Marketing food safety: Denmark, schnapps and Salmonella

I’ve been a long-time proponent that those farmers, processors and retailers that are really good at microbial food safety should be able to market such evidence directly to consumers.

salm-free-chicken-denmarkThis has nothing to do with food safety being a non-competitive issue, or whatever else industry types claim: It has everything to do with providing a market-based incentive for those in the farm-to-fork food safety system to brag about what they do.

There are good actors, there are bad actors: if trade associations were really concerned about their customers barfing, they’d stop saying everyone cares about food safety and support efforts to make such information readily available at retail.

But such microbiologically-safe claims are only valid with publicly available data: And there’s no such thing as no risk – or no Salmonella.

As that foodborne Salmonella infections in Denmark reached a historic low, some Danish processors are, according to Steve Sayer of, claiming on labels their chicken is Salmonalla-free.

Right, is a retail package containing raw skinless/boneless chicken that was recently purchased in Denmark (DK) Europe.

The labeling on the package is claiming to Danish consumers (where there’s an orange drawing of a chicken within a round circle): “Dansk Salmonelllafri Kylling,” when translated means – “Danish salmonella-free chicken.”

The DK packer is Rose Packing that claims their chicken is “salmonella free” on their website.

The long and winding road that the Danes labored to lowering salmonella within their hatcheries, layer hens, broiler chickens and eggs are impressive.

In 2015 a total of 925 salmonella infections were reported among Danes, which is equivalent to 16.2 infected cases per 100,000 inhabitants. This is the lowest number of salmonella infections since 1988, which is the first year from which researchers at the National Food Institute have used data to map the sources of foodborne salmonella infections.

2015 is also the first year since the introduction of the salmonella source account that Danish eggs have not caused illness. There have also been no registered cases of infection due to Danish chicken meat, which has been the case in four of the previous five years.

“The good results regarding Danish eggs and poultry are very encouraging. However, salmonella still constitutes a risk. Therefore it is important to maintain the preventive measures that researchers, governments and industry have jointly implemented over the years to ensure that salmonella is kept out of Danish products,” Senior Scientific Officer Birgitte Helwigh from the National Food Institute says.

Campylobacter continued to be the cause of most of the registered foodborne infections in Denmark in 2015 with 4,348 cases of illness. This represents a 15% increase from 2014 and is the highest number of cases ever recorded.

denmark-chickenImprovements in the reporting system and changes in diagnostic methods mean that more cases of illness are registered than in the past. Therefore it is unclear whether more people actually got a campylobacter infection in 2015 compared to previous years.

In 2015, only 39 foodborne disease outbreaks have been registered. This is the lowest number of outbreaks since a nationwide database for food and waterborne disease outbreaks was established almost ten years ago. A total of 1,233 people have become sick in connection with the 39 outbreaks.

As in previous year norovirus was the leading cause of outbreaks (42%).

This paper is so great, it’s the greatest paper ever: Trump invades peer-reviewed publishing

Wang and Cheng from Nanjing Tech University in China (right, not exactly as shown), call their paper on food safety risk modeling in SpringerPlus, “a great reference for food safety management.”

cheech_and_chong-615781Boasting about academic prowess, at least in the public literature, used to be more subtle.

They have a lot of numerical models about why good people do bad things (to make money) and avoid the simplest solution – market food safety at retail.

But judge for yourself on the quality of so-called scientific scholarship:

In this paper, based on the imbalance of the supply-demand relationship of food, we design a spreading model of food safety risk, which is about from food producers to consumers in the food supply chain. We use theoretical analysis and numerical simulation to describe the supply-demand relationship and government supervision behaviors’ influence on the risk spread of food safety and the behaviors of the food producers and the food retailers.

We also analyze the influence of the awareness of consumer rights protection and the level of legal protection of consumer rights on the risk spread of food safety. This model contributes to the explicit investigation of the influence relationship among supply-demand factors, the regulation behavioral choice of government, the behavioral choice of food supply chain members and food safety risk spread.

