Homemade goods: most Hawaiian lawmakers not in compliance with food safety regulations

State legislators and their staff have been busy whipping up homemade goods for the annual Hawaii Food Bank fundraiser. The effort to raise cash lasts from January to early May and features a variety of fares, from Filipino food to brownies ala mode.   

“Any legislator good with fundraisers often has baked goods from their constituents, so that’s what we find here,” said Rep. Tom Brower.

Hawaii Food Bank fundraiserHowever, unbeknownst to many of the men and women who craft Hawaii’s laws, almost any food sold outside a restaurant or certified kitchen requires a permit.  
“These are short-term events or sales that are going to distribute food to the general public,” explains State Environmental Health Program Manager Peter Oshiro. “Anybody that has or wants to do those types of sales is required to get a temporary food establishment permit from the Health Department.”

Lawmakers organizing the annual drive for the food bank were caught off guard when approached by KITV4 about the need for a Department of Health permit.
“We make the laws here and it wouldn’t be prudent if we didn’t follow the laws that we make, and so it’s all about compliance,” said Vice-Speaker John Mizuno. “I’ll make sure that whenever we send memos at the kickoff of the Hawaii Food Bank fundraising effort, that we attach forms so that offices will know how to be in compliance.”

About 500 temporary food establishment permits are issued by the Health Department every month. Oshiro says the department just wants to make sure that all food is safe.  

Sell food from home in New Mexico, get a permit

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that a rule change will go into effect today that requires those who sell home-based food products to have a permit issued by the New Mexico Environment Department.

That permit will allow the sale of certain foods that can be prepared in home-based food processing operations within state jurisdiction. Those foods include yeast and quick breads, cookies, cakes, tortillas, high-sugar pies and pastries, high-sugar jam and jellies, dry mixes (made from commercial ingredients), candy and fudge. Those foods do not support the rapid and progressive growth of infectious and toxicogenic microorganisms, including Clostridium botulinium, responsible for foodborne disease.

The food permit costs $100 a year. To obtain a permit to operate, a seller can submit an application to a local NMED field office. The application package is available at www.nmenv.state.nm.us/fod/Food_Program or at your local NMED field office.

As Ben and Brae wrote in the Wisconsin State Journal back in March, 2006, leave the umpires in the field — the health inspectors who make sure everybody plays by the rules. In this game we need to get along so it doesn’t leave a nasty and sometimes lethal taste in the mouths of players or spectators.

Where does foodborne illness happen–in the home, at foodservice, or elsewhere–and does it matter?

Casey Jacob did a nice job on this brief paper, responding to the suggestions of reviewers and, dare I say, developing as a writer.

Foodborne Pathogens and Disease published the abstract this evening, but not the full paper, by Jacob and Powell.

So here’s the abstract as a teaser.

Foodservice professionals, politicians, and the media are often cited making claims as to which locations most often expose consumers to foodborne pathogens. Many times, it is implied that most foodborne illnesses originate from food consumed where dishes are prepared to order, such as restaurants or in private homes. The manner in which the question is posed and answered frequently reveals a speculative bias that either favors homemade or foodservice meals as the most common source of foodborne pathogens. Many answers have little or no scientific grounding, while others use data compiled by passive surveillance systems. Current surveillance systems focus on the place where food is consumed rather than the point where food is contaminated. Rather than focusing on the location of consumption—and blaming consumers and others—analysis of the steps leading to foodborne illness should center on the causes of contamination in a complex farm-to-fork food safety system.

Don’t try to be Rachel Ray if you’re canning

Home food preservation is seeing a resurgence across North America. Some of this is due to economics, some is linked to eating local (and others are just curious what all the buzz is about). Earlier this year seed companies reported increases in home garden sales (potentially leading to more canning) and North Carolina extension agents have told me that canning inquiries have almost doubled over previous years.

I’ve even been challenged to a pickle making throw-down (more on that later).

The New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today have all recently covered home food preservation. My contribution to the coverage was reinforcing the importance of following tested recipes (and not messing around with them). Kim Painter of USA Today used my money-shot quote:

"This is one area where you don’t want to be Rachael Ray. You don’t want to add your flair" to recipes and techniques backed by good science and rigorous testing, says Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University.

Keep your flair out of home food preservation and stick to methods that have been evaluated for safety.

Selling home-baking banned in Urbana

It’s springtime so bring on variable interpretation of health code rules, the plight of home bakers and outraged local politicians.

"I will not stay silent. Most people who go to the farmers’ market know it’s not made in a commercial-grade kitchen."

That’s Alderwoman Heather Stevenson, R-Ward 6, of Urbana, Illinois, criticizing a new policy banning the sales of home-baked goods, at Monday’s city council meeting.

Jim Roberts, director of environmental health for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District said
the district has long allowed the sale of many home-baked goods at farmers’ market but after he attended a January panel discussion about farmers’ markets sponsored by the University of Illinois Extension Service and The Land Connection, and after checking with other area health departments, he felt compelled to revisit the issue.

He said, selling baked goods commercially on a weekly basis for several months a year is "a business," and is not allowed under the law unless the baked goods are cooked in a certified kitchen with a permit from the health department.

Roberts made the mistake of thinking, and then publicly sharing his thoughts.

My understanding is that public health types are actively discouraged from such nefarious activities, otherwise they face the wrath of local politicians.

