Market food safety at retail and show me the data: Science fairs and rockmelon

I judged my first science fair this morning.

I’ve done lots of stuff with schoolkids over the years – food is a wonderful teaching tool – but this was tough.

cantaloupe.salmonellaThere were 10 of us, judging about 180 projects at one elementary school.

Being the newbie, I got the prep (kindergarten) and grade 1s (grade 2 would have been a conflict of interest).

We had score sheets that will be returned to the students, and I thought, how do I evaluate this, I don’t want to crush the investigative soul of a 6-year-old.

It’s fair game to crush the souls of PhD students and other profs through peer-review, but this felt like peer-review for little kids.

I mainly wrote encouraging things and asked questions.

The things kids think of.

We have an awards thingy later tonight, with the all-Aussie sausage sizzle (yes, I will bring my tip-sensitive digital thermometer and use it, because that is the only data that matters when involving food safety), but I wonder if they’ll serve rockmelon (cantaloupe).

Probably not.

They know who I am, and didn’t serve it at the last school function, after 97 were confirmed sick with Salmonella linked to rockmelon from Red Dirt Farms in the Northern Territories of Australia.

But, as is often, public health seems to take a back seat to biz.

Matt Brann of ABC reports that demand for rockmelons has dived following a salmonella scare earlier this month, which was linked to rockmelons from a farm in the Northern Territory.

(It’s not a scare, it’s an outbreak with lots of sick people).

Christian Bloecker is in the middle of his rockmelon harvest in the Kimberley’s Ord Irrigation Scheme, and said fruit was now being left in the paddock.

“There’s nothing as a farmer that you can really do about it, apart from getting the awareness out there that rockmelons from the Ord are beautiful, fresh and safe to eat,” he said.

Then you’re getting bad advice.

Prove everything you do to produce a safe crop. Look at models in California and Colorado.

Market your food safety at retail.

Some growers are better than others. They should be rewarded.

Soundbites are empty when people are sick.

And as I judged the students this morning, it wasn’t about soundbits and show: it was, show me the data.

Show me the data: FSIS to begin posting location-specific food safety data online

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will soon begin sharing new levels of food safety data specific to slaughter and processing facilities in the United States, on

dataThe agency has detailed its framework for releasing this data in its Establishment-Specific Data Release Plan, which the agency anticipates will allow consumers to make more informed choices, motivate individual establishments to improve performance, and lead to industry-wide improvements in food safety by providing better insights into strengths and weaknesses of different practices.

“FSIS’ food safety inspectors collect vast amounts of data at food producing facilities every day, which we analyze on an ongoing basis to detect emerging public health risks and create better policies to prevent foodborne illness,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza. “Consumers want more information about the foods they are purchasing, and sharing these details can give them better insight into food production and inspection, and help them make informed purchasing decisions.”

FSIS employs roughly 7,500 food safety inspectors who work in more than 6,000 meat, poultry and processed egg facilities across the country and more than 120 ports of entry every day. Over the past seven years, the agency has taken an increasingly data-driven approach to identifying and preventing food safety concerns, and the data these men and women collect in regulated facilities every day have made it possible for FSIS to implement significant food safety changes since 2009. More information about these efforts to modernize food safety inspection can be found at Between 2009 and 2015, this work led to a 12 percent drop in foodborne illness associated with FSIS-regulated products.

The new datasets will begin to publish on on a quarterly basis starting 90 days after publication in the Federal Register. Initially, FSIS will share information on the processes used at each facility, giving more detail than is currently listed in the searchable establishment directory, as well as a code for each facility that will make it easier to sort and combine future datasets by facility. Additionally, FSIS will release results for Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) and Salmonella in ready-to-eat (RTE) products and processed egg products.

On a quarterly basis, FSIS will then begin to share other datasets, including results for Shiga Toxin-producing Escherichia coli(STEC) and Salmonella in raw, non-intact beef products; results for Salmonella and Campylobacter in young chickens and young turkeys, comminuted poultry, and chicken parts; routine chemical residue testing data in meat and poultry products; and advanced meat recovery testing data.

Criteria such as data availability and possible impact on public health will be considered by FSIS to determine which datasets are best suited for future public release. User guides that provide context to the data will be included with each dataset.

