How to stop food sabotage

Last Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, I had a requested op-ed published in the Sydney Morning Herald. I was a little rusty, so Amy did more than just clean it up, and I haven’t gotten around to posting it until now because there was some medical stuff last week, but all is well and here it is:

My 9-year-old daughter and I were watching the news on Saturday morning and she asked, why would someone put a needle in strawberries?

Some people are not nice.

A couple of years ago a food safety type asked me, what’s the biggest risk to the food supply.

I didn’t hesitate.

Deliberate tampering and food fraud.

Food safety has traditionally been faith-based – especially when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables. Consumers cannot control how food is handled before it gets to them. This is why consumers need to know their suppliers and know what they are doing to keep people safe.

This latest food tampering scare – 11 cases of contaminanted strawberries reported nationally so far, the first in Sydney on Saturday – makes that clear.

Faith-based food safety sucks. It always has. Risks have always been present. As Madeleine Ferrieres, the author of Mad Cow, Sacred Cow: A History of Food Fears,  wrote, “All human beings before us questioned the contents of their plates.”

But contemporary consumers forget that contamination risk has always been with us: “We are often too blinded by this amnesia to view our present food situation clearly. This amnesia is very convenient. It allows us to reinvent the past and construct a complaisant, retrospective mythology.”

“We still live with the illusion of modernity, with the false idea that what happens to us is new and unbearable,” she has said in an interview.

What’s new is that we have better tools to detect problems. This also presents an opportunity: those who use the best tools should be able to prove their food is safe through testing and brag about it. They can market food safety measures at retail.

The days of faith-based food safety are coming to a protracted close.

There is a lack – a disturbing lack – of on-farm food safety inspection; farmers need to be more aware of the potential for contamination from microbes (from listeria in rockmelon, for example) as well as sabotage.

There is an equally large lack of information to consumers where they buy their produce. What do Australian grocery shoppers know of the food safety regulations applied to the produce sold in their most popular stores? Who can they ask to find the answers?

The best solution is for farmers and retailers to market food safety. If they have a great food safety program they should be promoting it. Consumers can handle more information rather than less.

Douglas Powell is a (sorta?) retired professor of food safety in Canada and the US who now lives in Brisbane. He blogs at barfblog.com.

And in memorandum, Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy, the Blues Brothers’ guitarist and longtime blues sideman who died Friday at 88.

Needles in Australian produce: Copy-cats, metal detector sales and stiff penalties for ‘cowards and grubs’

With more than 100 reports of tampered fruit being investigated by police across Australia, an Adelaide father has been charged over a fake needle-in-strawberry report.

Police say the 34-year-old last week reported that his daughter bit into a strawberry purchased at a local supermarket and that it was contaminated with a needle.

The arrest comes as the hunt for those responsible for sticking needles in strawberries continues, and the federal government ramps up penalties for so- called “food terrorists.”

Food tamperers could spent 10 to 15 years behind bars under draft laws passed by the government on Thursday.

One young boy in NSW has already been arrested over behaviour that “could be called a prank”, police said, and he will be dealt with under the youth cautioning system.

The warning comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison looks to punish ‘cowards’ who purposely contaminate food.

Culprits could face up to 15 years jail under tough updates to food contamination laws the PM will urgently push through parliament this week.

And “idiots” who post Facebook hoaxes about fake contamination cases could face up to 10 years in jail under new measures to deal with “reckless” behaviour.

‘Sabotage’ laws will also be updated to include the sabotage of “goods for human consumption” where it impacts national security.

“Any idiot who thinks they can go out into a shopping centre and start sticking pins in fruit and thinks this is some sort of lark or put something on Facebook which is a hoax, that sort of behaviour is reckless and under the provision we will be seeking to introduce swiftly, that type of behaviour would carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison,” Prime Minister Morrison said today.

“It’s not a joke. It’s not funny. You are putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you are scaring children,” he said.

“You are a coward and a grub. And if you do that sort of thing in this country we will come after you and we will throw the book at you.”

Meanwhile, the strawberry scandal’s costing the industry millions of dollars, but it’s created a booming trade for one food safety company.

A&D Australasia provides metal detectors to food production companies, and their sales in the last week – including in New Zealand – have skyrocketed.

Spokesperson for the company Julian Horsley says he’s sold a year’s worth of products in just four days.

“There’s an element of panic obviously because customers are saying we can’t buy your product until this and this are in line – so that’s obviously a commercial panic to them” he said.

Each detector costs around $22,000, but Horsley says growers are viewing them as an investment.

