Guess he figured no one would notice in Burford: Meat business, owner fined

Burford is a wonderful little hamlet outside of my hometown of Brantford, Ontario. I’m sure it’s a lovely place now, but when I was a teenager it was a destination for and depravity and decadence.

burfordA lot of people had mullets.

 A Burford meat business and its owner have been fined $3,750 for violating provincial food safety law, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

On Jan. 27, 1107053 Ontario Inc., operating as Greenwood Meats, of 124 King St., and owner Thomas Greenwood pleaded guilty in provincial offences court in Brantford to one count each of processing meat products without a licence under the Food Safety and Quality Act, said a media release.

On June 18, 2015, a joint inspection was conducted at Greenwood Meats by regulatory compliance officers of the ministry and the Brant County Health Unit.

During the inspection, Greenwood admitted that about 330 pounds of ready-to-eat meat products were produced on site without a licence under the act, the ministry stated in a media release.

Greenwood had signed a document in 2008 stating that he would not produce this type of meat products at his premises, according to the ministry.

The meat products, valued at about $1,600, were voluntarily condemned so they would not be distributed or sold to the public.

Greenwood and his company were fined a total of $3,000 plus a $750 victim fine surcharge.

‘Treat chicken like hazardous waste’ Investigation about Salmonella outbreaks linked to Foster Farms earns national award

I treat all food like hazardous waste.

Editor Mark Katches writes that Lynne Terry of The Oregonian/OregonLive began writing about the federal government’s alarming handling of Salmonella outbreaks caused by store-bought chicken that began in the Pacific Northwest.

lynne.terryShe found that over the course of a decade, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had not one, not two, not three, but four opportunities to warn the public about salmonella outbreaks involving Foster Farms chicken. Each time, the agency hemmed and hawed.

Terry was the first journalist in America to identify and write about this trend. But it didn’t come easily. She learned that reporters from Frontline, The Center for Investigative Reporting and the New York Times were circling around the story as she entered the final stages.

“It was tough,” said Terry, about the competition. “I felt this story was mine from the beginning, and I didn’t want anyone else to break it. It’s in our backyard. I had inside sources. I knew this stuff. So I did what anyone would do: I worked long hours every day for months on end to bring it home.”

Terry indeed got the scoop. Her “A Game of Chicken” project turned out to be a stunning and illuminating examination of the way the USDA operates.

And this week, the American Health Care Journalists awarded her first place in the public health category, beating out stiff competition from the Chicago Tribune and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In her investigation that spanned more than a year, Terry set out to determine if the USDA’s slow handling of a major salmonella outbreak in 2013-2014 was an isolated case.

It wasn’t.

She reviewed thousands of pages of previously undisclosed documents dating back to 2003. What she found was disturbing: More than 1,000 people had rushed to their doctors with bouts of food poisoning. Regulators had strong evidence pointing to the cause of the outbreaks but took virtually no steps to protect consumers from tainted chicken. Health officials in Oregon and Washington had pushed vigorously for federal action, having identified clear and convincing evidence of problems. But the USDA wouldn’t budge. Terry got a big assist from senior watchdog reporter Les Zaitz, who was serving as investigations editor at the time. And video producer Teresa Mahoney’s remarkable video helped break down complex issues in a compelling way while also warning consumers to thoroughly cook their chicken to 165 degrees.

Terry’s meticulous reporting showed that USDA officials were so fearful of being sued by the companies they regulate that the agency had set an almost impossible bar for evidence, even rejecting samples of tainted chicken that state health agencies believed would help clinch their case.

She also found out that government inspectors were under pressure to go easy on food processors. In one notable case, the USDA transferred an inspector after Foster Farms complained he wrote too many citations.

The agency rejected a wide-ranging Freedom of Information Act request. We appealed the denial and won. But months passed before the USDA finally released any records. Many of the documents were heavily redacted – often with entire pages blacked out.

