Me, I just keep on truckin’ on. We’re working out the kinks with bites.ksu.edu, and barfblog.com had yet another record number of visitors today. So for the best food safety news and analysis, visit often.
I started FSnet, the food safety news, shortly after the Jack-in-the-Box outbreak in Jan. 1993. Sure, Al Gore hadn’t invented the Internet yet, but those of us in universities had access, and I started distributing food safety stories.???
It all seems sorta quaint now, what with Google alerts and blogs and RSS feeds, but my goal was straightforward: during the Jack-in-the-Box outbreak, a number of spokesthingies said, they didn’t know E. coli O157:H7 was a risk, they didn’t know that Washington State had raised its recommended final cooking temperature for ground beef, they didn’t know what was going on.?????? So FSnet was conceived and made widely available so that no one could legitimately say, they didn’t know.
But times have changed. You’ve probably all missed my annual PBS-like funding plea. I’m grateful for the donations, but I can sense the funding model needs to change. Last year, Seattle lawyer Bill Marler stepped up – and I’m quite grateful — and covered the funding shortfall, but I don’t expect that to happen every year.
So, this is what I’m planning to do.
Over the next few weeks, a new web site, bites.ksu.edu will consolidate the existing food safety information resources of the International Food Safety Network – news listservs, blogs, infosheets, videos and others – and we’ll strive to become the pre-eminent daily international electronic food safety publication or portal with text, audio, video, blogs, and RSS feeds. And we’re going to sell advertizing. The bites.ksu.edu not-for-profit environment will additionally:
• provide research, educational and journalistic opportunities for secondary, undergraduate and graduate students in the multi-media electronic environment of bites.ksu.edu;
• develop, implement and evaluate a variety of food safety messages using various mediums to impact the safe-food behavior of individuals from farm-to-fork;
• provide an infrastructure to produce a series of multilingual public service announcements to further stimulate public interest in food safety and security and to raise awareness about specific emerging issues, especially during a crisis;
• host a dynamic and cross-cultural team of secondary, undergraduate and graduate students to create multilingual and multicultural food safety and security information, including weekly food safety info/tip sheets, podcasts and flash-based Internet animations and videos through bites.ksu.edu;
• provide training through a graduate emphasis in food safety, language, culture and policy (with distance education option); and,
• create employment and training opportunities for secondary, undergraduate and graduate students in conjunction with an international internship program to place students with regulatory authorities and industries who promote a food safety culture.
Should I keep the International Food Safety Network name? It’s a bit ponderous and creates confusion with the posers at the University of Guelph. bites is easier to deal with. What else should I keep or eliminate? I’m going to collapse the four listserves – FSnet, Agnet, AnimalNet and FunctinalFood Net into one daily e-publication. For those who want instant news, it will be provided through RSS feeds in the following categories. For those who can wait, a daily e-publication will be distributed, in html and text format.
The draft categories available for RSS feeds are:
E. coli Salmonella Listeria Norovirus Hepatitis A other food safety microorganisms restaurant inspection handwashing thermometers raw – milk, juice, food infosheets Yuck Food safety communication Food safety policy Food allergies animal disease plant disease genetic engineering functional food pesticides new science
I’m open to suggestions. If you feel I’m too much of an asshole to deal with, e-mail Ben at his new North Carolina State gig, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Amy at email@example.com.
I’m a total food safety nerd. I even use big food safety events to remember when things in my life happen. Had I not emailed Doug in the winter of 2000 looking for an on-campus summer job at Guelph, I’m sure I wouldn’t be doing that.
The story would be a lot cooler if I had sought out Powell as a potential employer because I was interested in the stuff he did, but I didn’t. I had no idea what he did — and being a bit of an idiot, I didn’t bother to look it up. I emailed Doug on the advice of a friend, and former Powell Lab-ite, Lindsay Core. Lindsay knew I was desperately looking for a job, and didn’t tell me much else about the dude or what he filled his days with. Lindsay just said "I think you two will get along". I didn’t really know what that meant, but really had no other prospects. So I emailed him. And he hired me to pull news.
Pulling news meant that I surfed through the tubes of the interweb for anything food risk-y (food safety, GE crops, animal disease, etc) and the stories I found (along with the other news pullers) become the content for FSnet and the other listserv postings Doug puts together every day. Doug’s philosophy fit in with what I was looking for — he never really cared where I was as long as I could be found with an email and that I would get something to him when he needed it.