“For these guys it’s either put my produce in the rubbish bin, or supply it to the customers.”

Man swallows needle in strawberry bought from Woolworths Australia

Queensland, with its sub-tropical climate, has fabulous produce and seafood.

Even if regulators are a bit dopey about food safety.

Jill Poulson and Tanya Westthorp of the Courier-Mail report health authorities are warning people who have bought strawberries in Queensland, NSW and Victoria to throw the punnets out after several incidents of needles being found in strawberries sold at Woolworths.

Queensland Health and Queensland Police today took the extraordinary step to urge people who bought strawberries across the eastern seaboard in the past week to throw them out after three separate incidents in Queensland and Victoria.

Police suspect the ground-down needles were deliberately planted in the punnets with the culprit intending to cause ‘grievous bodily harm or other objectives’.

The needle allegedly found in strawberries purchased from Woolworths at northside Brisbane. Pic: Supplied.

The contaminated strawberries come from one farm and are sold under the brands ‘Berry Obsession’ and ‘Berry Licious’. They are sold from Woolworths and it’s believed they may also be sold at other stores. A product recall is underway.

It comes as a 21-year-old Burpengary man ended up in hospital after he swallowed part of a needle when he bit into a strawberry bought from Strathpine in Brisbane’s north on Sunday.

Two more incidents in Victoria were confirmed yesterday.

USDA: Everything you ever wanted to know about labeling needle- or blade–tenderized beef

Compliance Documents

Q1. Where can I find information on the new “mechanically tenderized beef products regulation per 9 CFR 317.2(e)(3)?

Information on “mechanically tenderized beef products” is available from the following locations:

Labeling Issues

Q2. Under this final rule, will the product need to be labeled with the specific method of mechanical tenderization used to prepare the product?

tenderizedmeat2_custom-949f4ddbfc4f2cb411923f9296e69966fe69d995-s1100-c85No, the label need not include the specific type of mechanical tenderization used. To provide flexibility, FSIS is allowing the phrase ‘‘mechanically tenderized’’ to be used as the descriptive designation on any type of mechanically tenderized product. In addition, in lieu of “mechanically tenderized,” such product may be labeled as ‘‘needle tenderized’’ or ‘‘blade tenderized,’’ as applicable.

Q3. Can “needle injected” be used as the descriptive designation on the labels of raw or partially cooked beef products that have been mechanically tenderized?

No, needle injected may not be used as the descriptive designation. The terms “needle tenderized” or “mechanically tenderized” must be used as the descriptive designation for needle tenderized raw or partially cooked beef products and the terms “mechanically tenderized” or “blade tenderized” must be used as the descriptive designation for raw or partially cooked blade tenderized beef products.

Q4. Are the descriptive designations “mechanically tenderized,” “blade tenderized,” or “needle tenderized” only required on raw or partially cooked beef products?

Yes, unless the product is destined to be fully cooked or to receive another full lethality

treatment at an official establishment, such product must be labeled accordingly.

Q5. Do the new labeling requirements apply to mechanically tenderized pork, lamb, or goat products?

No. The rule applies only to raw or partially cooked beef products that have been mechanically tenderized.

Q6. Can establishments put both mechanically tenderized beef products and non- mechanically tenderized beef products in the same immediate container and label it with the descriptive designation “mechanically tenderized?”

No. To label product as “mechanically tenderized” when it was not would be false and misleading.

needle-tenderize-crQ7. If we sell mechanically tenderized raw or partially cooked beef or veal products in protective coverings, must the protective coverings meet the mechanical tenderization labeling requirements when the immediate container of this product is labeled “For Institutional Use Only?”

No. Under 9 CFR 317.1(a)(1), protective coverings should not bear any mandatory labeling information.” In this case, the immediate container, which also serves as the shipping container, is required to be labeled with the descriptive designation and bear validated cooking instructions and all other applicable labeling features.

Q8. Is beef cubed steak is subject to the new labeling requirements?

No, this regulation will not apply to raw or partially cooked beef products that have been cubed. The regulation is specific to needle and blade tenderized beef products. FSIS stated in the final rule:

The descriptive designation will only apply to raw or partially cooked beef products that have been needle tenderized or blade-tenderized, including beef products injected with marinade or solution. Other tenderization methods, such as pounding and cubing, change the appearance of the product, putting consumers on notice that the product is not intact. Moreover, most establishments already label cubed products as such. (80 FR 28157)

Q9. Must the labels for raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized beef products be submitted to the FSIS Labeling and Program Delivery Staff (LPDS) for approval?

