Everything old is new again: Produce-related outbreaks

About 20 years ago, as a (relatively) young professor, I told a national meeting of farm groups in Canada that, drawing largely on the work of Larry Beuchat from the University of Georgia, technology was improving and outbreaks in foods like fresh produce could now be traced back to the farm.

foodborne.virus.produceI was naïve and didn’t realize how cliché that statement would become, underestimating producer organization influences and political realities.

I was in it for safer food – fewer people barfing.

On Oct. 23, 2015, according to The Packer, a food safety workshop at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit heard that DNA fingerprinting and other scientific methods — as well as social media — are changing the face of food illness outbreaks.

Art Liang, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s senior advisor food safety for the divisions of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases said, “There are more outbreaks, but the outbreaks are smaller, the good news part of this. How do we know that the things we say are foodborne outbreaks are actually foodborne? Produce is often implicated but it can be a retail or food handling issue. There are all sorts of ways (contaminants) can be transmitted.”

The produce industry is working in unique times, said Bob Whitaker, PMA’s chief science and technology officer.

“We are at an interesting juncture in our history to where data and some of the convergence of data on DNA, technologies and gene regulation will help us better understand some of the issues around public health,” he said. “Those are being driven by our abilities to use and analyze data.”

It’s not so unique, Dr. Bob.

What’s the worst thing to say to a farmer? Hi, I’m from the government, I’m here to help

We figured out about 15 years ago that the worst thing to say to a farmer was, Hi, I’m from the government, I’m here to help, cause we hung out with farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration apparently hasn’t figured this out, and went all gushy about how the two agencies are sharing people and resources to develop new produce regs.

Farmers across the nation were cleaning themselves after hearing the news from Washington.

USDA’s fresh produce chief will join FDA to develop new food safety rules, as part of a cooperative initiative between FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Today’s announcement comes amid beefed up outreach efforts with key agriculture and safe food stakeholders to better share and exchange produce safety ‘best practices’ and ideas.”

Will this result in fewer sick people? No . Is it complete bureau-speak that no one, especially those that grow fresh produce for a nation, will care about? Yes. Saturday Night Live captured the do-nothingness that has already cloaked the Obama change administration.

Trendy Sydney restaurant named and shamed; no fridge thermometer

The name and shame of restaurant inspection disclosure results seems to be working in Sydney and still sucking in Melbourne.

Bills, the trendy Darlinghurst eatery that helped make ricotta hotcakes an inner-city breakfast staple, has become the first upmarket Sydney establishment named on the State Government’s list of restaurants fined for breaching food safety laws (right, actor Hugh Jackman and family headed to breakfast at Bills).

The Liverpool Street restaurant, one of three Sydney eateries owned by the celebrity chef Bill Granger, has been fined $660 for failing to comply with the food safety code.

Just two days after the NSW Food Authority began publishing a register on its website of restaurants caught breaching food laws, a City of Sydney inspector fined Bills for failing to have a thermometer in its refrigerator.

Last night, Bills said in a statement it was "shocked at this isolated incident and we took care of it immediately. … We do everything we can to do the right thing by our customers and to empower our workers to also do the right thing."

Try harder. And pay attention to the basics.