BS: Less disinfectant, more Rioja

Tal Abbary, a freelance writer writes in the quickly diminishing N.Y. Times that she recently moved back to South Florida after seven years in Spain, where supermarket shelves are curiously empty of antibacterial products and superbug threats have not yet become the stuff of media commentary.

sandy.gab.jun.13Spaniards (or rather, their maids) can scour a home clean like no one else, but bleach is the product of choice, and in recent years, the public has focused its measured fears on high unemployment rates, home evictions or government corruption. Kitchen counters are generally considered innocuous.

A common cultural motto is the psychologically cool “no pasa nada” (roughly — no big deal), meant to take the wind out of the sails of just about any of life’s problems. This is a hard-won ethos in a country that has endured, over mere decades, a bloody civil war followed by dictatorship, transition to democracy, meteoric economic growth, rising immigration and the current financial slump.

This is food safety idiocy.

While culturally correct in the right social circles that also are anti-vaxx, anti-GMO, and can afford to life in New York City, the data suggest otherwise.

My mother was four-years-old when she suffered a bout of undulate fever.

Gramps got rid of the cows the next day.

Even now, with whole genome sequencing and other molecular tools, we humans fail at the most basic microbiological tests: the hygiene hypothesis leaves a lot of bodies.

30 sick after Sussex cricket hospitality

People go to a cricket match to sleep, not barf.

An investigation has been launched after 30 people contracted food poisoning following eating food at a Sussex county cricket match.

Environmental health officers are investigating how recipients of hospitality at the Boundary Rooms suite at the PROBIZ County Ground in Hove became ill after eating at the match against Middlesex on June 22nd.

Tickets for hospitality at this part of the ground cost £120 and included a four-course meal, wine, beer and soft drinks as well as entry to the match.

Sussex County Cricket Club has confirmed that around 30 people out of 240 that were in that area of the ground have become ill. The club believes that people became ill from contaminated chicken parfait, although this has yet to be confirmed.

Kevin Berry, catering and hospitality manager for the club said that Sussex Cricket Club has a great relationship with its corporate clients and that he was sure this is an isolated incident, adding, "We have been serving this dish for four years and not had any problems."


This is what Homer thinks of baseball, which is as exciting as cricket, when he is sober for a couple of weeks.

Cook chicken to 165F; color a lousy indicator

 A friend in Ontario (that’s in Canada) sent along this recipe from a can of Campbell’s Cream of Asparagus soup.

I have a soft spot for the asparagus soup, because that’s how my grandfather Homer, asparagus baron of Ontario, got his start in the fresh asparagus business, growing to 100 acres in the 1970s, selling almost all of it fresh at the door. What was left went to Campbell’s for cream of asparagus soup.

On the recipe for lemon asparagus chicken, the instructions state, cook chicken “… until chicken is no longer pink.”

Not good enough. If consumers are expected to be the critical control point, then food producers must at least provide clear and evidence-based instructions. Cook chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 F as measured using a tip-sensitive digital thermometer.

Stick it in.

More training? Do more of same thing expecting different results crazy; Ottawa hospital cited for food-safety violations

Public Heath found seven “critical” food-safety deficiencies at the Ottawa General Hospital this year, three of them in the last week.

On both Monday and Wednesday this week, inspectors found the hospital failed to “separate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods during storage and handling.”

The hospital also earned a critical deficiency for not having paper towels in a dispenser at a hand basin in the food-preparation area on Monday this week and on Aug. 19 of this year. On April 15, the citation was for having no soap in the dispenser at the washing station.

Frances Furmankiewicz, director of nutrition for the hospital, said the latest problems were due to “employee error.” Though all the employees are trained and certified to handle food, they were given more training as a result of the inspections.

A number of people at the hospital Thursday said they were concerned when they learned about the poor inspection results and said they would no longer eat there, including Cindy Gilman, who was at the hospital to pick up her daughter.

“I thought the hospital would have been great at following regulations — it’s a hospital,” she said.

How on-farm food safety programs get developed – it’s the people, and data

There was this time, we thought we’d killed Chapman.

Ben and I went along with Uncle Denton to the Canadian Horticulture Council meeting in Montreal in Feb. 2003. I had chaired a national committee on on-farm food safety program implementation – and the advice was completely ignored – Chapman and I had done years of groundwork with Denton and the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, and we agreed to share a room at the annual meeting to cut down on expenses.

There was a couple of receptions and I still remember Ben and I asking Uncle Denton for drink tickets. We then retired to a hotel lounge and I knew trouble was ahead when Chapman asked for a cigarette.

He then went to the bathroom.

He didn’t return.

He showed up a few hours later, seemingly intact.