And this paper provides a new viewpoint for considering food safety risk spread in the food supply chain, which has a great reference for food safety management.

The conclusion also has some gems:

In this paper, we design a food safety risk spread model from food producer-to-consumer in the food supply chain based on the imbalance of the supply-demand relationship of food. We use theoretical analysis and numerical simulation to describe the

influence and active mechanism of the supply-demand relationship and government supervision behaviors on the risk spread of food safety and the behaviors of the food producers and the food retailers. We also analyze the effect of the awareness of consumer rights protection and the level of legal protection of consumer rights on the risk spread of food safety. The theoretical analysis and numerical simulation result showed that, (1) with the increase in the imbalance of the supply-demand relationship, the risk spread rate of unsafe food appeared the phenomenon of accelerated increasing. Thus stabilize the market supply-demand relationship of food is most important part of government regulatory. (2) the behaviors of government supervision behaviors and strategy choice more significant effect on controlling the risk spread of unsafe food, enhancing the sampling rate of the food retailers, and decreasing the raw material adulteration rate of the food producers. Thus the government should strengthen the many-links supervision of food supply chain. (3) intensifying the awareness of consumer rights protection and enhancing in the level of legal protection of consumer rights effectively decreased the risk spread rate of unsafe food. Thus the government should build effective system of consumer rights protection, and inspire consumer taking legal action to defend their rights and interests when they finding unqualified products. Certainly, this model and numerical simulation also have certain scope of application and limitations, for example the variable design and parameter value selection, and the demand elasticity characteristics of food.

E. coli O26 outbreak linked to Chipotle gets weird – and no one’s talking – but students and faculty still eat there ‘it’s life’ (sad)

It was 50 people confirmed with the outbreak strain of E. coli O26 on Nov. 12, 2015. Yesterday it was 37. one knows why.

As reported on November 6, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control search of the PulseNet database identified one person in Minnesota infected with STEC O26 that has the same DNA fingerprint. This ill person did not eat at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in the week before illness onset. Minnesota’s investigation is ongoing. The illness does not appear to be linked to Chipotle Mexican Grill locations in Washington and Oregon.

CDC and state and local public health partners are continuing laboratory surveillance through PulseNet to identify additional ill persons and to interview them. Updates will be provided when more information is available. Investigators are using whole genome sequencing, an advanced laboratory technique, to get more information about the DNA fingerprint of the germ causing illnesses in Washington, Oregon, and Minnesota.

As reported by The Traveler, for many University of Arkansas students, Chipotle Mexican Grill is life. When students get hungry, they can take a short walk down Dickson Street to get a burrito that pushes the boundaries of how much food can fit in a tortilla wrap.“We have always strived to have the highest standards in the restaurant industry as far as safety goes for our customers and our crew, and we are just going to have continue doing what we do,” said Chris Garrett, store manager at the Dickson Street location. “I cannot predict the future, but all I can say is we have different distributors than the stores in Washington and Oregon did.”

Garrett also stressed the fact that many of the items used at the Dickson Street are locally grown products.

“The majority of our rice, bell peppers, onions, lettuce comes from local resources,” Garrett said.

“Of course avocados – those come from Mexico. There are not a lot of avocado farms around here,” Garrett said.


More WTF? 574 now confirmed sick with Salmonella linked to Foster Farms chicken; 50 new cases in last month in year-long outbreak

Should consumers eat Foster Farms chicken? What’s the take-home message?

Food safety ain’t simple.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported today that as of May 22, 2014, a total of 574 individuals infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg have been reported from 27 states and Puerto Rico since March 1, 2013. Most of the ill persons (77%) have been reported from California. Since the last update on April 9, 2014, a total of 50 new ill persons have been reported from 8 states.

borat.chickenAmong 478 persons with available information, 178 (37%) reported being hospitalized. Thirteen percent of ill persons have developed blood infections as a result of their illness. Typically, approximately 5% of persons ill with Salmonella infections develop blood infections. No deaths have been reported.

