Maggots top NZ food complaints

Gingerbread wriggling with maggots, a sausage roll growing fuzz on it, a salmonella outbreak and the sale of four-year-old frozen oysters were among bought food complaints the Ministry of Primary Industries dealt with from Whangarei in the past three years.

sausage rollOf a dozen complaints in that period, there were four last year and only one this year.

One 2013 incident involved 11 food poisoning cases traced to contaminated butter, rather than an on-site food handling breach, at an undisclosed Whangarei outlet.

But with the season now here for sharing meals, cooking outdoors and carrying food over distances, authorities are warning people to maintain safe handling practices.

Most food poisoning cases stem from food prepared at home, not in the commercial sector, Whangarei District Council regulatory services manager Grant Couchman said.


C.J. Jacob and D.A. Powell. 2009. Where does foodborne illness happen—in the home, at foodservice, or elsewhere—and does it matter? Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. November 2009, 6(9): 1121-1123

Foodservice professionals, politicians, and the media are often cited making claims as to which locations most often expose consumers to foodborne pathogens. Many times, it is implied that most foodborne illnesses originate from food consumed where dishes are prepared to order, such as restaurants or in private homes. The manner in which the question is posed and answered frequently reveals a speculative bias that either favors homemade or foodservice meals as the most common source of foodborne pathogens. Many answers have little or no scientific grounding, while others use data compiled by passive surveillance systems. Current surveillance systems focus on the place where food is consumed rather than the point where food is contaminated. Rather than focusing on the location of consumption—and blaming consumers and others—analysis of the steps leading to foodborne illness should center on the causes of contamination in a complex farm-to-fork food safety system.

Enhancing food safety culture to reduce rates of foodborne illness

Snappy title, eh? But not bad for a peer-reviewed journal article in Food Control that was published on-line today ahead of print publication.

Almost two decades ago, E. coli O157:H7 killed four and sickened hundreds who ate hamburgers at the Jack-in-the-Box fast-food chain in the U.S. and propelled microbial food safety to the forefront of the public agenda. However, it remains a challenge to compel food producers, processors, distributors, retailers, foodservice outlets and home meal preparers to adopt scientifically validated safe food handling behaviors, especially in the absence of an outbreak.

Readers of will be familiar with the details surrounding the three case studies of failures in food safety culture documented in the paper: E. coli O157:H7 linked to John Tudor & Son in Wales in 2005; listeria linked to cold-cuts produced by Maple Leaf Foods of Canada in 2008; and salmonella linked to Peanut Corporation of America in 2009.

But anyone can be a critic, so we offer suggestions to enhance food safety culture, such as food safety storytelling through infosheets (Chapman, et al., 2010). And we end with my usual plea to actively promote food safety efforts, coupling a strong food safety culture with marketing to the world.

We conclude:

Creating a culture of food safety requires application of the best science with the best management and communication systems. It requires commitment by an organization’s leaders, middle managers and food handlers. It also must be supported and demonstrated by sharing information within the organization and with customers. The food safety failures of John Tudor & Sons, Maple Leaf Foods, Inc. and PCA are illustrative of an emerging recognition that the culture of food safety within an organization is a significant risk factor in foodborne illness (Griffith et al., 2010a; Yiannis, 2009).

Individuals focusing on food safety risks within an organization with a good food safety culture:

• know the risks associated with the foods they handle and how those should be managed;
• dedicate resources to evaluating supplier practices;
• stay up-to-date on emerging food safety issues;
• foster a value system within the organization that focuses on avoiding illnesses;
• communicate compelling and relevant messages regarding risk reduction activities and empower others to put them into practice;
• promote effective food safety systems before an incident occurs; and,
• do not blame customers (including commercial buyers and end consumers) when illnesses are linked to their products.

The best food producers, processors, retailers and restaurants should go above and beyond minimal government and auditor standards and sell food safety solutions directly to the public. The best organizations will use their own people to demand ingredients from the best suppliers; use a mixture of encouragement and enforcement to foster a food safety culture; and use technology to be transparent – whether it’s live webcams in the facility or real-time test results on the website – to help restore the shattered trust with the buying public.

I’ll add more as the paper becomes available, and if Chapman has anything witty to add (that takes time).