No. The descriptive designations, “mechanically tenderized,” “blade tenderized,” and “needle tenderized” are not considered special statements or claims under 9 CFR 412.1(c). Therefore, as stated in the final rule, simply adding the descriptive designation and validated cooking instructions to a label would not require LPDS approval, given the label is otherwise in accordance with FSIS’s regulations.

Q10. Do the new labeling requirements apply to raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized beef products that are produced at establishments that use a validated intervention during the production of such products?

Yes, the new labeling requirements would apply to products treated with a validated antimicrobial intervention, unless the establishment applies a lethality treatment that achieves a 5-log reduction in pathogens. Mechanically tenderized beef product treated at an official establishment with an intervention or process, including HPP, that has been validated to achieve at least a 5-log reduction for Salmonella and Shiga Toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) organisms (including E. coli 0157:H7) would not be subject to the requirements in this final rule because it has received a full lethality treatment. (See 80 FR 28153)

Q11. Do the new labeling requirements apply to mechanically tenderized beef products labeled or prepared at retail stores?

Yes, the new labeling requirements would apply to raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized beef products produced, packaged, and labeled at a retail store.

Cooking Instructions

Q12. Is there compliance guidance available on validating cooking instructions for mechanically tenderized beef products?

Yes, at:

FSIS Compliance Guideline for Validating Cooking Instructions for Mechanically Tenderized Beef Products

Q13. Where can I find scientific studies on validated cooking instructions?

Attachment 1 of the above FSIS Compliance Guideline for Validating Cooking Instructions for Mechanically Tenderized Beef Products contains a summary of published scientific support for cooking instructions.

Q14. Do the new labeling requirements apply to raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized beef products that are too thin to practically measure their internal temperature using a food thermometer?

No, the new labeling requirements do not apply to raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized (including through injection with a solution) beef products that are too thin to measure their internal temperature using a food thermometer, such as beef bacon or carne asada. FSIS does not intend to enforce the requirements for these products because they are customarily prepared in a manner that is sufficient to destroy pathogenic bacteria.

Note that the thickness of many food thermometers used by consumers is approximately 1/8,” making it difficult to measure the end product temperature of products 1/8” thick or less through use of a thermometer.

Q15. Where on the label of raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized beef products can the validated cooking instructions appear?

Validated cooking instructions must appear on the immediate containers of all raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized beef products destined for household consumers, hotels, restaurants, or similar institutions. These instructions can appear anywhere on the product label.

Mechanically Tenderized Beef With Solutions

Q16. Must the label of a raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized beef product that contains added solution also declare the percentage of added solution?

Yes. However, there are different options for declaring the total amount of solution added. See 9 CFR 317.2(e)(2).

Q17. Do the new labeling requirements apply to raw or partially cooked beef products that have been marinated in a tumbler or vacuum tumbled?

The rule only applies to raw or partially cooked beef products that have been mechanically tenderized by needle or blade. This rule does not apply to other processes, such as tumbling or vacuum tumbling, unless the product is also mechanically tenderized by needle or blade.

needle-tenderize-beef

What’s the frequency Kenneth: USDA finalizes rule to require labeling of mechanically tenderized beef

After initially saying a rule would be delayed until 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced new labeling requirements for raw or partially cooked beef products that have been mechanically tenderized.

needle.tenderize.cr, restaurants, and other food service facilities will now have more information about the products they are buying, as well as useful cooking instructions so they know how to safely prepare them.

“Labeling mechanically tenderized beef products and including cooking instructions on the package are important steps in helping consumers to safely prepare these products,” said Deputy Under Secretary Al Almanza. “This common sense change will lead to safer meals and fewer foodborne illnesses.”

Maybe.

And if it’s common sense, why did it take until today?

These new requirements will become effective in May 2016, or one year from the date of the rule’s publication in the Federal Register. Because of the public health significance of this change, FSIS is accelerating the effective date instead of waiting until the next Uniform Compliance Date for Food Labeling Regulations, which is January 1, 2018.

Product tenderness is a key selling point for beef products. To increase tenderness, some cuts of beef are tenderized mechanically by piercing them with needles or small blades in order to break up tissue. This process, however, can introduce pathogens from the surface of the cut to the interior, making proper cooking very important.

needle.tenderize.beef.HC.feb.14The potential presence of pathogens in the interior of these products means they should be cooked differently than intact cuts. FSIS is finalizing these new labeling requirements because mechanically tenderized products look no different than intact product, but it is important for consumers to know that they need to handle them differently.

