Data not platitudes: market food safety but be able to back it up

I’m all for marketing microbial food safety at retail – directly to consumers – but only if the claims can be backed up with actions and data.

Schnuck Markets is expanding its so-called “Peace of Mind” initiative from pricing to quality assurance with a new website,, that emphasizes the chain’s dedication to quality and food safety.

Supermarket News cites one example on the website, a statement by Schnucks that “it intentionally applies shorter sell-by dates on meats and deli products to ensure products are fresher and last longer once purchased.”

“Through ‘Peace of Mind,’ you will have complete confidence that our foods are of the highest quality,” Schnucks writes on the website.

Quality and safety are seemingly used interchangeably on the website when they are actually two different concepts. The only evidence of food safety I saw on the website was that the company won some big-time award from the International Association for Food Protection in 2009.

I’m all for marketing food safety and providing comprehensive explanations of the food safety efforts of everyone in the farm-to-fork food safety chain, even the provision of testing data; some U.S. slaughterhouses are now doing this. Schnucks is going the right way, but it can be a lot better.

Risks with human breast milk from Internet (or others)

An animal advocacy group wanted Ben and Jerry’s to use human breast milk in its ice cream a couple of years ago, but it sounds like there’s some weirder mommy fetish going on in Canada – so much so that Health Canada warned Canadians yesterday to be aware of the potential health risks associated with consuming human breast milk obtained through the Internet or directly from individuals.

Obtaining human milk from the Internet or directly from individuals raises health concerns because, in most cases, medical information about the milk donors is not known. The Canadian Paediatric Society does not endorse the sharing of unprocessed human milk.

There is a potential risk that the milk may be contaminated with viruses such as HIV or bacteria which can cause food poisoning, such as Staphylococcus aureus.

In addition, traces of substances such as prescription and non-prescription drugs can be transmitted through human milk. Improper hygiene when extracting the milk, as well as improper storage and handling, could also cause the milk to spoil or be contaminated with bacteria and/or viruses that may cause illness.

Breastfeeding promotes optimal infant growth, health and development and is recognized internationally as the best method of feeding infants. However, unprocessed human milk should not be shared.

Internet, porn, Hasslehoff and raw milk

The Internet is good for porn and videos of David Hasslehoff; that’s what the local university radio station says.

There’s this website called The Caveman Diet, that had a post entitled, Can I start giving raw milk to my 7 month old infant?

And the best answer was deemed to be, “wait till he turns 1. It is ok to have raw milk only in cereal in the mornings. At 7 months old he is way too young."

From a microbiological perspective, this is stupid beyond belief. Maybe it works if you thought Baywatch was an accurate depiction of California beach life.

Chapman: How the Web makes cleaner kitchens

With the end of the National Hockey League regular season last night – people in Kansas will have no idea what I am talking abooooout – it’s fitting Canadian Ben Chapman gets top billing in the small market of Raleigh, North Carolina – they used to be the Hartford Whalers – where the Carolina Hurricanes have proven they can suck as bad as the Toronto Maple Leafs.

General Manager Jim Rutherford, from Beeton, Ontario, what went wrong? Is it because Chapman moved to Raleigh?

The Charlotte Observer features Chapman this morning and has a few nosestretchers, beginning by billing Chapman as a molecular biologist: yah, me too, except neither of us has run a gel in the past decade.

Ben Chapman, a molecular biologist (right, sorta as shown, with a lot of photoshop), considers it a distinct honor to publish some of his academic findings on and post scholarly writings in restaurant kitchens.

The N.C. State University assistant professor, who also publishes academic findings in peer-reviewed journals, is a food safety expert. …

Chapman was inspired by flyers posted above urinals in an Ontario sports bar near where he did his graduate work. Then he washed dishes in a university restaurant for three months (nosestretcher alert – it was one month) and learned that food handlers care about celebrities, music and pop culture.

He replaced statistics with narratives and wrapped the information sheet in plastic, because in a kitchen that indicates something is important.

