Officials probe cause as dozens sickened after local Ducks Unlimited fundraising dinner

There was this time, I was editor of the Port Colborne New, a weekly broadsheet in 1988.

Katija came from that area.

There was one night, and the only night, me and a bunch of friends did magic mushrooms (which are being considered for medicinal purposes) ran along the waterfront, terrified by nothing, and then went to my home and someone fell through a window.

The primary story I covered in Port Colborne (and yes, I did live in a trailer) was the development of a new port, and how the duck hunters of Ducks Unlimited wanted it stopped.

They lost.

The Free Press in London, Ontario (that’s in Canada, not England) reports that at  least 57 people got sick after attending a recent Ducks Unlimited fundraising dinner in Strathroy, prompting local health officials to investigate a possible case of mass food poisoning..

The Middlesex-London Health Unit received public complaints from people who got sick after attending a sold-out dinner for Strathroy-Caradoc Ducks Unlimited at the Strathroy Portuguese Canadian Club March 30.

“We don’t know the micro-organism yet. We haven’t had lab confirmation of anything yet, but all of their symptoms were gastrointestinal, diarrhea and vomiting. Some had a fever, some had nausea,” said Mary Lou Albanese, the health unit’s infectious disease control team manager.

The reported illnesses prompted a public health inspection of the facility two days later. The inspector found five infractions in the April 1 site visit, including one critical non-compliance issue that had the potential to pose an immediate food-borne illness risk.

The inspector found the facility failed to maintain pest control measures, didn’t have a trained food handler supervising the kitchen and didn’t ensure utensils, equipment and facilities were cleaned and sanitized. The inspector’s report also found the dishwasher wasn’t designed or maintained to ensure utensils are sanitized and the kitchen’s walls and ceilings weren’t kept clean and in good repair.

The inspector issued three remediation actions to the club, including implementing food handler education for its employees.

The facility was given a passing grade by health inspectors.

In a statement, Strathroy-Caradoc Ducks Unlimited said they’re “devastated” people fell ill at their fundraiser.

“Our thoughts go out to those affected and the families who are dealing with this unfortunate situation,” the group said.


Rust never sleeps.

Organic crap gets crappier

One of the reasons I don’t buy organic – besides being on a professor’s salary, which I have no complaints about but I’m certainly not going to waste it on organic – is that the so-called claims and rules are followed about as thoroughly as Peanut Corporation of America can pass an audit and end up having 4,000 products recalled because Salmonella makes people barf. Every time someone says, “Organic has strict rules for composting …” I chuckle and wonder about verification.

The Washington Post reports this morning what many have been saying for over a decade – that the sham of organics would eventually be found out.

Three years ago, U.S. Department of Agriculture employees determined that synthetic additives in organic baby formula violated federal standards and should be banned from a product carrying the federal organic label. Today the same additives, purported to boost brainpower and vision, can be found in 90 percent of organic baby formula.

Grated organic cheese, for example, contains wood starch to prevent clumping. Organic beer can be made from non-organic hops. Organic mock duck contains a synthetic ingredient that gives it an authentic, stringy texture.

Relaxation of the federal standards, and an explosion of consumer demand, have helped push the organics market into a $23 billion-a-year business, the fastest growing segment of the food industry. Half of the country’s adults say they buy organic food often or sometimes, according to a survey last year by the Harvard School of Public Health.

But the USDA program’s shortcomings mean that consumers, who at times must pay twice as much for organic products, are not always getting what they expect: foods without pesticides and other chemicals, produced in a way that is gentle to the environment.

The argument is not over whether the non-organics pose a health threat, but whether they weaken the integrity of the federal organic label.

Don’t care about a label. I’m more interested in food that doesn’t make people barf. As far as baby food, I don’t feed any of that organic crap to baby Sorenne, although making such a statement is essentially an invitation to family services to check out my terrible parenting techniques.

My colleague Katija Blaine covered this thoroughly back in 2003.