Denton had forgotten that story (Denton’s on the right in that pic with my grandfather, Homer) when I called him a couple of weeks ago, to thank him for the opportunity to develop on-farm food safety stuff back in 1998 with the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers. I’ve been using those anecdotes (not the ones about Chapman) and lessons learned a lot lately – seems like too many people are in a food safety time warp.

Guess it brought up a few memories for Denton, who wrote this in Sept.’s issue of The Grower:

As you journey through life you meet the occasional person who makes a real difference.  Dr. Douglas Powell is one of those – to say the least.

Doug called me recently to talk about the early years.  He was new in the On Farm Food Safety business when I was working with the Ontario Greenhouse vegetable group.  Doug was at the University of Guelph and I would talk to him about the phone call I didn’t want to get.  This would be the imaginary call from a senior’s residence wondering why all the occupants were very sick after consuming a fresh salad, and if the cause may have been the greenhouse tomatoes. I never got that call—thank God–but I wanted to be ready.  And that readiness included a strong response indicating we had an On Farm Food Safety program and proof we were capable of tracing our greenhouse product. We’ve seen several incidences in the past few years with certain fresh veggies and berries that almost ruined the industry and certainly crippled those markets for a year or so.

From the University of Guelph and the beginning of the On Farm Food Safety program, Doug has moved to Kansas State University where he is associate professor of food safety. He is still very much in the industry – just relocated to a different university — and still writing newsletters, hence the reputation of “the guru” of On Farm Food Safety.

Doug has remained a good friend over all these years. We developed a bond as we developed an On Farm Food Safety program for greenhouse vegetables and more.  Doug’s philosophy was to keep it simple.  He could relate to growers, and had an uncanny ability to make the complicated science of bacterial contamination simple and understandable. Early on, he received a little help from Dr. Gord Surgeoner.  These were the seeds of the On Farm Food Safety program in Canada, spreading from Ontario Greenhouse to CHC and to most vegetable growers across Canada.

I can still see Doug in an old T-shirt and jeans, holes in both, and running shoes–that was his fashion statement. Of course, his description of toilet paper “slippage” resulting in fecal contamination on your finger was priceless, but his crude description helped to break down the mystery of bacterial contamination by food handlers with dirty hands. Seems to me I got a T-shirt from Doug with “Don’t Eat Poop” written on the front.  Doug continues to be a great communicator, a fair goalie, poor at politics but great at On Farm Food Safety and raising little girls.

Thanks, Doug.  I am proud to say I knew you back when.

And I knew Chapman, way back when.

Canada’s “asparagus baron” passes at 93

I never called him gramps, or grandpa.

It was always Homer.

Homer Curless McMann. You don’t see names like that anymore.

Amy and I are in Alliston, Ontario, today for the funeral of my 93-year-old grandfather, Homer.

Homer spent the winter in Florida for as long as I can remember. And when I was a kid, my family would vacation there in the summer. On one of our last family vacations, 14-year-old me — feeling fairly hot cause I’d just had my braces removed — made friends with a girl who was also vacationing with her family. Since all I could think or talk about was this girl, my parents had the outstanding sense to go out with my younger sister and leave me along at Homer’s trailer with the girl.

As I made out with the girl, I thought, this is a truly wonderful grandparent.

Courtlynn, you won’t remember this, but when you were 6 days old, in 1995, we all drove to Florida and got to stay at a swanky place on the beach in Naples. Homer and Gladys drove down for dinner, and as we watched the sun set over the Gulf, we all felt blessed and thankful.

Homer loved his six grandkids and 17 great-grandkids.

Homer had the gift of the gab. He had to; for almost 20 years he sold most of his 100 acres of asparagus at the door — today he’d be called an original champion of local food.

In April 1995, I gave a talk at a livestock conference here in Alliston, and brought Homer along for the dinner and entertainment.. As we drove back to the farm, Homer said, to me, "I think you may have the gift of the gab too."

Beyond introducing me to Red Cap Ale — a beer I drank in university because no one else would touch it and my supply was safe — Homer had a warmth, especially with strangers.

In 2003, my friend Denton Hoffman was named general manager of the Ontario Asparagus Growers Marketing Board, and I said, "you’ve gotta meet Homer" (that’s Homer on the left and Denton on the right).

So, one summer day we drove up to Barrie, Ontario, and took Homer and Noreen out for lunch. His eyes sparkled as he recounted how he paid kids from (nearby Canadian Forces Base) Borden with beer to pull weeds, and how he entertained visitors to the farm, about an hour northwest of Toronto, who would buy asparagus 100 pounds at a time and freeze it.

Homer, here’s to you.