When he posted the information sheets in kitchens where video cameras monitored how often 47 food handlers washed their hands and switched knives after cutting raw chicken, it turned out that "telling stories about foodborne illnesses and the consequences to food handlers makes a difference," he said.

Since he conducted the study and moved to North Carolina, he’s learned about other tools he plans to tap to get his message across – YouTube, mommyblogs and Twitter.

Topeka changes name to Google, Kansas, in bid to win new fiber cables

I’ve been to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Amy and I were driving south through NM on our way to Tuscon, Arizona, and had to pee, so why not in a town that changed its name to honor the NBC radio program in 1950. We stopped in at the local historical society or museum, and were endlessly asked if we were going to stay overnight.

No. Where’s the bathroom.

Topeka, the state capital of Kansas, has changed its name to Google, Kansas, for a month, in hopes to get some new fiber optic cables to replace the stagecoaches.

The unusual move comes as several U.S. cities elbow for a spot in Google’s new "Fiber for Communities" program. The Web giant is going to install new Internet connections in unannounced locations, giving those communities Internet speeds 100 times faster than those elsewhere, with data transfer rates faster than 1 gigabit per second.

As 79-year-old Topeka mayor, Bill Bunten, told CNN, the name change will not be permanent, adding,

"Oh, heavens no, Topeka? We are very proud of our city and Topeka is an Indian word which means ‘a good place to grow potatoes.’ We’re not going to change that."

Do people grow potatoes in Topeka these days?

"I don’t think we grow that many potatoes anymore. The crops we have out here are wheat and corn and soybeans and alfalfa. And, did I say soybeans?"

He’s the first to say outsiders probably view Topeka as "another Midwestern town with not a lot going on," but he’s been making efforts to change that. He’s trying to revitalize downtown with a bar and music scene.

Google would add to all that, making the city more attractive to youngsters, he said.

Now if Manhattan (Kansas) will officially change its name to (Little) Apple, maybe we’ll all get free iPhones.

Are web searches indicators of disease outbreaks? Is Twitter useful?

I’ve tried playing on Twitter, the social networking tool that keeps things self-obsessed and brief, and now that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have weighed in and told me what to think, I agree:

Twitter sucks.

In a related item, researchers from Ottawa and Harvard reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal today that search engine queries of the term "listeriosis" demonstrated a possible signal of the deadly outbreak that killed 20 Canadians a month before the official announcement was made.

Or not.

One of the researchers, John Brownstein of Children’s Hospital Boston, said,

"In the case of listeriosis, as soon as the outbreak was announced we saw people in Canada searching for the word "listeria.’ That’s not surprising. The media drives a lot of people’s search habits on the web."

But searching for the more technical term "listeriosis" began about a month before the public announcement, "and peaked a couple of weeks before."

The researchers don’t know who was doing the early searchers. It could have been food inspection or industry officials investigating the possibility of the outbreak, they say, or queries by family and friends of people diagnosed early.

People were not diagnosed that early, except a couple. Much of the diagnoses came after initial media coverage.

And in another related item, newspapers are dying. But more targeted forms of information are doing okay. People, individuals, are still required to investigate, to probe and to weave disparate data into compelling stories, whether it’s  journalism, public health or science.

People writing on Twitter, “I farted,” does not mean there is an increase in gastrointestinal upsets. People searching the Internet for listeriosis would not have prevented listeria bacteria from accumulating in Maple Leaf slicers and killing people.

Life without Internet

When the residents of South Park awaken to discover they have no Internet service, and eventually determine there’s no Internet to check why there’s no Internet, they begin a Tom Joad-like trek to California, although in this case it’s Silicon Valley.

I was reminded of my own Internet dependence, which became clear during the great Manhattan (Kansas) ice storm of 2007. Or traveling in France last year, aimlessly walking around neighborhoods trying to pick up free Internet (hint, the French password protect everything).

But I wouldn’t trade it for John Adams-era communication, waiting for word of a French alliance to arrive by boat.