‘Selling produce for over 20 years with never a Salmonella to be seen’ Shoppers go local in outbreaks

With one dead and almost 300 sick from Salmonella in cucumbers from Mexico, the buy local refrain is once again trumped as the solution to food safety woes.

animal.house.cucumberSorta easy to do in North America at the end of summer.

Sweet Water Nursery owner Tom Karakalos and his wife farm their food just seven miles west of Creswell in Oregon. They say they take pride in their organic and uncontaminated product, especially in the midst of this Salmonella outbreak.

“It’s never been a problem for us,” says Erica Trappe. “We’ve been selling produce for over 20 years with never a Salmonella to be seen.”

Maybe their bacteria-sensing goggles are fuzzy.

Customers John and Olivia O’Hare are taking action by only shopping local-. They say they’re avoiding the potential of contaminated produce.
“Who knows what’s on it,” says John O’Hare. “Who knows what you’re going to be ingesting with the food. I never get that aspect here.”

Unless the outbreak is local. And that happens too.


Nosestretcher alert: eating locally helps prevent foodborne illness?

The Globe and Mail, based in Toronto and self-proclaimed public record of all thing Canadian, used to be decent. There are still good people there, and some are my friends.

imagesBut this is just crap.

Jason Tetro, a similarly self-proclaimed microbiologist, writes that the first investigations in 2002 focused on comparisons between locally and organically grown foods and those sold in large grocery stores. The results revealed those who chose foods grown closer to home were more likely to have a safer supply with less pesticides, better food quality and, more importantly, less post-harvest handling, which is known to be a significant factor in foodborne infection spread.


By 2010, these differences were solidified as being the basis for better microbiological quality in local foods. Researchers searched for the reasons behind foodborne outbreaks and found links to several well-known problems associated with large-scale farming. …

The most meaningful comparison for consumers comes in the form of statistics. Outbreaks resulting from large-scale farming continue to grab headlines both in the media and scientific literature. In contrast, only a few outbreaks resulting from eating locally grown food have been recorded. In these rare cases, the problems were the result of a significant environmental change, such as a major rain storm or flood. There were almost no cases of local malpractice leading to infection.

This is bullshit.

The only meaningful comparison, statistically speaking, would be to compare incidence of foodborne illness per capita – on a meal eaten basis.

And then he cites the bullshit clean, cook. chill separate, ideology without the source food from safe sources, from farmers who know what they’re doing bit.

Blame the consumer, Colorado-style: ‘three magic words clean, cook, chill’

Scrubbing cantaloupes with a brush would not have prevented 33 people from dying in 2011 in Colorado, and three from dying in Kentucky in 2012.

Washing produce of any kind is of little effectiveness – although it may make you feel better in a faith-based food safety system —  and that’s cantaloupe.salmonellawhy food safety starts on the farm.

Vicki Carlton, program manager of the Pueblo City-County Health Department’s consumer protection program told The Pueblo Chieftain raw fruits and vegetables are the biggest emerging problems, and that, “Back in the day, you got more locally.”

Like those cantaloupes from Colorado?

Justin Gage, an environmental health specialist with the health department, recommends washing bananas, too, because of bacteria and chemicals that are likely to be on the peel.

Has there been a microbial outbreak of anything associated with bananas?

Now market it; food safety for all, big or small, even in the heartland

It’s somewhat reassuring that wholesalers in the Kansas area have said food safety requirements applies to all, big or small. I applaud such efforts. But unless I read a trade magazine like The Packer, I have no idea what I’m buying when I go get groceries.

Coral Beach reports that wholesalers and retailers in the heart of America can’t keep up with demand for locally grown produce, but a lack of growers isn’t necessarily the problem.

Rather, a lack of growers with adequate food safety programs is the biggest challenge to meeting orders for local produce according to several sources in the central U.S.

The wholesalers and retailers also said there are more local growers they would like to use, but they won’t budge on the food safety requirements.

“Many of them are doing it, they’re just not documenting it,” said Scott Danner, chief operating officer for Liberty Fruit Co., Kansas City, Kan.

Brent Bielski said new local growers seem to be popping up all the time, but as general manager for Greenberg Fruit Co., Omaha, Neb., he just can’t do business with them unless they have food safety plans that include hazard analysis and critical control point measures.

At C&C Produce, North Kansas City, Mo., vice president Nick Conforti said the company requires all its growers to have GAP certification and third-party audits.

“I’d rather miss a sale than be the company that gets someone sick,” Conforti said, adding that the company recently completed a two-day inspection for a BRC global standard food safety audit.

Take the next step; let consumers choose at retail.

Giving thanks to local public health types

The daily grind for health department professionals is underappreciated.

Armchair quarterbacks are quick to point out the failings of health types without recognizing the pressures of a standard epidemiological investigation, along with requirements to test pools, investigate dog bites, and soothe political egos.

As reported by The Daily Courier, Brian Supalla went before the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors Monday (that’s in Arizona) with new food safety regulations expecting a rubber stamp.