“This plan is another step toward better engagement with our stakeholders and they will now have quality information on an ongoing basis,” stated USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza.

The Establishment-Specific Data Release Plan was developed in response to the President Obama’s call for increased data sharing and greater transparency under the Open Government Plan by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Beginning in 2010, FSIS consulted with various stakeholder groups, including the National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection Subcommittee on Data Collection, Analysis, and Transparency and the National Research Council on this issue. With the expertise of these organizations, FSIS developed its plan that will not only provide consumers with the opportunity to make more informed choices, but make data publicly available that could yield valuable insights that go beyond the regulatory uses for which the data were collected.


Market microbial food safety: New Australian app to electronically trace meat from paddock to checkout

Developers of a new smartphone application say the app will make it possible to electronically trace livestock from the paddock through the saleyards, abattoirs and eventually the checkout.

star.trek.tricorderThe new software, developed by Aglive and supported by Meat and Livestock Australia, digitally records information throughout the animal’s life, such as on-farm chemicals used and vaccinations.

It is aimed at bolstering Australia’s reputation for food safety.

Aglive director Paul Ryan said most of the information was currently recorded on paper, but using a smartphone or tablet in conjunction with a hand-held scanner would revolutionise the process.

“The problem [right now] is, there is a digital information gap on farms,” Mr Ryan said.

“The quality assurance systems on farms at the moment that are required to allow farmers’ product to enter into domestic and export markets are paper-based.“There is no integrated digital solution to capture and validate the data on farms and allow that data to be shared across the supply chain.”

The next step is to make that information available to consumers. Like the best restaurants, the best producers have nothing to hide and will reveal internal testing results.

Who knows it’s all marketing BS: Where did your egg come from?

Every industry has a few bad eggs. For the egg industry, it was DeCoster Egg Farms. In 2010, DeCoster was harboring foul cages full of sick hens.

egg.dirty.feb.12Those hens laid 550 million eggs tainted with a toxic strain of Salmonella enteritidis, which in turn ended up on grocery store shelves. The eggs were broken into skillets, whisked into mayonnaise, and ended up sickening as many as 6,200 Americans in what would become the largest egg recall in U.S. history. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration quickly passed laws to reform egg safety—but not before consumers had seen the crack in the industry’s veneer.

TEN Ag Tech, a Southern California–based startup aims to take the existential crisis out of your egg purchase. The tech company seeks to keep the egg industry accountable in two ways. First, it offers mobile-based apps that increase transparency on farms by monitoring human behavior—i.e., keeping track of who enters and leaves a hen house. Second, it engraves each individual egg with its own (nontoxic, naturally) gold laser barcode. Input that barcode onto the Naturally Smart Egg website, and you’ll instantly know everything about that egg’s origins: the breed of hen that laid it, the production method that spawned it (cage-free, traditional caged production, or free-range), and the moment it was packed within 180 seconds.

If this is all beginning to sound like a certain Portlandia skit—you know, that one where the couple interrogate their waitress about Colin, the chicken they will be enjoying—then you’re on the right track.

 It’s that, plus data. TEN Ag Tech seeks to “reconnect consumers to the farms that feed them,” according to its website. Since last July, consumers have been buying the company’s Naturally Smart eggs on the shelves of Chicago’s high-end Mariano’s grocery stores, a division of Kroger.

TEN Ag Tech’s vision is not limited to eggs: In February, the company will debut its traceable technology for coffee and meat. The goal is to prevent foodborne illness debacles like the recent outbreaks at fast-casual chain Chipotle. “As monoculture grows, companies like Chipotle are creating alternative realities, fresh food, local foods coming from local places,” says Jonathan Phillips, the company’s president and CEO. “The question is: When you’re dealing with 40,000 farms, how on Earth do you ensure that they’re all producing food for you safely? Our tech begins to solve that problem.”

But when it comes to helping us avoid outbreaks in the first place, this kind of data may be useless, says Ken Anderson, a poultry-extension specialist at North Carolina State University who focuses on egg processing, production, and safety. That’s because in most cases, contamination takes place after the production process, whether in a grocery store, a restaurant, or in your own kitchen. “It’s workers at a grocery store. It’s consumers opening up the egg cartons. It’s people transferring eggs to plastic cartons in their fridge,” says Anderson. “Those little things all add up and add a potential for contamination totally separate from how the eggs were produced.”