About three weeks in, I fell in love with the content and became hooked on food safety communication. That’s when an E.coli O157 outbreak linked to Walkerton Ontario’s town water system hit. I was already interested in disease (maybe it was because of Outbreak or the Hot Zone?), but the coverage and discussion within the Powell lab around Walkerton (how the outbreak was handled and communicated to the folks drinking the water) drew me in. I knew it was time to move from molecular biology and genetics to food safety. So finding what I really liked is linked in my mind to the 2000 Walkerton outbreak.
That’s where it all started.
I equate a May 2003 trip to Dani’s graduation from Dalhousie in Halifax with the news of the first Canadian BSE case. On the way home, I saw Doug on the in-flight CBC newscast talking about how CFIA has handled things (and thought, even when I’m away from Guelph for three days Powell and food safety follow me).
In 2006 I was about to leave for a trip to Kansas to visit Doug, and begin the initial evaluation of the food safety infosheets, when the E.coli O157:H7/spinach outbreak broke. When I arrived in Manhattan it was all E.coli O157 and spinach for us. The picture that Christian created with the skull and leafy greens (right) became a signature picture amongst the food safety infosheet pilot participants. Those pilots, and conversations with Doug and Amy in their living room, evolved into video observation of food safety practices — one of the things I’ve spent the past couple of years on.
In my time spent in the various incarnations of FSN/iFSN/barfblog/Powell’s lab, I’ve seen Doug’s hair catch on fire; been accosted in a hot-tub (not by him) while in Phoenix with him; got lost on a trip with him in snowy, -20C Montreal without my coat; threw up in his backyard; talked about a ridiculous amount of pop culture with him; started a company with him and Katija; translated Kiwi accents for him; and, maybe most importantly, went to see Neil Young with him.
We’ve golfed, played squash and hockey together. Each of which he beat me at, and often reminds me of it. He also likes to point out, and I never argue with him, that I owe him. I do; although it’s a bit like owing something to Tony Soprano.
There’s lots of stuff I’ve left out of the post because it’s hard to write about 8 years in 750 or so words, but through all the fun stuff and late-night emails, Doug has shown me how to create a lifestyle around food safety where working and vacations blend together.
Doug’s got lots of friends, former friends and never-friends. The ratio is probably about 1:1:1. Some food safety folks have told me that they wish he was nicer. I’m glad he’s not. His skepticism and cynicism (and sometimes lack of tact) makes him great at what he does, and have made him the perfect mentor for me.
So enough of this post being about Doug, it’s really about me. On Monday I start a faculty position in the Department of 4-H Youth Development and Family & Consumer Sciences at NC State University as food safety extension specialist. I’m excited as I get to support extension agents throughout North Carolina; develop food safety programs to be delivered from farm-to-fork; and, conduct applied research on food safety. It doesn’t sound like a job to me. $550 for season tickets to the Hurricanes, and about three hours to Myrtle Beach are added bonuses.
Dani, Jack and I left Canada a week ago for the USA. Our furniture will arrive sometime next week, so for now we’re minimalists. We’re currently camping indoors, with only an air mattress, lawn chairs and a 42" television (I guess the TV isn’t really camping equipment, but whatever).
On Tuesday night we picked a whole chicken up at Target and decided we’d roast it, but forgot that in our equipment-less situation we didn’t have our trusty PDT 300 to take the temp.
The juices were running clear. The chicken was piping hot (even a bit crispy) but after I had my first couple of bites I noticed that the meat close to the center looked pretty raw.
We went and got an interim thermometer at Target yesterday.???
The Monday start date hinges on me not coming down with Campylobacter or Salmonella.
Doug sent me an email a couple of nights ago (while we were chatting about the fantastic Canada/US World Junior Hockey Tournament game) that said "you your own dude at NC State" (he’s one arm typing with Sorenne lately). Yep. That’s true, but I wouldn’t be my own dude here if it wasn’t for him, and I’m excited to work on more great stuff together.
Researchers at Kansas State University’s International Food Safety Network use blogs, YouTube videos, food safety info sheets and other means to remind people about food safety hazards. The researchers are among more than 150 K-State faculty and staff active in the food safety and animal health arenas. Since 1999, K-State has dedicated more than $70 million to related research.