Instead, he found himself under fire.

Supalla, county health program manager, was holding a "courtesy public hearing" intended to introduce the board to the 2009 FDA Food Code – safety regulations which the Yavapai County Community Health Services Board of Health wants the supervisors to adopt.

Supalla wasn’t far into his PowerPoint presentation when he mentioned one of the provisions of the new code – that restaurants would not be allowed to offer hamburgers cooked less than well-done on their children’s menus.

He said that’s because kids don’t have well-developed immune systems and are more susceptible to food-borne illnesses.

But Supervisor Chip Davis stopped him. "Do we have a lot of kids getting sick in Yavapai County from eating rare hamburgers?" Davis asked.

"That’s a difficult question to answer," Supalla said, because most people who become ill from contaminated food will never go to a doctor. "In the 15 years I have been with the county, we have never had a death reported to us determined to be associated with food (contamination)," he said.

Supalla went back to his presentation, outlining the changes to be adopted.
When he was finished, Supervisor Carol Springer spoke up.

"I have a real problem with this," she said. "How did all of us manage to survive without health departments?"

With that door open, she began to talk about events like farmers’ markets and chili cook-offs, which are not specifically addressed by the food code changes.

"I think that’s kind of a trend these days, and we’ve had a number of complaints about the health department stepping in," Springer said. "I’m having a real problem with our county health department saying, ‘No, you can’t have this kind of event’ because you’re serving some food product."

Supalla, unprepared for the topic, did his best to answer Springer, but she pressed on.

"I think this is too much government control when you say, ‘You can’t have a salsa contest," she said, referring to Cottonwood’s Old Town Sizzlin’ Salsa competition, which was planned for spring.

"We have not disapproved any requests for a chili cook-off or a salsa competition," Supalla replied. "Every facet of that salsa-tasting complaint, our investigation found, was based on a complete misunderstanding by the event organizers," who were new to the event this year.

Davis called the new regulations "burdensome" and said he didn’t "see the necessity to increase to an additional level of scrutiny on the restaurant business."

We don’t need no stinkin’ regs; Alaska Rep. sponsors bill to do away with most safe food regulations

The Daily News-Miner reports a bill introduced by North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson would do away with much of the state’s safety regulations for food sold directly to consumers in an attempt to grow Alaska’s local food industry and farmers markets.

That has health officials worried. House Bill 202, which was heard in the House Labor and Commerce Committee this week, would remove safety regulations not only for the traditional farmers market fare but also for potentially hazardous foods like seafood, shellfish, poultry, meat, dairy and any other processed foods.
Currently, the Department of Environmental Conservation has no regulations for direct-to-consumer food sales for raw fruits and vegetables, syrup, honey and jam. But the state does have safety regulations on most other processed foods and raw foods where there’s a potential for dangerous bacteria to make it to the consumer.

But Wilson feels that expenses like permits and equipment are stifling the development of local food. Instead, she said the consumer should take responsibility for the food they eat.

“We just think that there’s something called responsibility that is here,” she said during the committee hearing. “I don’t think government is there to keep us safe from absolutely everything, you can’t protect everybody from everything.”

She said, instead, that the state should take an education-based approach to food safety.

Wilson’s bill would require sellers to provide a card that alerts the consumer that “This product has not been inspected by any governmental agency and may be harmful to your health.”

Environmental Health Director Kristin Ryan who testified against the bill’s sweeping changes, said, “People buy food under the assumption that it’s safe to eat. Yes, people should have personal responsibility. But when there’s some clear risk, it’s our responsibility to protect against that risk.”

Australia state urges consumers to report dodgy festive food; notify local councils

 It’s the festive season in Australia, with Big Day Out rolling across the country, and at least one state government is stressing, if you suspect food poisoning, report it.

"Food complaints can provide important information about risks in particular food businesses or food products so it is vital that bad food experiences are reported to prevent sickness from spreading,” said New South Wales (that’s the state where Sydney is) Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson

"NSW consumers have every right to expect that the food they eat is safe and while the vast majority of food businesses do the right thing, people should know that they have a right to complain about threats to their food safety,"

"If you bought food over the Christmas holidays that was unsafe to consume, or you believe made you or a family member unwell, please contact the NSW Food Authority’s helpline.

"Complaints about cafe and restaurant meals can be made directly to your local council which is responsible for inspecting retail food service businesses in their area."

Ms Hodgkinson said on average the NSW Food Authority receives more than 2,000 reports of foodborne illnesses each year. Of those, around a third are investigated further by the Authority. Others are referred to local councils for investigation under the Food Regulation Partnership.

Complaints about food can be about possible contamination of food, food poisoning, illegal sales or serving of food, incorrect or unhygienic food handling, storage, transport and preparation, misleading or incomplete labelling, spoiling of packaged or fresh food and unsuitable or unsafe ingredients.

Food safety xenophobia Italy edition

“Italians love their homegrown products, and this automatically puts them on the safe side of many (food safety) risks.”