What about microbial food safety? Food industry launches phone-based disclosure amid labeling battle

Phillip Brasher of Agri Pulse reports the food industry is launching a smartphone-based system that companies hope will satisfy consumer demands for information about genetically engineered ingredients, livestock production methods and other product attributes. SmartLabel system, which also will allow consumers to find the information on the web as through the phone-based QR code on package labels, is designed in part to address demands for labeling of biotech foods.

“We all have a desire to get the information that consumers want to them,” said Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “We happen to think that electronic disclosure is the very best way to do that.” 

The Hershey Co. will be the first company to adopt the SmartLabel in coming weeks.

Now adapt it for microbial food safety – the things that actually make people sick.

Market it at retail: Food safety marketing helps pave path to success at produce auction

Finding new ways to market the safety and quality of your food is the key to success in the agricultural industry.

produce.cloroxThis is especially true for our small and mid-sized growers who are looking to expand to various outlets. These growers are now turning to produce auctions as a way to sell their food to a wider range of customers such as retail wholesale buyers and farmers markets outside their local communities. 

In a recent trip to the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction in Dayton, Va., I saw approximately 400 growers use this auction to share their bountiful harvest. Taking place several times a year, the largest wholesale auction in Virginia is an excellent alternative market for small growers. Prospective buyers bid intensely to procure large lots of fruits, vegetables, flowers, bedding plants, trees and shrubs, fall decor (pumpkins, mums, gourds), and compost, to name a few.

During the auction, it was exciting to see growers showcasing their commitment to food safety. In fact, the Shenandoah Valley website promotes their growers who are audit certified for Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) as recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Obtaining GAP certification has traditionally been a roadblock for many small farmers; however, the new GroupGAP Pilot Program facilitates the certification process for small and mid-sized growers. The GAP-certified growers can now meet the food safety requirements of wholesale buyers who come to the auction with the promise of offering large contracts.

I took the trip to Dayton with my colleagues from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). This included Associate Administrator Rex Barnes and Specialty Crops Program Associate Deputy Administrator Dr. Melissa Bailey. The AMS Specialty Crops Inspection Division (SCI) performs voluntary GAP audits so they were especially proud to see growers using this service to market their food at the auction.

To date, our SCI Division has performed over 3,800 GAP/GHP audits. Looking to the future, we are excited at the possibility of increasing this number as we implement the GroupGAP Program later this spring. This program will allow growers to work together to get certified as a group, helping them meet food safety requirements to the increasing demand for local food.

GAP certification is a top priority for USDA and we recognize the positive impact it has on our local communities. We saw a great example in our trip to a school that purchases much of its food directly from the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction. Each purchase creates economic opportunities for our growers and a bright future for students eating the healthy foods. USDA is committed to helping our nation’s growers meet food safety requirements – a win for us all.

Food fraud: US man faces 5 years for false claim that beef was free of E. coli

Hucksters. Snake oil salesthingies. Bullshit artists.

From Dr .Kellogg to Dr. Oz to the Wizard of Oz, this is the part that concerns me about marketing microbial food safety.

Wizard-of-Oz-Caps-the-wizard-of-oz-2028565-720-536It has to be verified. Justified. Testified..

Technology is helping with that — DNA barcoding, QR codes, cameras – but regardless of the magical elixer someone is selling, food purchases remain faith-based.

And that’s not good enough.

A Downey man who worked as a consultant to a meat packing company is facing five years in federal prison after pleading guilty this week to falsifying records saying beef was free of the E. coli bacteria in 2010.

Jim Johnson, 67, will be sentenced March 3 by U.S. District Judge Fernando M. Olguin.

Johnson worked for the now-defunct Huntington Meat Packing Company when he created and used false certifications from the USDA stating a ground beef sample had tested negative for E. coli, when in fact lab tests showed some of the meat was contaminated. The company in 2010 wound up recalling 864,000 pounds of meat.

No illnesses were linked to the recalled product.