“They refused records requests, and didn’t release anything for more than a year,” Terry said.

foster.farms.salmonellaShe filed more FOIA requests. And then more. The agency dribbled out partial releases, sending something every four or five months in response to our requests for updates. The federal agency’s attempts to stonewall Terry were even chronicled in a Columbia Journalism Review article lauding The Oregonian’s persistence.

Terry overcame other obstacles. Foster Farms sent two foreboding letters to The Oregonian/OregonLive before we published. After the stories appeared, the company didn’t question the accuracy of our reporting.

Despite these hurdles, Terry was able to piece together a story of bureaucratic failure that had devastating human consequences. She found victims of salmonella poisoning who were willing to share their stories. She translated complicated epidemiological information into language readers could understand. She tracked down key documents. And she built the trust of USDA inspectors, who feared losing their jobs if they spoke out.

Her work was cited by members of Congress. In Oregon, Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, referred to the investigation while she was arguing for a Senate bill that would limit antibiotic use in farm animals. Terry’s reporting also emboldened other USDA inspectors to come forward and tell their stories.

We went to extraordinary lengths to ensure “A Game of Chicken” was fair and totally accurate. Our lawyers reviewed drafts at least four times at our request.

It would have been easy to have been pushed by the swirling competition to publish as fast as possible. But that can sometimes introduce errors if reporters and editors short-hand the bullet-proofing process. Our watchdog motto is to publish when we’re ready. Or in this case, fully cooked.

Here’s a transcript of the Q&A with Oregonian/OregonLive health reporter Lynne Terry.

How long did it take to tell this story?

Longer than it should have, thanks to foot-dragging by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I put in my first public records request in spring 2013 and filed several more through 2014. I worked on the story sporadically over a year or so but then dug into the trenches in autumn 2014 when they started responding to public records and I landed an inside contact. I worked nonstop for about eight months before we published.

What were the biggest complications?

Four initials: USDA. They refused records requests, and didn’t release anything for more than a year. They were wearing me down, frankly. Fortunately, Les Zaitz got involved. He was our investigations editor. He was a huge help in pushing the USDA. We never did get their enforcement data, however.

How did it affect you knowing that Foster Farms was sending seemingly threatening letters before we published?

At the time? It made me nervous. I don’t even like covering courts, let alone testifying. And the thought of The O being dragged into court because of my reporting was scary. But in retrospect, I think they helped us. We knew we had to have a rock solid package, and we did. We didn’t hear a peep from the USDA or Foster Farms after we published.

What impact did it have knowing that a number of other media were swirling around pieces of this story?

It was tough. I felt this story was mine from the beginning, and I didn’t want anyone else to break it. It’s in our backyard. I had inside sources. I knew this stuff. So I did what anyone would do: I worked long hours every day for months on end to bring it home.

Were you ever close to giving up on this story?

Several times. I was floundering when you came to The O. I was pretty much working on my own. I knew I had a good story but my editors were too busy with the daily churn. I was, too. Getting time to focus on it helped. Having Les to work with was crucial.

What has been the reaction?

I got quite a few emails from members of the public who said they’ve stopped eating chicken. Foster Farms has stepped up its internal controls and now says it has the safest chicken in the country. The USDA has tightened its regulations over salmonella but it has not banned the bacteria even though it sickens more than a million people a year.

Has this story changed the way you look at chicken?

Yes. I’ve not had chicken much since. There’s one quote that sticks with me. An Oregon epidemiologist said: “Treat it like hazardous waste.” That’s a bit of an appetite killer.

Remain calm: CFIA says no Canadian meat plants at risk of being delisted in US, but questions remain

Kelsey Johnson of iPolitics reports the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says no Canadian meat plants are at risk of losing their trade status with the United States and that issues raised in a 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture audit of meat, poultry and egg plants have been resolved.

remain.calm.animal.house“There are no outstanding issues and there was never any impact on trade,” CFIA Associate Director of Operations Barbara Jordan said in teleconference Tuesday afternoon.

