From the duh files: Researchers say zero risk not possible in food safety

There is no such thing as zero risk when it comes to food safety, according to researchers.

Joe Whitworth of Food Safety News, writes researchers Marcel Zwietering, Alberto Garre, Martin Wiedmann and Robert Buchanan presented the study, published in Current Opinion in Food Science, at IAFP Europe.

They defined residual risk as what remains even after a fully compliant food safety system has been implemented. Every product has a residual risk but severity varies because it depends on a variety of factors such as the perspective or consequences.

Researchers gave the example of the risk of Salmonella in chocolate bars assuming contamination of one Salmonella enterica cell per 10,000 of 25,000 bars of 25-grams, and that the company produces 100,000 bars a day. Testing is limited to five samples per day, each sampling unit is a whole bar, and probability of a false negative or false positive is zero.

“The probability of detecting Salmonella in each sampling unit equals 0.01 percent, and the probability of detecting it in the product in a given day is 0.05 percent. In other words, we expect a single positive every 5.5 years. On the basis of this result, it could seem reasonable to conclude that the risk of salmonellosis is insignificant.

“However, a single cell of Salmonella enterica has a probability of causing illness that has been estimated to be 1 case per 400. Therefore, if we consider that 10 bars of the 100,000 daily production contain a single Salmonella enterica cell, the expected number of yearly cases of salmonellosis is 9.125, a value that is certainly not insignificant. Although sampling will rarely show a positive, there is clearly a residual risk.”

Bill Leiss and I wrote a book on this topic, Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk, published in 1997, explicitly stating there is no such thing as zero risk: it’s about maximizing the benefits and minimizing the risks in food safety stuff.

5 ways food companies can protect themselves and customers

Fritz Kriete, chair of the Food Industry Group at McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC, says these are five ways in which companies can protect themselves against food safety issues:risk.mgmt.cycle

  1. Put food safety first. The company culture must revolve around it.
  2. Concentrate on internal communications.
  3. Hire accredited consultants.
  4. Don’t overlook supplied products.
  5. Label clearly.

When it comes to foodborne outbreaks, it’s a matter of taking classic prevention and preparation steps. Do everything you can to keep it from happening, but be ready just in case it does.

Chipotle seen and heard (there’s a lot going on)

As norovirus was confirmed at a Boston-area Chipotle (marking the 5th confirmed outbreak in the past 6 months), Chipotle officials took the airwaves to talk about how they plan on responding.

Phil Wahba of Fortune writes that cases linked to a Cleveland Circle Chipotle have climbed to 120.Chipotle_Brandon.jpeg

Boston College said Wednesday the number of students suffering from symptoms consistent with the Norovirus is now 120, up from an estimate of 30 earlier this week. The school said, “Nearly all cases are related to students who ate at the Chipotle restaurant in Cleveland Circle” last weekend. Chipotle has temporarily closed that location.

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, Chipotle plans on doing some radical things (although they have yet to reveal the details of what their new standards are).

In a presentation to Wall Street analysts at the annual Bernstein Consumer Summit in New York, officials with the Denver-based chain laid out a plan for improving food safety that they contend will put Chipotle 10 to 20 years ahead of industry norms.

“We have this desire to be the safest place to eat,” said Steve Ells, Chipotle chairman, founder and co-CEO.

Meanwhile, Chipotle is investing heavily in food safety with new protocols that will include more testing of fresh produce.

Just as suppliers are asked to meet certain standards under the chain’s Food With Integrity mission, produce suppliers will be held to higher standards in terms of food safety, Ells said.

“There will be robust testing procedures that will need to be in place for all of our suppliers, whether large or small,” he said. “Some of the smaller suppliers might have a hard time implementing these robust testing procedures initially. We’ll help them. Not all will be on board, for sure, but we think most will.”

But, because “it’s impossible to test every tomato,” the chain is taking additional operational steps, Ells said.

For example, Chipotle has begun dicing tomatoes in a commissary, putting them through a “sanitary kill step” to eliminate pathogens, and hermetically sealing them for delivery to restaurants.

