Nosestretcher alert: me?

I did not invent the phrase “nosestretcher alert.”

Anyone who knows me long enough soon begins to realize I have about 187 snappy comebacks or phrases, primarily borrowed from sophomoric movies.

So while I’m grateful to Vicky Boyd of The Packer for saying is one of her must-reads, I have to clarify the phrase “nosestretcher alert” originated with Frank magazine, a must-read for me in Canada in the 1990s.

Frank, modeled after Private Eye in the U.K., skewered and mocked the rich, political and supposedly media savvy.

From wiki:

Frank often incorporates custom jargon and phrasing in articles. Examples include referring to news readers as “bingo callers,” public relations staff were referred to as “bum boys” and “fartcatchers.” When the magazine alluded to two famous Canadians having sexual relations, it would refer to them as “horizontal mambo partners.”

Frank also referred to many of Canada’s elite in a derogatory manner based upon their personalities, name, or other unique characteristics. Prime Ministers were always referred to by nicknames such as Byron Muldoon or Jean Crouton rather than their real names.

I had forgotten about bingo caller and fart catcher; I’ll have to start using them again – in honor of Frank.

The role of food safety auditors?

Any time I write anything marginally critical of food safety auditors, my in-box is flooded with comments about how auditors aren’t inspectors, they’re just doing a job, I’m a propeller-head, and how unfair it all is.

If those audits are really worth something, market them at retail so consumers can choose.

Here are some other voices:

Tom Karst of The Packer writes that given the failure of third-party audits to pinpoint potential food safety problems in recent cases involving German sprouts, Georgia peanuts and Colorado cantaloupe, some primary handlers of produce might be considering sending in their own teams to inspect suppliers.

“I am hearing from a few of the larger produce organizations (first handlers) is that is what they are going back to,” said Dave Gombas, senior vice president for food safety and technology for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association. “They are not trusting the third-party audits and they are going out and doing their own inspections as well to verify if the third-party (inspectors) are doing a good job.”

My group has been saying that since about 1998.

In light of recent outbreaks, some growers question the value of audits, said Chris Schlect, president of the of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash.Gombas said the services auditors offer vary greatly — one of the biggest issues to resolve in the industry.

While the FDA is charged with developing a process to accredit third-party auditors in foreign countries under the new Food Safety Modernizaton Act, Gombas predicts FDA will find it hard to rely on third-party audits.

“Everyone is looking for FDA to come up with a solution, but I don’t know if they have any better answers than we do,” he said.

He noted the United Fresh effort to harmonize Good Agricultural Practices did not address third-party auditor certification.

“We knew that the harmonzied standard was a tough enough goal to achieve.”
The Global Food Safety Initiative which begin in 2000 and was designed to harmonize audit standards in Europe — still hasn’t solved that issue.

Ed Beckman, president of California Tomato Farmers and Scott Horsfall president and CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, wrote to the Packer to say it has become very clear that a truly effective food safety program is about much more than the score you receive from your food safety inspector and that the true measure of success does not come from an audit score but is achieved when an entire commodity group or industry adopts a culture of food safety that is designed to identify risks, strives for continual improvement and always seeks to learn more.

Jim Crawford wrote to the Denver Post to say that the private-sector food safety auditor who gave a near-perfect score to Jensen Farms’ listeria-contaminated cantaloupe-packing process is subject to no Food and Drug Administration oversight, or to any other regulatory accountability. The article notes that this is the case with the entire third-party food-safety auditing industry.

Sprouts ‘safest produce on the grocery shelf’ sick people disagree

Most sprouts are grown in a controlled, indoor environment and, when handled properly, “are the safest produce on the grocery shelf.”

So says Bob Rust, who runs International Specialty Supply, a Cookeville, Tenn.-based supplier of sprout seeds and growing equipment.

