Stick it in: Health Canada gets X-rated explicit about thermometers

Health Canada has finally – finally – made an explicit, evidence-based public statement about ensuring the safety of cooked food, with no piping hot or juices run clear nonsense:

“The only reliable way to ensure that your food has reached a safe internal cooking temperature is by using a digital food thermometer.”

I’d add tip-sensitive.

Despite many different types of food thermometers currently available on the Canadian market, digital ones are considered the most accurate because they provide instant and exact temperature readings.

While we often look for other signs that our food is cooked properly (for example, the color of the meat and its juices), these methods can’t accurately confirm that harmful bacteria have been eliminated from our foods. Bacteria, such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria, which can cause foodborne illness, can’t survive at certain high temperatures.

13 sick, 9 hospitalized in Canadian E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to walnuts

Late last night, Canadian health types issued a media release saying there were people sick from E. coli O157:H7 in several provinces linked to walnuts.

I noted that was really crappy risk communication – not being clear about what was known in terms of sick people and what was not known — which is expected of government agencies like Health Canada, especially when they proclaimed a couple of days ago they were a founding member of some international Center of Excellence in Food Risk Communication (it’s a website and sucks).

About an hour ago (2:16 p.m. Eastern, April 4, 2011) the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) announced there have been 13 cases of E. coli O157:H7 in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick (those are provinces in Canada). Nine individuals have been hospitalized and two cases developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

The strivers for excellence in food risk communication note:

“You can help reduce your risk of becoming ill by following safe food handling precautions:
? Clean counters and cutting boards and wash your hands regularly.
? Read labels and follow cooking and storage instructions for all foods.
? Make sure to check the "best before" date on all foods.
? Use warm soapy water to clean knives, cutting boards, utensils, your hands and any surfaces that have come in contact with food, especially meat and fish.
? Refrigerate or freeze perishable food within two hours of cooking.
? Freeze or consume leftovers within four days of cooking.
? Always reheat leftovers until steaming hot before eating.
? Keep refrigerators clean and at a temperature below 4° C, or 40° F. Install a thermometer in your refrigerator to be sure.”

I have no idea how this applies to raw walnuts, like the ones I had on my salad for lunch (those yummy walnuts were from California, not Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Iran, the places from where the fingered distributor, Amira Enterprises Inc. of St. Laurent, QC, imports things like walnuts.

And rather than toss out the suspect walnuts, Canadian health types recommend “consumers who have raw shelled walnuts in their home can reduce the risk of E. coli infection by roasting the walnuts prior to eating them. Consumers should place the nuts on a cooking sheet and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes, turning the nuts over once after five minutes.”

This does not account for the risk of cross-contamination with a virulent pathogen. My microbiology friends look forward to testing out this advice. I wonder what it was based on?
 

Canadians encouraged to use digital food thermometers when cooking

It’s like me and Health Canada doing a two-step at a Good Brothers concert in Peter Clark Hall at the University of Guelph.

Or not quite.

But Health Canada did issue a statement today saying that Canadians should make sure their meat, poultry and seafood dishes reach safe internal cooking temperatures before serving, and that the only reliable way to ensure that your food has reached a safe internal cooking temperature is by using a digital food thermometer.

Despite many different types of food thermometers currently available on the Canadian market, digital food thermometers are considered the most accurate because they provide instant and exact temperature readings.

While we often look for other signs that our food is cooked properly (for example, the colour of the meat and its juices), these methods can’t accurately confirm that harmful bacteria have been eliminated from our foods. Bacteria, such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria, which can cause foodborne illness can’t survive at certain high temperatures.

I don’t know who the we are Health Canada is referring too. And a tip-sensitive thermometer will help bunches.

Former Health Canada chief goes public after safely retiring

It’s not food safety, but it’s such an old and disappointing story that it’s worth repeating.

Again.

This time it’s the former head of Health Canada’s nutritional sciences bureau blasting the federal department Monday for failing to explain why it is approving health claims submitted by the food industry.