I’m interested in what this sanitary kill step is, and what data they have that validates it. Is it a 5- or 7-log reduction kill step? Or a 1- to 2-log reduction one?

The PR world is analyzing Chipotle’s communications reresponse and according to CNBC, they aren’t doing great.

“They’re not going far enough,” Gene Grabowski, who runs the crisis group at kglobal, told CNBC. “They’re not painting pictures with their words,” he said. “They’re still doing too much explaining.”

They aren’t really explaining enough what they actually plan – paint the picture of a company that has a good food safety culture, and implement it.

In related news, Chipotle stocks continue to fall, but have no fear, significant traffic driving initiatives (whatever those are) will bring the people back.

In a report published Wednesday, Sara Senatore of Bernstein maintained a bullish stance on Chipotle’s stock even though she acknowledged that Chipotle’s brand has been “diminished” following the recent E. coli outbreak. However, the analyst noted that once the CDC gives the “all clear,” the company should benefit from “significant traffic driving initiatives.

Senatore said Chipotle is likely to initiate a series of initiatives including an up-tick in “traditional marketing,” including social media outreach and direct mail – which may consist of buy-one-get-one free offers and other discounting that have “proven very effective” for the company in the past. Naturally, these initiatives will result in gross margin pressure in the near term, but margin recovery should “materialize over time” as management realizes efficiencies and benefits from improvements in technology and throughput.

Here’s a significant Traffic driving initiative for you.

Prerequisites for effective official food control in Finland

We studied the prerequisites for official food control and their relation to the quality of controls by using 17 Finnish municipal food control units as our sample. on our results, units invest in creating adequate working conditions through the provision of guidance papers, pre forma templates and possibilities for staff to collectively hold discussions. However, poor orientation, tacit knowledge and incomplete commitment among staff to quality systems remain as challenges in the units. Insufficient human resources and the inability of heads of food control units to recognize problems in the workplace setting may impair the functional capacity of units. Poor workplace atmosphere and weaknesses in organization of work may also be reflected in food businesses operators’ lesser appreciation toward official food controls.

Food Control, Volume 61, March 2016, Pages 172–179

Tiina Läikkö-Rotoa, Janne Lundén, Jaakko Heikkilä, Mari Nevas

Illinois 4-H camp hit with norovirus; makes a good risk management decision

Camping wasn’t a big part of my youth. My mom’s idea of camping (or roughing it as she calls it) was a hotel that didn’t have a working air conditioner.  When I was a teenager we went camping a couple of times and rented a trailer in a campground beside Darien Lake (a Western New York amusement park). Most of my camping time was spent chasing girls around the park and riding roller coasters. I camped a few more times in high school – which really just meant underage drinking in the woods.

And it always rained. XUprZ

Since my teenage years I’ve met many people that had great experiences at the organized extension of my definition of camping – summer camp.

Looking back, I think I missed out.

We plan on sending our boys to overnight camp, likely through 4-H. Through my extension position I’ve had a chance to interact with lots of the camp organizers and I’ve been impressed with what they do for food safety and infection control: It’s not that they never have problems; it’s that they seem to know how to handle things when people get sick.

This management thing and good risk decision making was exemplified by Curt Sinclair, director of a 4-H camp in Illinois. According to The News-Gazette, Sinclair was faced with a difficult decision when a norovirus outbreak hit his camp. With 10 staff and 30 campers ill, he shut down the camp for a week, canceling a session so the site could be cleaned and sanitized and letting the virus run it’s course in the staff.

“I can’t run the camp on Sunday if they’re still contagious,” said Sinclair. “We all need to stay separate. They need to be resting back at home. To run camp would be irresponsible.”

Campers and counselors alike began showing symptoms of the virus — diarrhea, vomiting and general body achiness — early Thursday.

“From about 2 a.m. till 11 a.m. is when we were having most people ill. It ended up being about 10 staff members and then a little over 30 children,” he said.

“The CDC recommends that 48 to 72 hours after you feel better, you should refrain from working in close quarters and in food service,” he said.

“It can spread very rapidly in a group setting with a lot of people. They’re very close, playing with the same hockey sticks,” he said.