“The final audit report confirms that Canada’s meat, poultry and egg inspection systems are equivalent to the U.S. inspection systems and that all Canadian federally registered establishments permitted to export to the U.S. can continue to export goods.”

The CFIA’s response came after The Globe and Mail reported Monday the agency had until March to respond to the Americans final findings. Failure to do so, the Globe report indicated, could see audited Canadians plants lose their ability to export products to the United States.

That’s simply not the case, the CFIA said Tuesday. “No, there is no risk of delisting,” Jordan stressed.

Canada’s food safety system, Jordan said, undergoes “routine” international equivalency audits and conducts similar audits on other countries. These audits, she said, are expected to “identify opportunities for improvement” in Canadian plants.

“This is very routine to have findings in all audits. It would be an unusual to have an audit that results in no findings.”

Still, the 2014 USDA audit of five meat inspection plants came two years after another USDA audit of seven meat plants raised similar sanitary concerns.

At the time, then Health Minister Rona Ambrose defended the CFIA, insisting Canada had one of the “healthiest and safest food safety systems in the world.”

Asked Tuesday about the USDA findings on plant sanitation, Jordan said the agency takes immediate action to rectify issues at the plant level. “Certainly, the sanitation issues are dealt with immediately, on the spot and inspectors have a range of tools they can use.”

So who does the Listeria and other microbial testing, the plants or CFIA or both? And why aren’t those results public?

Safest food in the world – Canadian edition; US says clean up

The Globe and Mail is reporting that the U.S Agriculture Department has given the Canadian Food Inspection Agency until mid-March to fix significant food safety and sanitation concerns found during an audit of Canada’s meat, poultry and egg inspection systems.

Chicago_meat_inspection_swift_co_1906CFIA met the “core criteria” for overall food inspection, but American officials identified “operation weaknesses related to government oversight, plant sanitation and microbiological testing” for listeria, salmonella and E. coli, according to a final report submitted to CFIA on Jan. 14.

Failure to fix the deficiencies could lead the U.S. government to delist Canadian plants that were audited from exporting their products to the United States.

CFIA issued a statement to The Globe and Mail late Monday insisting that food safety was not compromised and steps are being taken to improve the inspection system.

“It is important to note that none of the audit findings posed a food safety risk to consumers, including the identified sanitation issues,” CFIA said. “At the time of the audit, the CFIA inspectors were already addressing the sanitation findings outlined in the audit report and the establishments were already taking the required steps to fix the issues in question.”

The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) conducted the audit between May 28 and June 13, 2014, of slaughter and processing plants in Ontario and Quebec.

The audit found CFIA does not conduct ongoing environmental sampling and testing in food-production plants for Listeria monocytogenes (Lm), the bacteria that contaminated cold cuts produced by Maple Leaf Foods in 2008 that resulted in the death of 22 Canadians.

Food-plant employees test the surfaces where ready-to-eat meat and poultry is packaged but “does not collect samples or test for the presence of Lm on non-food contact surfaces,” the audit said.

XL.foodsU.S. auditors also raised concerns that plant inspectors are not checking for the presence of manure, ingesta or milk contamination on carcasses prior to the final wash. Tests are only done once the meat or poultry is in refrigeration units.

“FSIS considers this sanitary measure to not be equivalent [to U.S. standards]. Because this is a significant finding that will impact the overall equivalency of the CFIA inspection system,” the audit said, “CFIA must respond with either correcting the location at which zero tolerance verification occurs or providing an appropriate rational for implementing an alternative inspection procedure within 60 days or FSIS will deem the inspection system to not be equivalent.”

The audit discovered serious sanitation problems in food-processing plants where meat is packaged before being shipped to stores in Canada and the United States. Auditors observed open ceilings, leaking condensate and rust that could contaminate food.

These are the type of sanitation problems that led to the largest meat recall in Canadian history in 2012 when E. coli was found in meat exported to the U.S. from a Brooks, Alta., plant, now owned by JBS Food Canada.