PepsiCo Canada had announced Monday that Health Canada has approved a new disease-reduction health claim for products containing oats. This means the company’s 11 Quaker oats products will soon carry labels on the front of their packaging trumpeting a relationship between oat fibres and reduced cholesterol.

Mary L’Abbe, the former director of Health Canada’s nutritional sciences bureau responsible for the approval of health claims, said the department now has a transparency problem because it is not releasing the evidence to support such claims.
Health Canada remains mum on the oats decision and has yet to publish evidence to support the plant sterol claim.

"With regards to transparency, I am still disappointed that the plant sterol claim was approved last May, yet the evidence to support such a claim has still not been posted — only a summary document," said L’Abbe, who left Health Canada in 2007 after 31 years.
"Health Canada’s lack of transparency in this matter is disappointing, and opposite that of the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), which has published detailed scientific reviews of the evidence that was considered in approving or denying health claims in the U.S." L’Abbe said. "Hopefully they are planning to post the evidence that supports the oats claim."

Why didn’t L’Abbe say anything about this when she was in government? I know there’s the whole oath to the Queen thing required of Canadian bureaucrats, but government is not some abstract entity, it’s run by people who chose to make decisions.
 

Health Canada hopeless at PR; prefers blaming consumers

In November, 1998 along with the tragically flawed consumer food safety education program, FightBac, Canadian government-types repeatedly stated that, “Research shows that improper food handling in the home causes a major proportion of foodborne illnesses.”

I had a research associate first e-mail the Canadian Food Inspection Agency via its web site, because the federal agriculture minister had used the line. She was referred to Health Canada. After a few messages, a couple of tables with an explanatory note arrived.

At last, the data. Except it showed that known outbreaks happen pretty much everywhere except the home.

Of the 23,322 known cases of foodborne illness in Canada between 1990 and 1993, 18,450 or 79 per cent were of unknown origin. Of the cases of known microbiological origin, 70 per cent were traced to food service; 11 per cent were traced to the home; four per cent were retail in origin.

The second table contained data on foodborne illness cases due to mishandling. Of the cases of known microbiological origin, 61 per cent were due to mishandling at the food service level; 11 per cent in the home; six per cent at retail; and six per cent on farms or dairies. I remain unconvinced.

Things don’t change, and making fun of Health Canada is like shooting ducks in a barrel – except for the millions of taxpayer dollars wasted.

The food safety geniuses at Health Canada said in Sept 21, 2010 press release advising pregnant women to be super-extra careful about food safety and that of the 11 million cases of foodborne illness that strike Canadians each year,

“Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.”

I blogged and wrote,

Please, please, oh please. Show us mortals the data on which that statement is based?

And since Health Canada advises pregnant women to “make sure to cook hot dogs and deli meats until they are steaming hot before eating them,” please, please, oh please, stand up and say the advice provided by the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children Motherrisk program is complete nonsense.

After posting, I decided, it’s unfair to expect important government types to read my musings, so I called media relations at Health Canada at 1:40 pm central time on Sept. 21.

My call went to a machine, and I left a detailed message.

They called back a couple of hours later. I told them I wanted to know the scientific evidence to support the claim, “Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques” and that my deadline was in two days.

Two days later, someone from media relations at the Public Health Agency of Canada called to tell me she was working on my request, and she understood my deadline was early next week (this was Thursday); I said it was today, but could wait. She said she was working on it but couldn’t promise anything.

I said the statement, “Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques,” was a line in your press release, so maybe you’d have the supporting documentation handy.

The senior media relations thingy at the Public Health Agency of Canada (seriously, the senior bit is in her sig) e-mailed me today to say (and I don’t want to edit anything to take it out of context):

Below, please find the responses to your questions about the following statement: "It’s estimated that there are approximately 11 million cases of foodborne illnesses in Canada every year. Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.."

1. What is this statistic based on?

The estimate of 11 million cases of food-borne illness per year in Canada is based on research from the National Studies on Acute Gastrointestinal Illness (NSAGI) combined with literature from the United States.