Enhancing food safety culture to reduce rates of foodborne illness

Douglas A. Powella, Casey J. Jacoba and Benjamin J. Chapmanb,
a Department of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA
b Department of 4-H Youth Development and Family and Consumer Sciences North Carolina State University, Campus Box 7606, Raleigh, NC 27695-7606, USA
Received 2 August 2010;
revised 29 November 2010;
accepted 7 December 2010.
Available online 24 December 2010.

A culture of food safety is built on a set of shared values that operators and their staff follow to produce and provide food in the safest manner. Maintaining a food safety culture means that operators and staff know the risks associated with the products or meals they produce, know why managing the risks is important, and effectively manage those risks in a demonstrable way. In an organization with a good food safety culture, individuals are expected to enact practices that represent the shared value system and point out where others may fail. By using a variety of tools, consequences and incentives, businesses can demonstrate to their staff and customers that they are aware of current food safety issues, that they can learn from others’ mistakes, and that food safety is important within the organization. The three case studies presented in this paper demonstrate that creating a culture of food safety requires application of the best science with the best management and communication systems, including compelling, rapid, relevant, reliable and repeated food safety messages using multiple media.

Keywords: behavior change; foodborne illness; marketing; organizational culture; risk communication

Produce in public: Spinach, safety and public policy

That’s the title of a book chapter that’s just been published and attempts to answer the question: what does it take for farmers, processors and retailers to pay attention to food safety risks – in the absence of an outbreak?

Last week, trade magazine The Packer did a story about Earthbound Farms, the producer of E. coli O157:H7 tainted-spinach in 2006, which quoted president Charles Sweat as saying,

“Now that we are three years beyond that, it’s almost always hard to go back and put our mind where it was in 2005 and 2006 because we know so much more today than we knew then.”

What Ben Chapman, Casey Jacob and I asked in the book chapter is, why didn’t companies like EarthBound know a lot more about microbial food safety before over 200 became ill and four died in 2006?

In October, 1996, a 16-month-old Denver girl drank Smoothie juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc. of Half Moon Bay, California. She died several weeks later; 64 others became ill in several western U.S. states and British Columbia after drinking the same juices, which contained unpasteurized apple cider — and E. coli O157:H7. Investigators believed that some of the apples used to make the cider might have been insufficiently washed after falling to the ground and coming into contact with deer feces (Powell and Leiss, 1997).

Almost 10 years later, on Sept. 14, 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that an outbreak of E. coli O157: H7 had killed a 77-year-old woman and sickened 49 others (United States Food and Drug Administration, 2006). The FDA learned from the Centers for Disease Control and Wisconsin health officials that the outbreak may have been linked to the consumption of produce and identified bagged fresh spinach as a possible cause (Bridges, 2006a).

In the decade between these two watershed outbreaks, almost 500 outbreaks of foodborne illness involving fresh produce were documented, publicized and led to some changes within the industry, yet what author Malcolm Gladwell would call a tipping point — "a point at which a slow gradual change becomes irreversible and then proceeds with gathering pace" ( — in public awareness about produce-associated risks did not happen until the spinach E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in the fall of 2006. At what point did sufficient evidence exist to compel the fresh produce industry to embrace the kind of change the sector has heralded since 2007? And at what point will future evidence be deemed sufficient to initiate change within an industry?

We conclude:

Ultimately, investigators showed that the E. coli O157:H7 was found on a transitional organic spinach field and was the same serotype as that found in a neighboring grass-fed cow-calf operation. These findings, coupled with the public outcry linked to the outbreak and the media coverage, sparked a myriad of changes and initiatives by the industry, government and others. What may never be answered is, why this outbreak at this time? A decade of evidence existed highlighting problems with fresh produce, warning letters were written, yet little was seemingly accomplished. The real challenge for food safety professionals, is to garner support for safe food practices in the absence of an outbreak, to create a culture that values microbiologically safe food, from farm-to-fork, at all times, and not just in the glare of the media spotlight.

Powell, D.A., Jacob, C.J., and Chapman, B. 2009. Produce in public: Spinach, safety and public policy in Microbial Safety of Fresh Produce: Challenges, Perspectives, and Strategies ed. by X. Fan, B.A. Niemira, C.J. Doona, F.E. Feeherry and R.B. Gravani. Blackwell Publishing.