That was the context of a chat I had with Jonel Aleccia of NBC News at 7 a.m. (reporters, students, others, have no trouble finding me; university administrators seem baffled while touting global initiatives).

Her basic question was, since the company and government have had over a year to get this under control and can’t, should consumers stop buying chicken from Foster Farms?

“It is ridiculous that this has been going on for a year,” Powell told NBC News. “This is a virulent pathogen that they can’t seem to get rid of.”

Consumers should vote with their wallets and patronize poultry producers with good track records free of reports of foodborne illness.

But I know that answer has huge limitations. As does every other answer to that seemingly basic question.

Salmonella is out there, and it needs to be reduced. That this outbreak continues, and that 37 per cent of victims have been hospitalized, tells me there are some large loads going in or multiplying in those Foster Farm plants.

The company has pulled out the usual lines like, cook poultry, and people get sick more in the summer because they BBQ more.

Foster-Farms-Chicken-BreastI BBQed year round in the Canadian snow.

The beef folks used to use this line, until it was pointed out that maybe more people get sick in the heat of summer months because the microbial loads on the farm and in the slaughterhouse are larger, and require more vigilant controls.

Just cook it doesn’t cut it; fails to account for cross-contamination.

Consumers have no idea what the safety records are of various producers because most of us just want to go shopping and make dinner. Foster Farms keeps saying things like, “With each set of sampling, Foster Farms has demonstrated a significant improvement in Salmonella control.”

That’s fabulous. Make the data public so others can assess its veracity.

Does Foster Farms pack under other names or generics? How would a consumer know? Organic and local isn’t safer, and can be worse regarding Salmonella.

But back to that original question: should consumers stop buying Foster Farms chicken?

The only way anyone can answer that question is full public access to data, and to market microbial food safety at retail: some companies are better, they should brag about it, based on real data.

Then consumers can choose.

Food fraud: If verification is now standard, why isn’t it marketed at retail so consumers know?

Almost a year later, can we be confident that the beef burger is a horse-free foodstuff, asks Alison Healy in The Irish Times.

Every week seems to bring new scares: if it’s not fox masquerading as donkey meat in China, it’s the discovery of donkey, water buffalo and goat in sausages and burgers in o-HORSE-MEAT-COSTUME-570South Africa.

The chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, Alan Reilly, believes burgers and processed-meat products have never been safer, because of the range of tests and regulations that have been introduced in response to the scandal.

“The industry will never be caught on the hop again, like it was with horse meat,” he says. Laboratory certification has become standard for anyone selling or buying meat, and testing the authenticity of meat products is the industry norm now. “So from a consumer perspective, that’s a hugely positive step.”

Both ABP and Tesco Ireland point to a range of tests and standards they have introduced to ensure that a meat-contamination scandal cannot happen again. ABP says it believes it has the most comprehensive testing regime of any European meat processor, including DNA testing of cattle and a strict supplier-approval process.

Tesco Ireland says it now has a world-class traceability and DNA-testing system across its food products. “The initial focus of our testing programme was on products containing beef, but things have evolved during the course of the year to include pork, lamb, chicken, fish and processed meats,” a spokesman says.

Tesco is also looking at ways of using tests to help identify the likely origin of some products. “For example, it can be very difficult to identify the provenance of products such horse-hamburgeras olive oil, rice or coffee by sight, smell and taste alone. Using our authenticity testing, which looks closely at the chemical make-up of a product, we can verify that what is in the pack is exactly what it says on the label.”

That’s all nice, but consumers have heard all this before, only to be eventually disappointed.. Over time, or bad economics, or both, someone will cut corners. The best producers should be marketing the authenticity of their products and make the testing to validate those claims available for public review.

Food safety frontlines fruit and veggies edition; baby steps in marketing food safety?

Produce accounts for 46% of the estimated 48 million foodborne illnesses reported annually by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Leafy greens account are estimated to account for 41% of the produce-related illnesses.

With piles of fresh strawberries beckoning consumers at markets and stores this season, an alliance of a retailer, fruit growers and farm workers has strawberrybegun a program to promote healthy produce and improve working conditions.