“This response to this unfortunate outbreak of a virus is going to reinforce the trust of the public in what we stand for and how we run our operation. It was the right thing to do. (It) will benefit the camp long-term more than if we had tried to wing it somehow,” Sinclair said.

Between the hockey sticks and Sinclair’s response, this sounds like a pretty good camp.

Hawaii school linked to outbreak was warned of cooling practices in September

Relaying a violation or noncompliance on an audit or inspection form to a food business is only useful if they result in system or practice changes. Having some sort of a checklist is fine, but if no one learns from the audit/inspection, problems arise. Ignoring risk factors  highlighted by a verifier is an organizational values problem: the wrong folks are in managerial positions.pinoy-spaghetti-1024x683

According to the Honolulu Star Adviser, something organizational went wrong at Waipahu Elementary in Hawaii and led to foodborne intoxication in 30 kids. Improper cooling and handling of a pasta dish was pointed too by investigators, and a day later health officials revealed that a September 2013 inspection revealed risky practices – the exact same ones thought to cause the outbreak in December.

Health inspectors cited Waipahu Elementary on Sept. 18 for failing to properly reheat food, according to Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo. The violation also had to do with preparing pasta noodles.

The inspection was part of a routine visit that health officials conduct once a semester.
Okubo said the school’s cafeteria staff was told how to correct the situation and instructed to follow proper time and temperature controls.

Less than three months later, more than 30 children and two adults fell ill after eating lunches prepared in the school’s cafeteria. Some 25 students were taken to area hospitals after experiencing dizziness, nausea and vomiting, and feeling clammy and sweaty.

Crises happen: Learn from past incidents and prepare to respond and manage

An outbreak is a nightmare for any company and will most certainly result in real costs to the business. What’s kind of crazy is that these incidents happen weekly and often firms seem like they didn’t think it would happen to them. Companies repeatedly fall into certain pitfalls during a crisis. usually surrounding a statement of “we’ve done the same thing for X years and we’ve never had a problem.” Or “we follow the strictest government regulations.”

That’s not enough.

Public health officials call a produce packer and tell them that a cluster of 60 illnesses has one thing in common—their product. Illnesses have been popping up for weeks, entered into state and national databases, and after a couple of rounds of interviews with the victims (some still hospitalized), statistics and epidemiology point to the packer as the source.

The investigators are on their way to the facility; they would like to see how clean and sanitized the packing lines are, how well the packer’s dump tank chlorinator is working and analyze all transaction documents to determine where all incoming product came from and where it all went.

There are sick children, chatter on Twitter, press inquiries and angry customers looking for refunds. Additionally, all of this happens within 24 hours of the initial call. Within 3 days, the number of linked illnesses triples, lawsuits have been filed and the commodity has become the punch line in late-night talk show monologues.

This is the start of an article that Audrey Kreske, Doug and I co-authored on crisis management where we talk about preparation and response strategies. It’s in the June/July issue of Food Safety Magazine. Check it out here.

Ottawa Lunch Lady to reopen after sickening 54 with Salmonella, mainly kids

The Lunch Lady will resume serving meals to Ottawa schools beginning Monday.

The Ottawa Citizen reports the caterer has been closed for more than two weeks after it was discovered that some meals had been contaminated with salmonella. At least 49 children and five adults had lab-confirmed cases of the stomach bug related to the outbreak, according to the City of Ottawa public health department.

Jonathan Morris, the owner of two Lunch Lady franchises, said since voluntarily shutting down, they’ve undergone new testing procedures at their kitchens and redistributed some of the staff duties. He said the kitchens have been thoroughly sterilized and much of the food has been thrown out.

"This problem was rooted in an individual who made a mistake," said Morris, adding that the staff member has since been let go. He said the fired employee made a "mistake" in the preparation that led to the contamination of the food.

"The beef we received already had salmonella in it, but if the beef had been properly handled it wouldn’t have been issued," he said.

Morris said he feels "bad" that so many children and adults became ill from the food that was sent out to the schools.

But not bad enough to offer a full accounting of what the mistake was.