From the NSAGI population surveys, it was estimated that on average there are 1.3 episodes of acute gastrointestinal illness (AGI) per person per year in Canada. Using this estimate and given the size of Canada’s population along with estimates from the United States (Mead et al, 1999) that 25% of AGI could be due to respiratory infections and that 36% of enteric GI is foodborne, there would be an estimated 11 million episodes of foodborne disease in Canada annually.

The calculation is 1.3 episodes of AGI per person-year X 32 million Canadians = 42 million episodes of AGI per year X 0.75 due to enteric pathogens X 0.36 foodborne = 11 million episodes of foodborne disease in Canada annually


2. What report? Looking for the scientific basis behind this statement.

You may wish to review the reference document for this estimate found in the Public Health Agency’s Canada Communicable Disease Report (Vol. 34, Number 5) at this link: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/ccdr-rmtc/08vol34/dr-rm3405b-eng.php

Yes, I get the 30 per cent of people get sick from food and water each year. We use that number and cite it endlessly. Yes, I’ve reviewed the report. No where does the report or the PR thingy answer the claim, “Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.”

For all the salaries involved these people really suck at their job.

Bureaucrats babbling: Health Canada blames consumers

Health Canada said today while telling pregnant women to be especially careful about the 11 million cases of foodborne illness that strike Canadians each year that,

“Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.”

Please, please, oh please. Show us mortals the data on which that statement is based?

And since Health Canada advises pregnant women to “make sure to cook hot dogs and deli meats until they are steaming hot before eating them,” please, please, oh please, stand up and say the advice provided by the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children Motherrisk program is complete nonsense.
 

Listeria and Health Canada; the money wasted on terrible communications

Listeria in Maple Leaf cold-cuts killed 23 primarily-elderly Canadians in the fall of 2008.

Prior to the 2008 outbreak, the advice from Health Canada was mushy:

“Although the risk of listeriosis associated with foods from deli counters, such as sliced packaged meat and poultry products, is relatively low, pregnant women and immunosuppressed persons may choose to avoid these foods."??

The advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control was clear: Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats, unless they are reheated.

Of course, most mortals don’t go to federal agencies for advice – they ask their doctors or nurses or medical professionals. And who knows what kind of nonsense will spew out.

Regardless, Health Canada took to the Intertubes today to remind Canadians of the importance of food safety for older adults. Old people, listen up:

“As you age, it becomes harder for your immune system to fight off harmful bacteria. This means that older adults can come down with a serious illness if they eat contaminated food. For this reason, it is very important to choose, handle and cook food properly before eating. It is very important for older adults or their caregivers to follow food safety steps to help reduce the risk of foodborne illness.”

Betty White – was that wiener steaming hot?

Health Canada now says, and has for a couple of years, that you old folks – and I’m rapidly becoming one of them, heading out for the afternoon early bird dinner specials here in Florida — make sure to cook hot dogs and deli meats until they are steaming hot before eating them.”

That’s nice. But Health Canada has still said nothing – at least not publicly – about the morons at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Kids, who said expectant mommies can eat all the cold-cuts they want as long as they are from reputable sources.

Just because advice is issued, doesn’t mean that anyone pays attention. Go on, Health Canada, get dirty, engage people, even if you upset some. Or play nice, be ignored, and let more people get sick. Is that category on your annual review?

This probably means there’s an outbreak going on: Health Canada warns about raw sprouts

Health Canada is reminding Canadians that raw or undercooked sprouts should not be eaten by children, older adults, pregnant women or those with weakened immune systems.

Health Canada used to say raw sprouts should be avoided if concerned about illness, but now they are more direct. That 2005 outbreak in Ontario involving more than 648 cases of Salmonella linked to mung bean sprouts may have something to do with the newfound directness.

Fresh produce can sometimes be contaminated with harmful bacteria while in the field or during storage or handling. This is particularly a concern with sprouts. Many outbreaks of Salmonella and E. coli infections have been linked to contaminated sprouts.