That wasn’t some locovore, it was one of Italy’s leading experts on foodborne illness, Antonia Ricci, quoted in an interview with Ilfattoalimentare.it about the Colorado-based listeria-in-cantaloupe outbreak that has killed 29 and sickened 139.

"Beyond the data from a single country, foodborne diseases are on the rise around the world for one simple reason: globalization and industrialization of food industry."

Ricci further says that although there are periodic reports, listeria is not much of a problem in Italy because of public health checks, and, "We [Italians] still do not consume many ready-to-eat foods, especially of plant origin, nor are there many places where food is sold on the street."

Maybe something was lost in translation. Or maybe this is more evidence of food safety perceptions being repeated enough they take on their reality, in the absence of meaningful data.

Thanks to our Italian colleague for forwarding the story and helping with the translation.

Mr. (bathtub) Cheese sickens hundreds with salmonella in Utah

 Food hucksters sell nostalgia. See Michael Pollan on The Colbert Report for a fine example (video only works in the U.S.).

Biking home with Sorenne yesterday from school, a 20-something was walking a Brisbane sidewalk with pallets of strawberries and yelled out, “Want to buy some strawberries?”


He then sold a pallet to the owner of a shoe store.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that some 2,100 Utahns – people who live in Utah, I guess — have been sickened with salmonella from homemade queso fresco.

The Salt Lake Valley Health Department has tracked down one source of the outbreak — an unnamed man dubbed "Mr. Cheese" who was making the product with raw milk and selling it to a Salt Lake City restaurant/deli.

The health department has confirmed that 73 people were sickened with the illness that causes diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain. But they estimate that hundreds more were ill and never reported it to the health department.

"They should not be purchasing food products in shopping center parking lots, [from people] distributing it out of their trunks or door to door," said Royal DeLegge, director of environmental health at the health department. "When you go into a retail setting, a deli or a store, you’re looking for labeling on the products."

The cheese probe took three years, involved a criminal investigator and extended to a fast-food franchise where Mr. Cheese’s wife worked.

People began to get sick in 2009 with Salmonella Newport, and the health department warned people not to buy the Mexican-style soft cheese from unapproved sources. Another 22 Newport cases popped up in 2010. The health department couldn’t find a common cause but heard of a woman selling cheese in a parking lot.

By June this year, another 32 people were sick with the strain. They commonly identified four restaurants and a market, where the local and state health department took samples of their queso fresco and samples from preparation areas. It found a positive DNA match from the cheese in the restaurant/deli.

That’s when the police got involved.

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food had a name of a potential manufacturer of the cheese, who had a criminal past.

A criminal investigator for the county’s District Attorney’s Office put together a photo lineup for the restaurant owner, who identified his queso fresco source and called him "Mr. Cheese."

The health department later learned the man — whom they aren’t naming — made the cheese in his home using raw milk from a Midway dairy that is not authorized to sell raw milk. The man also is not licensed to manufacture cheese.
Food manufacturers are not allowed to produce products in their home because of the risk of contamination from sources such as pets and children.

Mr. Cheese’s wife may have contaminated her workplace with the queso fresco. Four customers and a food handler at four locations of a fast-food chain were sickened this year.

Local food means anything; safe food means no barfing

Sorenne and I started some seeds a few weeks ago (right, exactly as shown), and promptly brought them in during a cold snap, but spring seems to have sprung.

We do OK with the herbs and berries, greens, tomatoes, beans and peas. But I wouldn’t depend on the yields.

Food from my yard is local, but I still take care to control microbial food safety risks (see the 2009 video, below).

Associated Press reports the No. 2 official at the U.S. Agriculture Department recently got a real-life lesson in the loose definition of the trendiest word in groceries: "local."

Walking into her neighborhood grocery store in Washington, Kathleen Merrigan saw a beautiful display of plump strawberries and a sign that said they were local produce. But the package itself said they were grown in California, well over 2,000 miles away.

But what does local mean? Lacking common agreement, sellers capitalizing on the trend occasionally try to fudge the largely unregulated term. Some grocery stores may define local as within a large group of states, while consumers might think it means right in their hometown.

"It’s a sales gimmick," says Allen Swann, a Maryland farmer who became frustrated when he realized a nearby grocery chain was selling peaches and corn from New York and New Jersey as local produce. "They are using the word local because of the economic advantage of using the word local."

Vermont defines "local" as grown within the state or within 30 miles of where it is sold. Massachusetts has similar restrictions for the word "native." And numerous other states have made it easier for local farmers to advertise that their food was produced in-state.

Whole Foods Market says a food cannot be labeled as local unless it traveled to the store in seven or fewer hours by car or truck. Wal-Mart labels produce as local if it is from the same state where it is sold. Supervalu, which operates some Albertsons stores, Jewel-Osco and other supermarket chains, defines local as within regions that can encompass four or five states. Safeway defines local as coming from the same state or a one-day drive from field to store. Many retailers just leave it up to individual store managers.

Whatever local means, and whether it’s better or not, I’ll have fun puttering with my family and make sure it’s safe.