Under this rule, these products must bear labels that state that they have been mechanically, blade or needle tenderized. The labels must also include validated cooking instructions so that consumers know how to safely prepare them. The instructions will have to specify the minimum internal temperatures and any hold or “dwell” times for the products to ensure that they are fully cooked.

Since 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of six outbreaks attributable to needle or blade tenderized beef products prepared in restaurants and consumers’ homes. Failure to thoroughly cook a mechanically tenderized raw or partially cooked beef product was a significant contributing factor in each of these outbreaks. FSIS predicts that the changes brought about by this rule could prevent hundreds of illnesses every year.

Maybe.

About 11 percent, or 2.6 billion pounds, of beef products sold in the U.S. have been mechanically tenderized, according to USDA data.

More needles found in potatoes at Canada’s Cavendish Farms

Cavendish Farms has confirmed that more potatoes with needles in them have been found at their New Annan, P.E.I. production facility.

potato-needles-720The discovery was made between Dec. 27 and 28.

A representative for Cavendish Farms said Monday that the affected potatoes were harvested in 2014 and that an investigation has narrowed down their farm of origin. These needles (they did not say how many) did not come from Linkletter Farms Ltd. like those found previously.  

They did not, however, say where these new potatoes were from or what led them to believe they are not from Linkletter Farms Ltd.

This would mark the first time tampered potatoes have been traced back to a second farm.

Since October there have been 10 potatoes with needles shoved in them reported to P.E.I. RCMP, though the original discoveries were made in several provinces. All the needles, until now, came from bags of table potatoes from Linkletter Farms Ltd.

“Our established food safety processes and technology worked as they were designed. Food safety is the number one priority for Cavendish Farms,” said Bill Meisner, vice-president of operations.

“The needles were detected through our hazard analysis critical control point processes and technology. Our employees responded as trained. We have full confidence in our safety processes and the safety of our product.”

PEI potato growers offer reward in tampering case

Coral Beach of The Packer writes the Prince Edward Island (that’s in Canada) potato industry is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for recent tampering incidents involving sewing needles being embedded in fresh potatoes.

potato.needleThe needles have been found by consumers, according to officials with the PEI Potato Board, and have involved fresh potatoes from Linkletter Farms, owned by Gary Linkletter, chairman of the industry board.

Linkletter did not attend the board’s Nov. 10 press conference on the reward, citing conflict of interest concerns because his company has been the victim of the tampering incidents. In an interview with The (Montreal) Guardian, Linkletter said the tampering incident were limited to his farm and were not an industrywide occurrence.

“For the health of Linkletter Farms and the entire industry, we know we all wish to see this incident resolved as quickly as possible,” said PEI board general manager Greg Donald in a news release issued after the press conference.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been investigating the tampering for several weeks. During the first week of November members of the RCMP told The Guardian the investigation was delayed because growers had to stop X-raying harvested potatoes in order to get in the remaining crop.

UK woman finds blood-covered needle in bread

A woman in Britain opened a loaf of bread to make a sandwich for her 10-year-old child, but discovered a blood-covered needle inside. The needle had been used by a heroin-user.

According to Gulfnews, the woman bought the bread in Pendleton, Greater Manchester. When she noticed the syringe, she handed it in to 13320police, the Daily Mail reported.

Police used DNA tracing to track down 61-year-old David Rodgers of Salford, Greater Manchester, the Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard.

The needle had been pushed through the plastic wrapper by Rodgers, when he visited the shop with his wife, in a desperate attempt to avoid her finding out he was back on the drug.

The man pleaded guilty to contaminating the loaf with intent to cause public alarm.

Kansas focus on problem beef

The Kansas City Star published a couple of highly critical articles about U.S. beef and safety over the weekend.d

A key component was the issue of needle-tenderized beef and I agree, the lack of information about whether meat is needle-tenderized is frustrating, even for those with a PhD in food science.

Many times over the years, I’ve asked industry and retail food safety leaders, what proportion of the beef you sell is needle-tenderized, only to be met with silence or a conversational diversion.

Some leadership.

Excerpts below; the full stories are worth a read.

Three years ago, at age 87, Margaret Lamkin was, according to the Star, forced to wear a colostomy bag for the rest of her life after a virulent meat-borne pathogen destroyed her colon and nearly killed her.

What made her so sick? A medium-rare steak she ate nine days earlier at an Applebee’s restaurant.