Children, older adults, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to these bacteria and should not eat any raw sprouts at all. They should also avoid eating cooked sprouts unless they can be sure the sprouts have been thoroughly cooked.
 

Listeria paper from Canada sucks; why aren’t government types attacking BS listeria advice from Toronto Sick Kids Hospital instead of babbling about collaboration?

Academic publishing is like the Tina Fey flick, Mean Girls. Reviewers are catty, bitchy, and snarly, all because the nerds are in power and can hide behind the cloak of anonymity.

For some reason, I usually get called in to review lousy papers, probably because I have no hesitation saying, ‘this work sucks; I could write a better paper with my butt cheeks’ or something like that.

There are so many bad papers out there.

Some geniuses at Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency decided that after 23 people died of listeria in Maple Leaf cold colds in 2008, rather than write a paper about all the mistakes that were made, they would write a paper entitled, Changing Regulation: Canada’s New Thinking on Listeria.

I have a problem with anyone who says they speak on behalf of all Canadian women, or Canadians, or other groups. Industry, don’t pay attention to this – go above and beyond because you’re going to lose money when the outbreak happens, not the bureaucrats.

The Health Canada and CFIA types proudly proclaim they’d never heard of listeria in Sara Lee hot dogs in 1998, or any other outbreak, until it happened in Canada. Now the government types have introduced what they call enhanced testing requirements.

The authors find it necessary to say that,

“Consumers also have an important role to play in the farm-to-fork continuum. That role calls for Canadians to learn and adopt safe food handling, avoidance of certain high-risk foods, and preparation practices. To this effect, Health Canada has and will continue to undertake the development of science-based consumer education material which will help create an understanding of food safety issues within the context of the public’s right to know about the potential dangers in food, and industry’s responsibility for producing a safe food. A combination of all these approaches are currently being adopted and/or developed to improve the control of L. monocytogenes in RTE foods sold in Canada.”

Wow. Guess it was the consumers’ fault that 23 died from eating crappy Maple Leaf deli meat. Or the dieticians at the aged home facilities who though it would be a bright idea to serve unheated cold-cuts to immunocomprimised old people.

This is Health Canada, the agency that still recommends whole poultry be cooked to 180F, while the U.S. recommends 165F. Are the laws of physics somehow different north of the 49th parallel? We’ve asked, and no one at Health Canada will explain, So why should they be believed on anything else?

And instead of writing crappy papers about collaborations devoid of fact, why isn’t Health Canada and the food safety types at CFIA cracking down on the BS emanating from Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Kids, which says that cold-cuts are fine for expectant moms despite a treasure-trove of scientific evidence to the contrary.

The paper concludes,

“We feel that we have learned valuable lessons from the Maple Leaf listeriosis outbreak, which occurred in 2008. We have used these lessons to help us develop CFIA Directives for federally registered meat and poultry plants. We are also learning from industry and we will use their “Best Practices” document to further develop our policies on Listeria control. By all parties working together in a non-competitive and trusting manner, we feel that we can make great strides in Listeria control and continue along a path to reducing the burden of foodborne listeriosis in Canada.”

OMG This made it into a scientific paper? I feel lots of things, but I don’t ’write them in journal articles. Here’s some tips. None of which were discussed in the so-called scientific paper:

• put warning labels on cold-cuts and other high-risk foods for expectant moms
• make listeria testing results public
• make food safety training mandatory (and then we’ll work on making it better).

And the paper is below, with the catty comments from reviewers.

I could write a better paper with my butt cheeks.
sites/default/files/Farber et al 2010_listeria.pdf

Blame the consumer – Health Canada style

I don’t know who writes these press releases, but stating, “Health Canada would like to remind Canadians of the importance of safe handling of fresh produce to reduce the risk of foodborne illness,” gives the organization, Health Canada, a level of creepiness that could be easily replaced by quoting individual humans, not bureaucratic organizations.

Health Canada (is that a she or a he?) then recites the messages of separate, clean and chill, which is fine, but says nothing about what is done in the fields and facilities before fresh produce reaches consumers.

There’s probably an outbreak going on that no one wants to talk about.