"During an outbreak, food safety is at the top of many people’s minds," said Doug Powell, scientific director of the International Food Safety Network at K-State, where he is an associate professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology. "The real challenge is to compel everyone, from farm to fork, to practice safe food habits before an outbreak occurs. It’s sort of boring, but it reduces the number of sick people."
Salmonella-laden tomatoes and/or peppers topped Jacob’s list, highlighting the importance of being able to trace fresh produce to its source.
"Companies that can provide efficient traceability systems for their products provide an advantage to the retail food service sector during recall and outbreak situations," Jacob said.
Other top food safety issues on the list were melamine in Chinese infant formula, listeria in deli meats and soft cheeses, and E. coli O157:H7 linked to negligent butchers in the United Kingdom. Jacob said that these incidents demonstrated the importance of knowing one’s food suppliers, warning vulnerable populations of food safety hazards associated with certain foods, and establishing a culture of food safety among food handlers.
The list includes signs that restaurant inspection disclosure systems are on the rise.
"The food service sector should recognize that certain diners are interested in the information provided by inspection reports and summaries," Jacob said. "This increase in transparency highlights the importance of maintaining — or improving — compliance with food safety regulations during inspections."
The list also recalls how patrons are using cell phone cameras to document food safety issues. In Toronto, a passerby took a photo of rats on a countertop at one of the most prominent restaurants in the city’s Chinatown. Public health authorities shut the restaurant down.
"Everyone eats, and in a networked world, consumer experiences can really impact what people know about food safety," Powell said. "At the International Food Safety Network, we try to develop tools to help consumers share their wisdom with everyone in the farm-to-fork food chain and hope that leads to fewer people getting sick."
“The notion that you can deal with it at the end of the food chain is clearly wrong.”
Yet there continues to be an outpouring of advice for consumers – the end of the food chain. But more about that later.
Schlundt also said today that the number of foodborne diseases seems to be on the rise in both wealthy and poor nations.
Previously, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that up to 30 per cent of individuals in developed countries acquire illnesses from the food and water they consume each year. U.S., Canadian and Australian authorities support this estimate as accurate (Majowicz et al., 2006; Mead et al., 1999; OzFoodNet Working Group, 2003) through estimations from available data and adjustments for underreporting. WHO has identified five factors of food handling that contribute to these illnesses: improper cooking procedures; temperature abuse during storage; lack of hygiene and sanitation by food handlers; cross-contamination between raw and fresh ready to eat foods; and, acquiring food from unsafe sources.
Oh, and that logo (upper right) is going to be retired in January when we relaunch everything.
That’s the conclusion from an extensive feature in Men’s Health on last year’s increase in E. coli O157:H7 in the U.S.
Author Tom Groneberg quotes several folks with their theories for the increase.
Richard Raymond, M.D., the USDA’s undersecretary for food safety, says, "The amount of product we test that’s positive has gone up about 33 percent this year from the past 3 years. I don’t think it’s that the agency has fallen asleep at the switch. I don’t think it’s that the industry has gotten sloppy. I think it’s the cows."
Specifically, Dr. Raymond cites high corn prices for prompting a switch to cheaper feeds for fattening cattle. "When you change their feed, their intestinal flora change."
T.G. Nagaraja, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology at Kansas State University and the leader of a team of researchers targeting ways to decrease levels of E. coli in cattle before they reach the slaughterhouse, says, "We found that cattle consuming distiller’s grains as 25 percent of their diet had about a twofold higher incidence of E. coli O157:H7. Our observation is preliminary, but we’ve done three studies that show a positive association between this feed and increased levels of O157."
David Smith, D.V.M., Ph.D., a professor of veterinary and biomedical science at the University of Nebraska, says,
"One factor associated with cattle shedding the E. coli organism is wet and muddy pen conditions. I suspect the slaughterhouses may have had cattle arrive this summer with a higher probability of shedding E. coli, or the cattle had it present on their hides, which led to greater opportunities for ground-beef contamination than during droughts."
Michael Doyle, Ph.D., director of the center for food safety at the University of Georgia and one of the world’s leading authorities on E. coli and other foodborne pathogens, says,
"There is often an increase in bacterial contamination when experienced workers on the slaughter line are replaced with less-experienced workers, such as before and after holidays, and raids this year on illegal slaughterhouse workers by the INS led to replacement with less-experienced line workers."