Morris is offering a variation of the trust us PR approach that usually fails. If one of my kids got sick, or if I was faced with choosing a school meal, I would want to know exactly what went wrong and exactly what has been changed so it wouldn’t happen again. Were the kitchens using meat thermometers to ensure safe temperatures had been reached? What kind of meat storage and prep procedures were followed to minimize cross-contamination? What handwashing procedures are in place and is there any verification such procedures are followed? Basic questions that the Lunch Lady and franchisee Morris seem unwilling to answer.

"My business will survive, but it’s not about me, it’s about those kids," added Morris, who has owned the business for five years. He has a staff of about 25 employees.

Maybe it’s a Canadian thing. Like the 2008 Maple Leaf listeria outbreak, the boss is saying the correct caring things, but that’s of little comfort to those who got sick. Communication needs to be supported with data. People aren’t dumb: explain what happened and what corrective actions are being taken so your commitment to food safety can be accurately assessed, or maybe your business won’t survive.

Crisis management at 40,000 feet

Manhattan (Kansas) to Dallas, Dallas direct to Brisbane, what could be easier. Save hours off the door-to-door travel and bestest of all, no rechecking in at the dreaded Los Angeles International airport.

Four hours later, we’re on the tarmac at LAX.

About 90 minutes into the flight, an elderly woman sitting in the row behind me looked like she had lost consciousness … she looked dead. Stewards were summoned an oxygen was applied. Nothing.

Then a message came from the cockpit that no one on a plane wants to hear: not the, “Do any passengers have experience flying a jumbo jet,” but the other, “Are there any medical professional aboard the flight?”

What looked like a husband and wife time of physicians attended to the woman.

After about 10 minutes she seemed to be revived. They located a bunch of medical papers and medications she was travelling with, and quite professionally brought the woman back from the brink.

But, rather than risk flying the Pacific Ocean, the plane was diverted to LAX and paramedics arrived to take the woman to the hospital. And then we had to go to New Zealand because the crew had reached the legal maximum for hours working (20). So arrangements were made for a new crew and flights in New Zealand to finish the journey to Australia. Hours saved now hours gone.

Up until that point I had been finishing marking final assignments for my food safety risk analysis students, which included a crisis management component. The best producers, processors and retailers are trained and prepared to handle crisis situations.

Later in the flight I spoke with one of the stewards and asked him how much they were prepared for this sort of ting, especially on a schedule 16-hour flight.
He told me they have standard procedures and there is a medical professional on the ground at all times and is the only person who can authorize in-air treatment. So the doctors who happened to be on the place were providing observations and carrying out instructions

I asked the steward how often passengers had died on flights he was working; he gave me a couple of examples.

Stuff happens: be prepared.

Prince: Produce industry has responsibility for food safety

Too much food safety knowledge has been lost in the industry, too many good people have left.

That, or something like it, is what Gale Prince told me the last time we chatted during breakfast at some hotel near Nashville as part of the Bite Me ’09 tour when I asked, why are there so many outbreaks from food firms audited by third parties?

Gale, longtime food safety honcho at Kroger and a past-president of the International Association of Food Protection (it may have been IAMFES back then), told the Texas Food Safety Conference in Austin the U.S. produce industry has “a moral and legal responsibility” to do what’s right for consumers.

“Things that have never been a problem before are now.” Salmonella and allergen identifications have increased. “In 2010, 72 percent (of contamination issues) were related to Salmonella. Allergen incidents have tripled.”

He says 94 percent of produce recalls involve microbiological contaminants with more than 60 percent of those identified as Salmonella. “In the ‘60s, when I started my career, we found Salmonella in eggs. Now it’s common in many products.”

Prince, president of SAGE, a food safety consulting firm, also said,

“Management must be committed to food safety. You cannot delegate your responsibility to regulatory and customs inspections.”

The key for produce companies and producers is “back to basics. Follow good agricultural practices and good manufacturing practices. Know the product and processes and maintain facilities and equipment.

“Don’t take food safety for granted,” he says. “We can’t tolerate complacency in food safety.”