Rust told The Packer his company tests every bag of seed before selling it to commercial growers and that most U.S. growers “are well-trained in the production of safe sprouts, utilize some of the most stringent safety procedures in the food industry, and have sophisticated systems in place to minimize the likelihood of contamination.”

Except for those two outbreaks in the U.S. earlier this year; or Canada in 2005; or Germany right now. A complete table of international sprout outbreaks is available at

The Packer responded in an editorial that U.S. sprout growers can do much more than they’re doing to avoid a situation like in Germany, where E. coli-contaminated organic sprouts killed nearly 40 and caused more than 3,000 illnesses.

U.S. sprout grower-shippers contacted in mid-June told us they’re confident their food safety practices have improved significantly in recent years and that thorough testing reduces the chances of contaminated product reaching the food supply.

However, many critics have pointed out dangerous pathogens are more difficult to eliminate in sprouts through current cleaning processes.

The industry has made no clear move to embrace cleaning alternatives, such as irradiation, or form a group similar to the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, which began in the aftermath of the 2006 spinach E. coli outbreak. It is up to each sprout grower to follow food safety guidelines. That’s risky.

The sprout industry needs to do everything it can to ship safe product and prove it to consumers and fellow produce companies.

At this point, they’re not doing that.

Sprouts still suck even if The Packer thinks the problem is new

I still don’t like sprouts. Never have. When I inadvertently eat them (like when someone sneaks them into my sandwich, often at a food safety conference) I find myself picking them out of my teeth.

The consumption of raw sprouts has been linked to over 40 outbreaks of foodborne illness internationally going back to 1988, including a whopping 648 who were sickened in a salmonella-in-sprouts outbreak in 2005 in Ontario (that’s in Canada).

So it’s somewhat baffling that one of the flagship publications of the produce industry, The Packer, would come out with an editorial today that opens with,

“Ensuring food safety in fresh produce has been the highest-profile concern for the industry since 2006’s outbreak linked to spinach.”

The 2006 E. coli O157:H7 in spinach was the 29th identified outbreak in leafy greens. Lots of people, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, started paying attention to microbial food safety concerns in fresh produce beginning with the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in unpasteurized Odwalla cider in 1996.

The Packer then states, and they are apparently serious, “Though they haven’t garnered as much concern — yet — sprouts have been a recent and recurring source of illness.”

The first consumer warning about sprouts was issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 1997. By July 9, 1999, FDA had advised all Americans to be aware of the risks associated with eating raw sprouts. Consumers were informed that the best way to control the risk was to not eat raw sprouts. The FDA stated that it would monitor the situation and take any further actions required to protect consumers.

In Jan. 2002, CDC issued ?a renewed call for Americans to avoid fresh alfalfa or other sprouts, and that people, particularly young children, the elderly and those with weak immune systems, should avoid eating raw sprouts. Dr. Mark Beatty of the CDC’s National Center for Infectious Diseases, said at the time, "Immunocompromised people could develop shock and die from the infection," although healthy people were at a lower risk for such complications.? Beatty was further quoted as saying that a 2001 outbreak in four western states revealed a "misconception" that sprouts were a healthy food. At least three of the people involved in the outbreak ate sprouts partly for health reasons.

?Because of continued outbreaks, the sprout industry, regulatory agencies, and the academic community pooled their efforts in the late 1990s to improve the safety of the product, including the implementation of good manufacturing practices, establishing guidelines for safe sprout production and chemical disinfection of seeds prior to sprouting.?

But are such guidelines actually being followed? And is anyone checking? ?In response to the 2001 outbreak, the California Department of Health Services and the California Department of Education recommended that schools stop serving uncooked sprouts to young children.

There is a lot of turnover at trade magazines, and it’s proving harder to find decent writers who know the history of a topic rather than tracers who regurgitate whatever is out there, but why would The Packer close with,

“Much has been learned about food safety best practices since the industry’s wakeup call with spinach.”

Best practices for fresh produce were first published by FDA in 1998. Trade rags do no one any favors with memories of convenience.