Doug Powell, Ph.D., an associate professor of pathobiology and scientific director of the International Food Safety Network, says, "You’re not going to eliminate E. coli O157:H7. Down-line processors have to be operating under the assumption that they’re going to get some E. coli just like we expect consumers to operate under the assumption that they’re going to have some in their product, which is why we tell them to cook it."
So cook that burger. And stick that thermometer in it.
Fifteen years ago this week, Seattle lawyer Bill Marler and Kansas State University professor Douglas Powell were drawn into the food safety arena when the Washington Department of Health announced that Jack in the Box restaurants were the source of a multi-state outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections. Now, the two are teaming up to further promote awareness of food safety.
Marler, who has represented thousands of victims of E. coli and other foodborne illness outbreaks since representing more than 100 victims of the Jack in the Box outbreak, has pledged to donate $25,000 to Powell’s group, the International Food Safety Network — iFSN — at Kansas State University. The group, which was formed in 1993 when Powell began researching the impact and influence of food safety information on farmers, processors, retailers, consumers and regulators, produces several electronic mailing lists to disseminate food safety information across the globe. In addition, Marler has pledged to match all other donations made to iFSN in 2008, up to $25,000.
In thanking Marler for the donation, Powell said, "All money donated to iFSN will be used to fund students in developing and carrying out a variety of projects. These will focus on the use of new media and new messages to compel individuals from farm-to-fork to take steps to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness.
"Bill Marler is an outstanding advocate for food safety and understands that microbiologically safe food just doesn’t happen," said Powell. "Any lawyer can talk the talk. Bill walks the talk."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 76 million Americans get sick and 5,000 die each and every year after consuming contaminated food and water. The Jack in the Box outbreak in the Pacific Northwest, which killed four and sickened over 600, was the tipping point for American public awareness of the risks posed by dangerous microorganisms in food.
When I started with the International Food Safety Network a few months ago, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I have actually only met one of my co-workers, Stephanie Maurer.
She helped me get into to touch with Doug and the rest of the “Newsies” as I call them. I work for the Food Safety Network out of Omaha. And my educational background is actually in French. So to be honest this has been more than a just a job; for me the research for the Food Safety Network has helped me learn a lot about food safety.
I have previously worked in the food service industry; and I can tell you that you really should know what you are eating when you choose to eat out. I have also decided to help out more in the kitchen at home; this is coming from the self-proclaimed “kitchen-illiterate” chef. You, and your contributions to the Food Safety Network, can help me reach more people and help them to learn as much as I have learned, ending “kitchen-illiteracy” with everyone who reads our blogs and listservs.
When I went to Canada in May 2005 I had no idea what I was getting into. I signed up for an exchange program between Kansas State University and the University of Guelph on a whim, and a month later I was in a town I had never heard of, and in an empty dorm where for the first 3 weeks the only other person I saw was the doorman.
I had never heard of the International Food Safety Network, but I was a junior in food science at the time so I thought I had a little background on food safety. Turns out I was just scratching the surface of this deep subject. After an amazing summer, I went back to Kansas State with expanded knowledge and a new interest.
I finished up my bachelors degree this past spring and am now working on my MSc at KSU. While working for iFSN I have successfully: increased my knowledge on food safety, found a path that differs from the normal food science route, furthered my education, and I have learned a lot of new skills — check out my videos.
However, the best thing about working for the iFSN is being able to create a food safety dialogue with those around me. Now when I go to a restaurant and am asked “How would you like your burger done?”, I can use the question as a conversation starter instead of getting a bloody piece of meat.
With your donations, college students will have more options for work and study, and you will be helping create a larger public discussion about food safety.
Greetings! I am a Freshman at Kansas State, majoring in Food Science and Industry, with an emphasis on Pre-Medicine, and a minor in Leadership Studies.
I must admit, when I began with iFSN I was a little apprehensive: my boss was wearing shirts about poop and barf, and I was finding articles about poop and barf. Yet now, a month into this endeavor, I realize it is about much more than that. It’s about keeping people safe, and making it fun and interesting along the way. Therefore, I spent my winter break bragging about my great job and how interesting it is.
The thing is, I really want to keep my job. More than that, however, is the urge we feel to keep people informed; it’s a passion we intend to keep moving. With your kindness and donations, you can keep me working and keep yourself from barfing.