An episode of the popular U.S. television show, 20/20 in 2000, sparked a fierce debate over the microbial safety of organically grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Are organic foods safer than conventional foods? On the show, correspondent John Stossel concluded that organic produce was no safer than conventional produce and might in fact be more dangerous because of the heavy use of manure in organic farming (Ruterberg & Barringer, 2000). Such statements have been supported by several prominent food scientists (Tauxe, 1997; Forrer et al., 2000) while the organic industry has argued that their strict standards on manure usage reduces such risks (DiMatteo, 1997). The organic industry has refrained from making direct claims of improved microbial food safety. Katherine DiMatteo, president of the Organic Trade Association has stated publicly that "Organic is not a food safety claim" (Juday, 2000)

According to the most recent expert report from the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT, 2002) "the available scientific information is insufficient to ensure that food-borne pathogens are killed during composting and soil application."

Since organic growers already have a certification and inspection system, the CGSB organic standards could be expanded to better incorporate food safety concerns. Specific additions would include ensuring adequate facilities and training to ensure worker hygiene and recommendations for processing and processing water. The documentation, monitoring and regulation of high-risk inputs give organic growers a head start over conventional growers who may be trying to implement an on-farm food safety system from scratch. It is also the responsibility of food producers to use knowledge to aggressively reduce the risk of food and waterborne illness, whether conventional or organic or somewhere in between. And with both conventional and organic systems, verification through microbial testing is required to demonstrate that actions match words.
This is not about organic and conventional. Food safety goes far beyond ideology. As has been stated elsewhere, poor farming and processing practices are the product of poor farmers and processors.

As I said in 2007, the production of safe food is the responsibility of everyone in the farm-to-fork chain — conventional or organic — and food safety, especially with fresh produce, must begin on the farm.


Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB). 1999. Organic Agriculture. National Standard of Canada. CGSB. CAN/CGSB-32.310-99.

DiMatteo KT. 1997. Does Organic Gardening Foster Foodborne Pathogens? To the Editor. JAMA. 277(21):1679-80.

Juday D. 2000. Are organic foods really better for you? Natural grown killers in organic food make it no safer than produce grown in pesticides. BridgeNews Service (Knight Ridder) February, 14.

Ruterberd J and Barringer F. 2000. Apology highlights ABC reporter’s contrarian image. The New York Times August 14. C1.

Tauxe RV. 1997. Does Organic Gardening Foster Foodborne Pathogens? In Reply. JAMA. 277(21):1679-80.

Bastards, bullshit and babies

I’m gonna drop the Food Safety Network name.

Just doesn’t seem to fit anymore.

Too many hacks and posers.

I started sending out news shortly after I began my PhD in 1993. Jack-in-the-Box had just happened, Al Gore hadn’t invented the Internet yet, but I was plugged in through the various twists and turns of life, and started sharing stories — in real time —  with my science-geek colleagues.

They seemed to like it, and research confirmed it was useful.

In 1993, food safety types were conditioned to reading about outbreak investigations when CDC’s MMWR arrived in the mail six months later. That’s still way faster than the Canadian government types write up any outbreak investigation.

I originally called the news distribution the Food Safety Network cause network was sorta new. Sure, it seems dated now, but at the time, we rocked. Now, it just rolls.

The whole idea of calling my lab the Food Safety Network rests with Lester Crawford. I wanted to create a group modeling Georgetown University’s Center for Food and Nutrition Policy (which has since moved). Lester spent a couple of days in Guelph, and told me, whatever you do, make it bigger than yourself. No one cares about Doug Powell’s lab. So give it a name. And bring in others.

So I did.

Unfortunately, due largely to my unfailing optimism, others went for the short game. In the spirit of open and honest collaboration, the University of Guelph went and trademarked Food Safety Network in Canada the day I resigned — and didn’t bother to tell anybody. Then they scooped up whatever money was left to cover the deficit in their paper clip fund.

The actions of so many have been small and petty. But there have always been a few that make it worthwhile.

Katija Blaine and Ben Chapman have both been with me in various capacities since 1999. Still are. We’ve traveled the various minefields of genetically engineered sweet corn and on-farm food safety programs for fresh produce, and now we’re all having babies.

Katija was first up on Saturday, delivering Cormac (right). Congrats to Katija and Jeff.

Ben and Dani and due in Sept.

And me — forever trying to hang out with the cool kids — me and Amy are due the end of November.

Got no time for posers.