Stephanie Strom and Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times report under Oxfam America’s Equitable Food Initiative, unfolding along neatly planted rows of berries at the Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce’s Sierra Farm in Moss Landing, Calif., is an effort to prevent the types of bacterial outbreaks of salmonella, listeria or E. coli that have sickened consumers who ate contaminated cantaloupes, spinach or other produce.

One of the workers, Valentin Esteban, is on the front lines of the new effort, having gone through a training program that helps him avoid practices that lead to possible bacterial contamination that could undermine the safety and quality of the strawberries he picks.

In exchange, Andrew & Williamson is providing Mr. Esteban better pay and working conditions than many migrant farmworkers receive, a base pay of $9.05 an hour versus the $8 average in the area.

With Andrew & Williamson the first grower to participate, berries sold under the label “Limited Edition,” would carry certification to inform consumers that food safety protocols had been followed and that the workers who harvested the crop were treated fairly.

With Andrew & Williamson paying higher wages than almost all its competitors, the participants in the program hope that the promise of better-quality, safer fruit and better conditions for workers will entice distributors, retailers and consumers to pay a little more, too.

Costco has agreed to play a major part and pay a little extra for the berries once they are certified.

“Who is it that’s delivering the result — safer, higher-quality berries? Those workers,” said Jeff Lyons, the company’s senior vice president for fresh foods. “So yes, I’m willing to pay more, so long as the certification really means something.”

Ernie Farley, a partner of Andrew & Williamson, pointed to the important role that farm workers play. “This program means that instead of one auditor
lettuce.harvestcoming around once in a while to check on things, we have 400 auditors on the job all the time.”

In the past, workers had little incentive to report safety problems. They were paid at a piece rate, seeking to fill their boxes as fast as they could, and taking even 10 minutes to report a safety problem would in effect reduce their pay. One manager said that if workers spotted animal feces in an area where ripe strawberries were ready to be plucked, they might have still simply picked those berries.

Pedro Sanchez, a farmworker, said he liked that the program encouraged pickers to tell supervisors about any safety issues in the fields. And now they know their above-average pay is also tied to the success of this food safety initiative.

Before the initiative, “we didn’t have any system for dealing with things like when we found deer droppings in the field,” said Jorge Piseno, one of the farm workers’ representatives who is part of the project’s worker-management leadership. “Now I know if we find a dead animal or animal waste, we should put up a six-foot perimeter to quarantine the area.”

Alex Malone, director quality assurance for Yum Brand’s Taco Bell Corp., Irvine, Calif., has, according to Jody Shee of The Packer, taken Taco Bell beyond industry standards in order to mitigate risk, which he said begins with frequent, repetitive training that includes senior management, supervisors, crew leads, irrigation workers and harvest crew.

In the past few years, Taco Bell has increased standard field testing from the required 60 samples per 10 acres to 60 samples per acre, and in a more thorough zigzag pattern than the standard “Z” pattern, which assures
lettucegreater field coverage and that the high-risk four borders are sampled at all times, he said.

Rather than just sample one lettuce leaf, per normal procedures, Taco Bell now requires sampling of the inner, outer and wrapper lettuce leaves.

In the processing plant, the company has upgraded chlorination requirements to include continuous measurement of chlorine levels and auto-inject from multiple injection points. An auto-stop is required if the chlorine amount falls below a certain level, and full submersion of all produce in the flume is required to assure 100% chlorination.

All this requires working with suppliers.

“This is essential. If we don’t work together, people are going to get sick,” Malone said, noting he encourages company officials to join him in looking at these and other higher standards as an insurance policy.

XL sucks; Companies have primary responsibility for food safety. Without that, we’re all screwed

The feds are doing a lot of chest-thumping as the XL slaughterhouse in Alberta struggles to reopen, what with 17 now sick from E. coli O157:H7 linked to beef from the plant.

Such behavior is absolutely expected, because the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has to do something publicly to convince Canadians they are on the ball, so they, and everyone else can go back to sleep.