U.S. food inspectors detected the meat before it ended up on U.S. food shelves, but 18 people in Canada got sick from eating the tainted meat. CFIA blamed unsanitary conditions, poor hygiene and the Brooks plant’s failure to immediately disclose E. coli tests.

Canada's Agriculture minister Gerry Ritz attends a meeting of the G8 and G5 agriculture ministers on April 18, 2009 at Castelbrando castle in Cison di Valmarino, northern Italy. Farm ministers from the world's leading industrialised and developing nations meet in Italy this weekend for the first time to find ways of overcoming a global food crisis. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO  (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

Canada’s Agriculture minister Gerry Ritz attends a meeting of the G8 and G5 agriculture ministers on April 18, 2009 at Castelbrando castle in Cison di Valmarino, northern Italy. Farm ministers from the world’s leading industrialised and developing nations meet in Italy this weekend for the first time to find ways of overcoming a global food crisis. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. audit includes written responses from CFIA that strongly objected to the findings, saying the report “paints an inaccurate picture of the actual situation” and insisting the agency was in the process of addressing the food-safety concerns.

Terrence McRae, the director of CFIA’s Food Import and Export division, even tried but failed to persuade the U.S. Agriculture Department to give the agency a better grade.

CFIA did update their manual to require improved testing for listeria, but said it’s unclear if companies are doing the inspections or CFIA. He was unaware of any plans to set up inspection stations before the final wash.

Surely some mistake: US catfish rule exemplifies government waste

David Acheson, president and CEO of The Acheson Group LLC, a global food safety consulting firm, writes in Forbes that last week was a sad day for food safety in the United States as the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) published a final rule on the inspection of catfish.  This new rule exemplifies government waste, the politics of food safety and the inherent dysfunction between the FDA and the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service.

airplane.shirleyThis story goes back to 2008 when the Farm Bill transferred regulatory authority for the safety of catfish from the FDA to the USDA.  But why would this change in regulatory authority happen? Was FDA doing a bad job with regulating catfish? Was catfish such a high risk food that it needed the continuous inspection approach of the USDA?  Did FDA feel the need to off load some inspectional responsibilities because the Agency could not cope with the workload.   The answers are no, no and no. So why the move?

To date neither Congress, FDA nor USDA have come up with a sound reason as to why this move was made.  So why was this decision made? To the best of my understanding the decision was based on the belief that US catfish farmers would be better protected from overseas competition by putting all catfish regulation under USDA.  Being regulated by USDA will consume more time and resources for those that slaughter and process catfish. It will require more effort by the industry to be responsive to the on-site and shift by shift inspections of USDA. But if one assumes that this more severe and costly oversight can be met by the domestic producers but might be too much for those importing catfish, then maybe there is an economic advantage to the domestic catfish growers in that the foreign suppliers will just give up and stop importing catfish to the US. 

Can’t keep food safe without the right tools (and using them): Atlanta food truck edition

Part of having a good food safety culture is having all the right tools. But making food safe takes more than having the tools; folks actually have to employ risk reduction practices.

According to AJC.com, an Atlanta food truck failed an inspection after not having handwashing sink and water.hand-washing

Employees at The Corner Hot Foods Service in Atlanta need a sink inside the portable facility where they can wash up while prepping food.

They’ve been going next door into Bims Liquor Store and using a restroom sink instead, said a Fulton County health inspector.

The mobile food service unit is also missing a three-compartment sink to wash, rinse and sanitize dishes. The only sink inside was blocked by a container of food during the recent routine inspection.

Points were also taken off because the food service facility does not have its own water supply, though it is a fixed unit that does not move. The unit should be connected to the city of Atlanta water system, but is instead getting its water through a hose coming from the liquor store, the inspector said.

But do they wash their hands?

Good managers help keep food safe

A good food safety culture (a term as ubiquitous as Drake’s Hotline Bling) is really about having all the staff in an organization know what hazards are associated with the food they make/handle from the owner, to management, to the front line staff. And when someone is sick, or gets fired, whoever steps into the role as a replacement. Managers have to know what’s needed to keep food safe – and ensure their staff are actually doing it.