We shared our thoughts about the necessity of health umpires here a couple of years ago.

When handling meat, it’s ‘turd to tongue’ or -‘manure to mouth’

Hugh ‘Groundhog Day’ Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, wrote in a column for the BBC earlier this week,

“The kitchen has the potential to be most dangerous room in the house. Making it safe is easy. When handling raw meat mutter the mantra ‘turd to tongue’ or – if you have squeamish tendencies – ‘manure to mouth.’”

The good Dr. Pennington was talking about how Campylobacter is the most common cause of foodborne illness and that it “is an embarrassing fact that Campy is a natural bug of birds.”

It’s not easy. Food safety isn’t simple. That’s why up to 30 per cent of everyone gets sick from the food and water they consume each year. And as Jorgen Schlundt, director of food safety at the World Health Organization said the other day,

??????“The notion that you can deal with it at the end of the food chain is clearly wrong.”??????

Does the majority of foodborne illness happen in the home?

Where does foodborne illness happen?

Usually people notice it sitting or kneeling at the toilet.

But for 10 years, various groups had made claims that most foodborne illness happens in the home. It’s the consumer’s fault.

It happened again today.

In an otherwise innocuous press release stressing the importance of handwashing and the creation of a group in Canada featuring “leading experts in the fields of microbiology, virology, paediatrics, infectious disease, public health and education,” the leading experts rhetorically asked, did you know,

“The vast majority of food-borne (sic) illnesses occur because food was not handled or cooked properly and 80% of the cases happen in the home?”

There is no basis to this statement. After years of irritation, we’re finally getting the paper together to review the available data.

But until that’s available, this is what I wrote 10 years ago:

"Research shows that improper food handling in the home causes a major proportion of foodborne illnesses."

That line has been repeated so many times, even moreso since the launch of the FightBac food safety consumer education program last Nov., that I had to know: what was the research.

My associate Sarah Grant first e-mailed the Canadian Food Inspection Agency via their web site, because the federal agriculture Minister had used the line a few weeks ago. No luck there. We were 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 cases happen pretty much everywhere except the home.

A bit overstated. But still, the data sucked.

First, was a table representing known foodborne illnesses in Canada from 1990 to 1993. In March 1999, the U.S. Centres for Disease Control published active foodborne surveillance data from the end of 1998. Weekly updates are on their web site. The best we can do in Canada is 1993, and I have to buy the publication. Health Canada says they have plans to publish their data on the web … soon.

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; 4 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; 6 per at retail and 6 per cent on farms or dairies.

I remain unconvinced.

Our surveillance capabilities are weak; certainly they are not strong enough to support statements such as, "research shows that improper food handling in the home causes a major proportion of foodborne illnesses." We simply do not know. Money was allocated to bolster Health Canada’s surveillance capacity in the last federal budget so maybe we will see improvements … soon.

More to come …

Casey Jacob, guest barfblogger: The south central Kansas omnivore’s dilemma

My husband and I just moved to south central Kansas after I graduated from Kansas State University’s food science program in May and we got married.  I’ve talked him into taking me to see Pixar’s Wall-E tonight, but we need some dinner first.

We thought we might try Acapulco Restaurant, a Mexican franchise in town. That is, until I read on FSnet that the restaurant had just been named as the source of a 19-person salmonella outbreak. My new hubby was suddenly not too keen on going.

I, however, reasoned that after gaining some bad press and losing a bit of business, the restaurant’s management would be preaching food safety harder than they ever had before. The chances of an outbreak due to kitchen hygiene issues likely decreased dramatically.

In August 2007, Donna Garren, vice-president of health and safety regulatory affairs for the National Restaurant Association trade group, said outbreaks were leading restaurant chains to “[spend] additional resources outside of the typical food safety domain.”

Donna also admits, however, “There are costs associated with not knowing your suppliers.” If ingredients aren’t sourced from safe suppliers, even that assumedly sparkling-clean kitchen is no guarantee I’ll be served safe food.

Her quote was included in an article that claimed it was statistically safer to eat at fast-food chain restaurants than to cook for yourself at home.

While the title of Biggest Source of Foodborne Illness – home, restaurant, elsewhere — is still hard to pin down, it can be safely said that both chain restaurants and the household kitchen are still in the running. So who knows where I’ll have dinner tonight… or if I’ll make it out without barfing. 

As one Acapulco Restaurant patron confessed, “You compare all the bad to the good, sometimes it’s worth the risks.”

Casey Jacob is the married version of former barfblogger Casey Wilkinson, and continues to work with her Kansas friends.

Should homemade snacks be banned from schools?

The Glamorgan Gazette reports that Mynydd Cynffig Junior School in Wales has banned home-made cakes and biscuits from its Christmas fair to protect pupils’ health and safety, following the 2005 E. coli outbreak, and fears that ingredients could trigger pupils’ allergies.

The Welsh Assembly Government issued a ban on the sale of home-made products in schools in areas affected during the E. coli outbreak, but this guideline was withdrawn when the outbreak was over.

Neil Davies, headteacher of Mynydd Cynffig Juniors, said the school had made its decision to protect pupils, and the school had not received any complaints from parents or grandparents.

“I have got to guarantee the health and safety of the pupils. I’m not doing it to upset anybody.”

As we wrote a couple of years ago, food safety isn’t a game, but having the health umpires around to make sure things are running smoothly isn’t a bad thing.