Why these deficiencies were never noticed by the 40 inspectors and six veterinarians at the plant until people started getting sick – and even then it took days if not weeks for the system to kick in – has never been adequately explained.

Never will be.

The delays in reporting the listeria-in-Maple-Leaf cold cuts in 2008 that killed 23 Canadians generated a similar response. Why the same Minister is still responsible for the same CFIA, and why the union still says the solution is more inspectors speaks only to the rise of mediocrity in Canada.

According to a CFIA statement, On October 29, 2012, Establishment 38, XL Foods Inc., resumed slaughter activities and operations under enhanced CFIA surveillance and increased testing protocols.

Over the course of the first week of operations, the CFIA determined that the establishment’s overall food safety controls were being effectively managed.

As would be expected in a facility that has not been in regular operation for some time, there have been some observations made by CFIA that resulted in the CFIA issuing new Corrective Action Requests (CARs) to XL Foods Inc. since the plant reopened. These observations included:

• condensation on pipes in the tripe room;

• water in a sanitizer was not maintained at a high temperature;

• meat cutting areas were not adequately cleaned; and,

• no sanitizing chemical solution in the mats used for cleaning employees’ boots.

The CFIA instructed plant management to take immediate action to address these concerns, including the following:

Potentially contaminated product was sent for rendering.

Sanitizers were brought into compliance immediately.

The meat cutting area was cleaned and sanitized.

Boot mats were supplied with sanitizer.

My comments are: why wasn’t potentially contaminated product dumped in a landfill like the other meat and how is that decision made between rendering and dump; were sanitizers ever in compliance and why did no one notice; was the meat cutting area ever clean, and did boot mats ever have sanitizer?

As reported in Canadian Business, “Companies have the primary responsibility for food safety,” says Rick Holley, a professor of food science at the University of Manitoba. “Without that, we’re all screwed.”

To reduce the chances of another XL debacle, the solution isn’t more inspectors or better processes. Instead, the meat industry needs to do the one thing it has so far avoided: talk openly and publicly about the manufacturing process. In short, it’s time for them to show us how the sausage is made.

Doug Powell, a food scientist and professor at Kansas State University has simple advice to food producers: “Provide information to consumers so that they can choose and reward those companies with good food-safety practices.” Consumers who currently want to select a package of ground beef at a grocery store based on which producer is safest are out of luck. Some meat products, such as chicken breasts, feature brand names like Maple Leaf, but for others it’s unclear where they were actually produced.

Compare that to the restaurant industry. Many municipal governments have instituted a report-card system so patrons can gauge a restaurant’s safety record before deciding where to dine. Before buying meat at a grocery store, safety-conscious consumers should be able to go to a producer’s website to learn about the risks associated with the products, what the company does to mitigate those risks, where mistakes have been made in the past, and how they’ve been rectified. Companies can essentially use safety as a competitive advantage. “I would argue food safety is a pretty good money-maker,” Powell says.

Consider how corporations in other sectors have differentiated themselves by trumpeting their dedication to safety. Volvo advertised its safety record more aggressively in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s when the government instituted stricter automobile regulations. “It shouldn’t take an act of Congress to make cars safe” was one memorable tag line. Newspaper ads detailed how the company installed seat belts and padded dashboards years before it became mandatory, and explained how Volvo continued to exceed government standards. There is arguably even more opportunity now for a food producer to stand out than there was for Volvo decades ago. A whole variety of factors influence car-buying decisions. When consumers buy ground beef, however, they might consider price, but that’s it. Drawing attention to safety is one way to differentiate your product.

Opening up is risky, naturally, and no company is enthusiastic about challenging the status quo. So meat processors have remained steadfastly opaque, both here and in the U.S., Powell says.

Restaurateurs willing to pay more for safer fresh produce

It’s difficult to predict how individuals and organizations will actually react (I’m suspicious of self-reported surveys) but at the PMA foodservice expo the below data was released suggesting that  89% of 510 surveyed restaurant operators would be "willing to pay more for guaranteed-safe fresh fruits, vegetables and leafy greens".