Lamkin, like most consumers today, didn’t know she had ordered a steak that had been run through a mechanical tenderizer. In a lawsuit, Lamkin said her steak came from National Steak Processors Inc., which claimed it got the contaminated meat from a U.S. plant run by Brazilian-based JBS — the biggest beef packer in the world.

“You trust people, trust that nothing is going to happen,” Lamkin said, “but they (beef companies) are mass-producing this and shoveling it into us.”

The Kansas City Star investigated what the industry calls “bladed” or “needled” beef, and found the process exposes Americans to a higher risk of E. coli poisoning than cuts of meat that have not been tenderized.

The process has been around for decades, but while exact figures are difficult to come by, a 2008 USDA survey showed that more than 90 percent of beef producers are using it on some cuts.

Mechanically tenderized meat — which usually isn’t labeled — is increasingly found in grocery stores, and a vast amount is sold to family-style restaurants, hotels and group homes. In many cases, grocery stores don’t even know the meat has been tenderized.

The American Meat Institute, an industry lobbying group, has defended the product as safe, but institute officials recently said they can’t comment further until they see the results of a pending risk assessment by the meat safety division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Although blading and injecting marinades into meat add value for the beef industry, that also can drive pathogens — including the E. coli O157:H7 that destroyed Lamkin’s colon — deeper into the meat.

If it isn’t cooked sufficiently, people can get sick. Or die.

There have been several USDA recalls of the product since at least 2000, and a Canadian recall in October included mechanically tenderized steaks imported into the United States.

In a 2010 letter to the USDA, the American Meat Institute noted eight recalls between 2000 and 2009 that identified mechanically tenderized and marinated steaks as the culprit. Those recalls sickened at least 100 people.

The Star examined the largest beef packers including the big four— Tyson Foods of Arkansas, Cargill Meat Solutions of Wichita, National Beef of Kansas City and JBS USA Beef of Greeley, Colo. — as well as the network of feedlots, processing plants, animal drug companies and lobbyists who make up the behemoth known as Big Beef.

What The Star found is an increasingly concentrated industry that mass-produces beef at high speeds in mega-factories that dot the Midwest, where Kansas City serves as the “buckle” of the beef belt. It’s a factory food process churning out cheaper and some say tougher cuts of meat that can cause health problems. The Star’s other key findings:

•  Large beef plants, based on volume alone, contribute disproportionately to the incidence of meat-borne pathogens.

•  Big Beef and other processors are co-mingling ground beef from many different cattle, some from outside the United States, adding to the difficulty for health officials to track contaminated products to their source. The industry also has resisted labeling some products, including mechanically tenderized meat, to warn consumers and restaurants to cook it thoroughly.

•  Big Beef is injecting millions of dollars of growth hormones and antibiotics into cattle, partly to fatten them quickly for market. But many experts believe that years of overuse and misuse of such drugs contributes to antibiotic-resistant pathogens in humans, meaning illnesses once treated with a regimen of antibiotics are much harder to control.

•  Big Beef is using its political pull, public relations campaigns and the supportive science it sponsors to influence federal dietary guidelines and recast steaks and burgers as health foods people can eat every day. It even persuaded the American Heart Association to certify beef as “heart healthy.”

Big Beef, industry critics contend, has grown too big for Big Government to lasso.

Indeed, the U.S. beef industry is twice as concentrated as it was when President Teddy Roosevelt took on and beat the old Armour, Swift, Cudahy and Morris beef trust in the early 1900s. The big four packers today slaughter 87 percent of all heifers and steers.

“Roosevelt,” remarked Montana rancher Dan Teigen, “would be spinning in his saddle.”

Thanks in large part to the Midwest’s grassy plains and ample row crops, the United States produces 26 billion pounds of beef a year from 34 million cattle — more than any other country.

Four of the seven largest beef slaughterhouses — each capable of killing 6,000 head a day — are in Kansas, which leads the nation in meat processing.

The big slaughterhouses are among the last vestiges of old-line American manufacturing, except that they take things apart instead of putting them together. Meat slaughter and processing employs 260,000 people, and Big Beef’s highly efficient plants supply a large share of those jobs in the Midwest.

As a result, despite recent price hikes, beef costs less in the United States than anywhere in the world. It has become America’s crude oil — in high demand worldwide, including faraway lands where a newly-minted middle class is acquiring a taste for more expensive protein.

James Marsden, a food safety professor at Kansas State University, agreed that the industry is improving, but said it could do a better job with mechanically tenderized steaks.