KTNV has a great video of a poor inspection that tells the story of a poor food safety culture.

Inspectors found visibly dirty food contact surfaces, old food debris on the can opener and meat slicer and a dirty ice machine. There was also heavy debris on the floor under kitchen equipment, a badly stained cutting board, and no hair restraints for food handlers.

“A lot of things I didn’t know,” said temporary manager Angela Liu. She says she’s not used to overseeing the kitchen staff and admits she didn’t check everything the night before their unannounced inspection.

Inspectors also found a full handsink leaking dirty water. And food in the prep table not protected from contamination. Angela takes us back to show us what is now a much cleaner kitchen.

She says the owner made it clear that he never wants to see another “C” grade.

And then this excellent dialogue happens.

Angela: If C again, they all lose their job.

Darcy: That’s it. Everyone’s job’s on the line.

She shows us how everything is now labeled and double-covered to keep inspectors happy and customers healthy.

Darcy: It’s about food safety.

Angela: Yeah, food safety. Right. It’s very serious. Oh, my god. (she pauses to swat away a fly buzzing around her face.)

Darcy: You don’t want a fly in here, do you?

Beef contaminated with E. coli caught before leaving Montana meat plant

Livestock officials say an equipment malfunction allowed E. coli to survive in beef at a Montana meat plant.

carcass.cow.cleanMeat Inspection Bureau Chief Gary Hamel will report to the Board of Livestock on Monday that contaminated ground beef was identified during a weekly sampling in early June and destroyed. He says none of it was shipped to consumers.

Hamel says a water machine used to clean cow carcasses at the facility was clogged and could not reach a high enough temperature to kill pathogens.

The machine was fixed and the bureau increased inspections at that facility.

UK minister says cut food safety audits

George Eustice, DEFRA’s newly appointed Minister of State, told the British Meat Processors Association’s annual conference in London that  meat manufacturers – and food businesses at large – must be freed from the “burden” of audits.

Eustice argues the need for fewer audits was one of the key findings to come out of Professor Chris Elliott’s report into 2013 horsemeat scandal. By the end of 2015 the government hopes to have finalised a strategy that paves the way for fewer inspections from both retailers and government agencies.

audit.checklistBut could it backfire?

Consumer trust in food safety is at an all time low

Thanks to wholesale media coverage of some notable cases of food fraud and breaches of food safety, we are living in an age of major consumer scepticism. The public wants to see tighter regulations on the food industry and it’s easy to see how the call for reduced audits could be perceived as a step backwards, not forwards.

It’s a stance that’s difficult to begrudge. Little has been done to ratchet-up traceability and safety measures since horsegate.

One thing that most food businesses agree on is the need for food safety procedures to be more streamlined. Paper-based checks are easy to falsify, annoying to complete and time-consuming to review. Eustice appeared to recognise as much when he noted that a greater use of technology must be central to any plans to reduce the incidence of audits.

Any government strategy to remove unnecessary burdens from food businesses will be warmly received. But food businesses must remember their obligation of safety to the end consumer. Technology that offers cloud integration presents the opportunity for food businesses to share safety data with one another on an open platform, paving the way towards transparent food chains.

Inspections and audits are not synonymous with safety. Beyond sharing data amongst companies, share it with everyone – especially consumers.

Three years ago, a group of us came out with a paper we could all (mostly) agree with and got it published. The main points were:

  • food safety audits and inspections are a key component of the nation’s food safety system and their use will expand in the future, for both domestic and imported foodstuffs., but recent failures can be emotionally, physically and financially devastating to the victims and the businesses involved;
  • many outbreaks involve firms that have had their food production systems verified and received acceptable ratings from food safety auditors or government inspectors;
  • while inspectors and auditors play an active role in overseeing compliance, the burden for food safety lies primarily with food producers;
  • there are lots of limitations with audits and inspections, just like with restaurants inspections, but with an estimated 48 million sick each year in the U.S., the question should be, how best to improve food safety?
  • audit reports are only useful if the purchaser or food producer reviews the results, understands the risks addressed by the standards and makes risk-reduction decisions based on the results;
  • sunnybrook-auditorthere appears to be a disconnect between what auditors provide (a snapshot) and what buyers believe they are doing (a full verification or certification of product and process);
  • third-party audits are only one performance indicator and need to be supplemented with microbial testing, second-party audits of suppliers and the in-house capacity to meaningfully assess the results of audits and inspections;
  • companies who blame the auditor or inspector for outbreaks of foodborne illness should also blame themselves;
  • assessing food-handling practices of staff through internal observations, externally-led evaluations, and audit and inspection results can provide indicators of a food safety culture; and,
  • the use of audits to help create, improve, and maintain a genuine food safety culture holds the most promise in preventing foodborne illness and safeguarding public health.

Audits and inspections are never enough: A critique to enhance food safety

30.aug.12

Food Control

D.A. Powell, S. Erdozain, C. Dodd, R. Costa, K. Morley, B.J. Chapman

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713512004409?v=s5

Abstract

Internal and external food safety audits are conducted to assess the safety and quality of food including on-farm production, manufacturing practices, sanitation, and hygiene. Some auditors are direct stakeholders that are employed by food establishments to conduct internal audits, while other auditors may represent the interests of a second-party purchaser or a third-party auditing agency. Some buyers conduct their own audits or additional testing, while some buyers trust the results of third-party audits or inspections. Third-party auditors, however, use various food safety audit standards and most do not have a vested interest in the products being sold. Audits are conducted under a proprietary standard, while food safety inspections are generally conducted within a legal framework. There have been many foodborne illness outbreaks linked to food processors that have passed third-party audits and inspections, raising questions about the utility of both. Supporters argue third-party audits are a way to ensure food safety in an era of dwindling economic resources. Critics contend that while external audits and inspections can be a valuable tool to help ensure safe food, such activities represent only a snapshot in time. This paper identifies limitations of food safety inspections and audits and provides recommendations for strengthening the system, based on developing a strong food safety culture, including risk-based verification steps, throughout the food safety system.

Don’t argue with the vet: FSA wins judicial review on safety of carcass

The UK Food Standards Agency has won a Judicial Review brought against it by the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) and Cleveland Meat Company Limited, a slaughterhouse operator based in Stockton on Tees. The two organisations had gone to court in attempt to overturn a ruling by an FSA veterinary contractor that a beef carcase was unfit to enter the food chain.

septicaemiaThe FSA’s Meat Hygiene Inspector had noticed three abscesses in the offal of the carcase, and the Official Veterinarian agreed that the beef was unfit for human consumption due to the likelihood that the animal had been suffering from pyaemia (a form of septicaemia). The food business was then required to dispose of the carcase as animal by-product.

The slaughterhouse owner did not accept this decision and this led to the action by the owner and AIMS to pursue a Judicial Review on the question of whether there is a right of appeal against an Official Veterinarian’s assessment of the fitness of the meat.

The Judge rejected the arguments of AIMS and Cleveland Meats and concluded that the FSA had acted lawfully. He agreed with the stance of the FSA that there was no legal right of appeal on decisions taken about whether meat is fit to enter the food chain after slaughter, which must be taken by Official Veterinarians under European law. In his summary, the Judge pointed out that safety measures like these are in the public interest, and are appropriate for public safety and instilling confidence in meat production.

Rod Ainsworth, Director of Regulatory and Legal Strategy at the FSA, said: ‘It’s very disappointing that AIMS and Cleveland Meats chose to pursue this unnecessary legal action. Our vets make judgements every day about whether meat is suitable to enter the food chain, and they do this based on their professional expertise for the sole purpose of protecting the public. Food businesses may not always like the decisions that are made, but as the failure of this Judicial Review demonstrates, those decisions are not open for debate. The Judge agreed that our staff must be able to take action to ensure food is safe.’