From the press release:

Restaurateurs are willing to pay more for produce that is guaranteed to be safe, according to research unveiled here Saturday during the Produce Marketing Association’s annual Foodservice Conference & Exposition.

Traceability even made it into the discussion:

More than three-fourths, or 76 percent, of the restaurant owners or restaurant purchasing agents interviewed in a nationwide phone survey in April and 10 chain purchasing executives interviewed in June said they would be willing to pay more for produce that was traceable from the farm to the restaurant to enable quicker action when contamination is discovered.

Marketing fresh produce food safety, where producers or wholesalers tell the story of employing GAPs, release data on their sampling strategies and tell folks why what they do is so important is the next step. Don’t just stop at the downstream buyers like retailers and foodservice, go right to the consumer.

Calls for mandatory government inspection is akin to mandatory restaurant inspection — it sets a bare minimum standard, is a snapshot in time, and has little to do with future outbreaks of food poisoning.
Rules and regulations look pretty on paper. But they are not comforting to those 76 million Americans who get sick from the food and water they consume each and every year. Instead, every grower, packer, distributor, retailer and consumer needs to adopt a culture that actually values safe food.

And market it. Tell the world, put all the information on your website. Tweet what you’re doing. Put up webcams.

The caveat is that you have to be able to back it up — that you are employing the best available science and management strategies to reduce risk.

The first company that can assure consumers they aren’t eating poop on fresh produce, will make millions and capture markets.

Valley Meats ground beef recalled due to E. coli

Almost 100,000 pounds of ground beef are being recalled today after an epidemiological investigation linked E. coli O157:H7 infections in three states to the products.

The meat—sold frozen as ground beef, chopped steak, and pre-formed patties—was produced by Valley Meats LLC of Coal Valley, Illinois, on March 10, 2009 and distributed to various consignees nationwide.

A USDA FSIS press release states,

“The problem was discovered through an epidemiological investigation of illnesses. On May 13, 2009, FSIS was informed by the Ohio Department of Health of a cluster of
E. coli O157:H7 infections. Illnesses have been reported in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.”

The pathogen, found in the poop of warm-blooded animals, can be killed with sufficient heat

However, as the president and chief executive of the American Frozen Food Institute, Kraig R. Naasz, stated today in a letter to the editor of the New York Times,

“While food safety is a shared responsibility among food producers, government agencies and consumers, we recognize that the primary responsibility rests with food producers. Providing consumers with safe and nutritious products is a responsibility frozen food producers stake their names and reputations on.”

The letter was written in response to the Times’ May 15 article on frozen entrees, which Naasz felt did not “fully depict the frozen food industry’s commitment to product safety.”

With the name and reputation of Valley Meats on the line, will they be able to demonstrate a similar commitment to the safety of food? As the data on those sickened by Valley Meats’ products are released, it’s likely we’ll find out.

The sucess of perceived safety as seen in kosher foods

A recent survey by Mintel found that Americans choose to buy kosher foods because of perceptions of quality (62%), healthfulness (51%), and safety (34%) over religious reasons.

Similar trends have also been seen in the UK and Canada.

Krista Faron, a senior new product analyst at Mintel, was quoted by as saying,

“Particularly in the recent past, Americans have been overwhelmed by food safety scares. People are very concerned and having some certification on the foods they buy can appease some of those fears.”

She also explained where many consumers find that comfort.

“The presence of the kosher mark itself suggests that there is [an inspection] process in place. It is all about consumer perception that there is some sort of formalized methodology…My sense is that consumers probably couldn’t tell us what kosher meant, but the kosher mark is reassuring,” she said.

While kosher processing meets certain religious standards, there is no scientific basis for the perception of heightened safety. Imagine, then, what the marketing of actual food safety measures within a company could do for business.

Since a Mintel report in December 2007, kosher has continued to be the number one individual claim for new American food products.

"Microbiologically safe" could blast it out of the water.