“E. coli is impossible to eradicate from beef cattle,” he said. But a key to eliminating it in mechanically tenderized steaks is to use “interventions” such as spraying lactic acid on the meat to reduce or eliminate surface contamination. Some companies do that, he said, but the USDA does not require it.

For years, the USDA has urged the industry to voluntarily label such products, but found in 2008 that few beef plants were doing so. Costco is among stores that do label such products as being bladed. Those labels advise consumers that “for your safety USDA recommends cooking to a minimum temperature of 160 degrees.”

Not labeling mechanically tenderized beef jeopardizes consumers and puts health officials at a disadvantage if there’s an outbreak, experts said.

American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle responded to the Star articles by stating:

“Nine months ago, we were asked to participate in an in-depth story for the Kansas City Star about the beef industry. We were told that the paper would examine the industry through the eyes of four beef packers. The industry has recognized the need to communicate and to be more transparent. That’s exactly what we all did.

By our count, reporter Mike McGraw benefitted from visits to two large packing plants, at least one feedlot and a processing plant. He was allowed to bring cameras. This was truly unprecedented access to the industry and its operations. Industry executives provided countless interviews. AMI did its best to answer any question posed and even plotted charts when asked for additional data presented in ways that we didn’t have readily available. Our colleagues at other associations responded similarly.

We believed that by cooperating, he would see what we saw: a beef industry that provides the safest and most affordable beef supply in the world. We know that we cannot rest on the progress achieved and must always strive to do better, but we find it impossible to reconcile the conclusions reached by the Star with data from data from CDC, FSIS, OSHA and other agencies. 

The end result was a huge disappointment. Perhaps the most telling aspect in the series is his pejorative use of the term Big Beef (capitalized) throughout the pieces and his references to Big Government (also capitalized). “

Safest food supply in the world isn’t going to convince anybody.

16 sick; Alberta beef plant to reopen, producing food as safe as it was before outbreak; questions remain

Canadians can go back to sleep, the XL plant in Alberta has been cleared to reopen.

The 16 E. coli O157:H7 victims and their families may have a few more questions.

So may the rest of Canadians and anyone else concerned about two aspects of this outbreak: how do people know if beef has been needle tenderized, and should recalled meat be dumped in a landfill or processed for further use? Oh, and whether the Canadian Food Inspection Agency does anything, with their 40 inspectors and six veterinarians in the plant. And whether XL cares about anything other than profit.

As David Acheson, former food safety  guru at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said when spinach returned to the shelves in 2006 after an E. coli outbreak that killed four and sickened 200, “the spinach on the shelf will be as safe as it was before the outbreak.”

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, as usual, has little to say.

It’s apparently up to journalists and consumers to ask. Because they are the critical control point in farm-to-fork food safety.

Nonsense.

Especially when an official with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) was unable to explain Monday how the public can be certain of when it needs to take extra precautions around needle tenderized beef in the absence of any requirement that retailers or restaurants label tenderized products.

“That’s a very difficult question,” said Dr. Gregory Taylor, the health agency’s deputy chief public health officer.

Yeah, that’s why you have your job; do it.

Mark Klassen, director of technical services with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, told the Calgary Herald the tenderization of beef has been “quite widespread” in this country for years.

Klassen said research by Dr. Colin Gill at the federal agriculture facility in Lacombe had determined that medium-rare cooking of adulterated cuts was adequate to ensure food safety.

“There wouldn’t be much point in cooking it to 71 C,” he said.

“The tenderness would be lost cooking it to that temperature.”

So you and Health Canada duke it out, and let consumers know if you ever come to some sort of evidence-based recommendation. In the meantime, I expect the usual platitudes about how consumers are responsible for cleaning, cooking, chilling and separating, with no mention of the other point the World Health Organization includes, which is sourcing food from safe sources: how would anyone know if the beef they are buying is from the XL plant?

Another nagging issue is: should the meat at the XL plant have been sent to a landfill – which much of it was – or should it have been further processed at a federally inspected facility? That is supposedly why those inspectors are there with their E. coli vision goggles.

Alberta Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith’s response to a Red Deer man’s tweet questioning whether tainted XL Foods meat could be saved to feed the poor instead of being sent to a landfill put the politician on the defensive.

Smith said she made a mistake and has learned a lesson about social media.

But beef that tests positive for E. coli O157:H7 is routinely diverted to cooked products like canned meat.

As usual, a PR stormfest could be minimized if the rules were clearly laid out and managers/bureaucrats/farmers/retailers got past the trust me mode and instead just said, this is what we do and why we do it.