strawberries from Gowinta Farms, which bills itself as the largest strawberry farm on the sunshine coast, featuring a café, fruit shop, packhouse, transportation and a workshop.

And you can see from the plastic container, it’s all HACCP-certified.

I’m not sure what that means, or if consumers know what it means, but these are further indications of baby-steps to start promoting microbial food safety directly to consumers.

People get sick; there’s a reason for HACCP plans

This person sounds like a bad food safety manager.

New York City’s Village Voice ran a piece about the paperwork being required by health types in the form of HACCP plans (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point).

“… the plans require chefs to map out a convoluted strategy for avoiding foodborne pathogens in potentially dangerous cooking techniques…. Sous vide came under scrutiny and was even banned temporarily in 2006 while the health department decided how to regulate the newfangled method. … Now restaurants desiring to use the sous vide method must have an approved HACCP plan to do so.”

Elizabeth Meltz, director of food safety and sustainability for the Batali Bastianich group, which includes Babbo, Del Posto, and food emporium Eataly, was quoted as saying,

"There was one E. coli outburst from apple cider, and now there’s a HACCP plan required to make it for mass consumption, too."

Maybe the E. coli outburst Meltz was referring to was in Oct. 1996, when 16-month-old Anna Gimmestad of Denver drank Smoothie juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc. of Half Moon Bay, Calif. She died several weeks later; 64 others became ill in several western U.S. states and British Columbia after drinking the same juices, which contained unpasteurized apple cider –and E. coli O157:H7. Investigators believe that some of the apples used to make the cider may have been insufficiently washed after falling to the ground and coming into contact with deer feces.

Or maybe the outburst was in Maryland last year when seven people got sick drinking unpasteurized cider; three were hospitalized.

Maybe the outburst was in Iowa, when eight were stricken with E. coli o157:H7 after drinking unpasteurized cider.

Maybe it was one of the 31 other outbreaks of illness we’ve document linked to unpasteurized juices – primarily apple cider. The complete table with body count is available at

E. coli outbreak linked to Costco cheese samplers; 25 sick

In 2004, I spent a week at a cottage with a couple of my children in Eastern Ontario near Sandbanks Provincial Park on Lake Ontario. Lovely spot.

One rainy day, we toured around and ended up at a cheese shop. They produced the cheese in the factory at the back, and had a charming market outlet that seemed to trap tourists like bees on sap.

Upon entering the store, a sign declared, “HACCP – A food safety program; Hazard Analysis Critical Control Pont.” Cool. I asked one of the staff what it meant. She said she didn’t know. ??But beside the HACCP proclamation was a sign that read, “Public bathroom is out of order; for your convenience there is a blue Johnny on the spot behind the building.”?

No handwashing facilities or sanitizer. I watched people go to the porta potty and then come into the cheese shop and do what people do at quaint cheese shops: stick their unwashed hands into shared samples of curds (that’s one of my daughters looking disgusted in the middle, right, not because of the practice, but because I have to take pictures and be a food safety geek everywhere we go). HACCP really doesn’t mean much unless there is a culture of food safety amongst the employees and everyone involved in making a product, like cheese or deli meat.??

These public sampling stations can be cross-contamination nightmares. But the best hygiene won’t prevent food safety foul-ups when the product itself is contaminated.

Multiple sources are reporting tonight that Arizona and four other states reported cases of E. coli O157 in cheese products sold in Costco stores in October.

Twenty-five cases of Escherichia coli were confirmed by officials, 11 in Arizona lone, according to a statement issued Thursday by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The outbreak appears to have been associated with cheese available for purchase at Costco "Cheese Road Shows," and Costco was working with state officials to remove the tainted product from its stores.

Early data from health officials suggests that Dutch-style Gouda cheese is the culprit. Costco is cooperating with the investigation: they have removed all suspect products from shelves and are notifying customers who purchased cheese from the road show.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration press release states:]

• Bravo Farms Dutch Style Gouda cheese, (Costco item 40654) offered for sale and in cheese sampling events at Costco Wholesale Corporation (Costco) locations is preliminarily linked with an outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 infections.

• Consumers who have any of this cheese should not eat it. They should return the cheese to the place of purchase or dispose of it in a closed plastic bag and place in a sealed trash can to prevent people or animals, including wild animals, from eating it.

• Most people infected with E. coli O157:H7 develop diarrhea and abdominal cramps, but some illnesses may last longer and can be more severe. While most people recover within a week, some may develop a severe infection. Rarely, as symptoms of diarrhea improve, a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) can occur; this can happen at any age but is most common in children under 5 years old and in older adults. People with HUS should be hospitalized immediately, as their kidneys may stop working and they may be at risk for other serious health problems.

• As of Thursday, November 4, 2010, 25 persons infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7have been reported from five states since mid-October. The number of ill persons identified in each state with this strain is as follows: AZ (11), CA (1), CO (8), NM (3) and NV (2). There have been 9 reported hospitalizations, 1 possible case of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), and no deaths.

Costco may need to check its suppliers. Again.