“The defendant’s lie created a public health hazard, and such conduct will not be tolerated,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said in a statement. “The public is entitled to have confidence in the food that makes it to its tables. The Department of Justice will continue to prosecute aggressively those whose conduct undermines that confidence.”

Marketing microbial food safety, BC style

That’s British Columbia, a province in Canada, not before Christ, although food purchases are almost entirely faith-based.

jesus_eating_the_foodB.C.’s Public Health Act’s food premises regulation was amended in 2013 to require written food safety and sanitation plans from processors. The plans are a set of procedures to help prevent or reduce safety hazards, which can cause food poisoning.

The new rules will be enforced by March 2016, but out of the 5,500 food processors across B.C., about 4,900 of them are going to need to improve their food safety plans.

Steve Burthon, software architect with the Richmond-based tech startup ICICLE, has toured many facilities in B.C. and believes that implementation, which has faced a two-year delay, will most likely face more because of the number of processors still catching up.

“The thing most consumers do is when they walk into a supermarket they make the assumption the products on the shelves are safe,” he said. “When you walk into a store you can easily identify what’s GMO, vegan, gluten-free, but there’s no way of knowing that the product purchased is from a company that takes food safety seriously.”

Burthon said most processors who supply products to retailers have no food safety program in place, or it is limited.

In Canada, don’t battle the Tim: St. John’s food safety company loses billboard battle with Tim Hortons

I promote marketing microbial food safety, because some companies are better.

I’m just not sure how to do it, because I’m not a marketer.

petroformaBut someone should be able to figure it.

Canada’s largest coffee-and-doughnut chain has won a billboard battle with a St. John’s laboratory that promotes food safety.

Two billboards with similar imagery — but promoting completely different messages about food — were placed side-by-side on Commonwealth Avenue in Mount Pearl this week.

On the left was a sign promoting Tim Hortons’ Canadian Back Bacon Breakfast Sandwich, with an oversized photo of the product.

On the right was a billboard sponsored by Petroforma Laboratories, as part of its campaign to promote food safety, with a similar image of a burger.

The big difference? The message on the Petroforma billboard was “You can’t taste bacteria,” and the sign featured two “bacteria” peaking out from behind the burger.

That’s what motorists saw as as they drove past on Wednesday, June 17. But by Thursday morning, the Petroforma sign was gone and replaced with a Lasik MD Vision billboard.

The company that rents out the space, E.C. Boone Ltd., admitted Thursday that it made a mistake by placing the two signs next to one another.

A company official, Nathan Anthony, said E.C. Boone received a complaint from a Tim Hortons franchise owner, and quickly removed the Petroforma sign.

Petroforma CEO Mike Hanrahan was not impressed, telling CBC Radio’s On The Go he was offended by E.C. Boone’s response.

Hoped for a more co-operative approach

Hanrahan said it was a case of a large company flexing its muscle, at the expense of a local laboratory trying to raise awareness about the dangers that can be found in kitchens, including food pathogens like Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria.

Heinz QR code links to porn

I’m all for marketing food safety at retail, and using QR codes could be one way to do it: but only if the data is there to back up claims, and if it doesn’t link to porn.

heinz.ketchup.pornGerman man Daniel Korell scanned a QR code on a bottle of Heinz ketchup, thinking he was accessing a promotion to design his own label, but instead was directed to a German porn site called Fundorado, reported.

It turns out the bottle had expired, and Heinz had allowed the website for the contest, which ran between 2012 and 2014, to expire. The porn site had since jumped in to claim the domain for itself.

“Your ketchup really isn’t for underage people,” Mr Korell wrote on the company’s Facebook page. “Even if the bottle was a leftover, it’s still in lots of households. It’s incomprehensible that you didn’t reserve the domain for one or two years. It really doesn’t cost the Earth.”

Heinz’s social media team replied: “We really regret the event very much and we’re happy to take your suggestions for how we implement future campaigns on board.”

Heinz also offered Mr Korell a free bottle of ketchup with a label of his own design by way of apology.

Sensing a marketing opportunity, Fundorado’s Facebook page chimed in, suggesting Heinz had confused their “Hot Pink” porn site with “Pink EZ Squirt” ketchup.