Pinto defense? We meet all government standards: More problems at Alberta meat plant

In 2012, XL Foods in Alberta sickened 18 people with E. coli O157:H7, led to the largest beef recall in Canadian history, and the plant was subsequently bought by JBS of Brazil.

doug.vegaFollowing in the tradition of Walkerton’s E. coli O157 outbreak and Maple Leaf’s Listeria outbreak, an independent review panel has concluded the outbreak was caused by mediocrity.

The largest beef recall in Canadian history happened because a massive Alberta producer regularly failed to clean its equipment properly, reacted too slowly once it realized it was shipping contaminated meat, and on-site government inspectors failed to notice key problems at the plant.

“It was all preventable,” concludes an independent review of the 2012 XL Foods Inc. beef recall, in which 1,800 products were removed from the Canadian and U.S. markets and 18 consumers became sick.

According to the report, the company did not practice what to do in the event of a major recall, and its staff failed to ensure equipment was regularly and properly cleaned. Canadian Food Inspection Agency workers at the plant failed to notice the problems. These and many other issues persisted four years after the government promised sweeping food-safety reforms in response to the 2008 listeria bacteria contamination at Maple Leaf Foods that took the lives of 23 Canadians and led to serious illness in 57 others who ate tainted meat products.

“It was not that long ago,” the report notes in reference to the 2008 recall. “Canada’s food-safety system – then, as now – is recognized as one of the best in the world. Yet, a mere four years later, Canadians found themselves asking how this could have happened once again.”

No, Canada exists in a bubble, with comfortable fairy tales about the best health care in the world and the safest food in the world.

Any outside observer could look at the available data and say, What ….?

Now, documents obtained by CTV News through an Access to Information request show that in one instance in 2014, E. coli was found in meat exported to the United States from the Brooks, Alta. plant now owned by JBS Food Canada.

U.S. food inspectors detected the tainted meat before it ended up on store shelves.

Unsafe meat was exported in three other instances, documents show, but the exact problem is blanked out in the report.

In one instance, a plant worker didn’t do proper testing for E. coli.

The person responsible for on-site verification of the sampling said she “wasn’t really paying attention.”

For its part, JBS Foods said any problems indicated in the inspections have been resolved.

Some of the reports documents made note of instances where employees were standing in two to three inches of pooling blood, contaminated water, and were splashing product when walking.

Employee hygiene was also a concern. Inspectors found:

  • No running water in the women’s and men’s bathroom sinks
  • No running water in men’s urinal
  • Toilets let unflushed with fecal matter
  • No paper towels

In a follow-up statement to CTV News, JBS Food said the company “is meeting all relevant food safety standards.”

Pinto defense (which was close to a Vega).

USDA overhauls decades-old poultry inspections

Inspections and audits are never enough, because most of us don’t have bacteria-sensing goggles. But, given the tax dollars shelled out for inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they can do better.

pinto.explosiveThe Obama administration is overhauling poultry plant inspections for the first time in more than 50 years, a move it says could result in 5,000 fewer foodborne illnesses each year.

Final rules announced Thursday would reduce the number of government poultry inspectors. But those who remain will focus more on food safety than on quality, requiring them to pull more birds off the line for closer inspections and encouraging more testing for pathogens. More inspectors would check the facilities to make sure they are clean.

The changes would be voluntary, but many of the country’s largest poultry companies are expected to opt in. The chicken and turkey industries swiftly praised the new rules, saying they would modernize their business.

Federal law requires that government inspectors be present in poultry processing plants. Right now, many USDA inspectors stand in one place on the production line and check for visual defects. This doesn’t do much to ensure the birds are safe to eat, since common poultry pathogens like salmonella and campylobacter are invisible.

The new rules would better train inspectors to find hazards in the plant and would require all companies — whether they opt in or not — to do additional testing for pathogens.

481 sick; dozens more stricken in Foster Farms salmonella outbreak

Lynne Terry of The Oregonian reports that while federal officials declared the salmonella outbreak tied to Foster Farms chicken over in mid-January at 430 cases, dozens of new illness have been confirmed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that officials in five states had tracked 51 new cases since Jan. 16: Arizona (3), California (44), Hawaii (1), Tennessee (1) and Utah (2).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said in the update that federal officials detected one of the outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg in raw chicken wings purchased at a pinto.explodingstore on Jan. 27. It did not name the store. A number of states, including Oregon, are participating in a federal program designed to track the development of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria by buying meat in grocery stores and running tests. That program is how Oregon has tracked Foster Farms salmonella outbreaks for a decade.

In the update on this this current outbreak, the CDC said one of the strains was found in raw chicken from the home of an ill person. Officials do not know whether that chicken had been stored for a long time in the freezer.

Foster Farms has not recalled any of the suspect chicken, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not ask for one.

However USDA officials told The Oregonian on Monday that Foster Farms had reduced contamination at the three plants in California implicated in the outbreak. In January, the Foster-Farms-Chicken-BreastUSDA closed one of them, in Livingston, Calif., for more than two weeks over “egregious” unsanitary conditions traced to cockroaches.

When the plant reopened, Foster Farms adopted antimicrobial interventions to cut contamination. The officials said those interventions are working, with the three plants averaging far less than 25 percent contamination, an industry average for salmonella on raw chicken parts.

“Foster Farms is performing far better than the industry average,” an official said.

The Pinto defense.

1970s Pinto redux; Townsend Farms passes health inspections after Hepatitis A outbreak

It’s the Pinto argument, and segments of the food industry still haven’t learned, 40 years later.

The Pinto automobile – my high school friend Dave had a similar Vega – met all government standards, but still had had tendency to explode when hit from behind; like a Sherman tank.

Decades of risk communication research have shown in various fields that meeting government standards is about the worst thing you can say to car-explosion-signconsumers to build trust.

Which is why it’s so baffling that so many commodities so many years later insist on government inspection as some sort of meaningful standard.

It’s a cop-out.

Lynne Terry of The Oregonian says that Townsend Farms, the producer of frozen berries linked to a Hepatitis A outbreak that has sickened 97 or 99, has passed inspections by county and state health types.

Which they would, if the source of the Hepatitis A is pomegranate seeds from Turkey or somewhere.

It’s that missing food safety ingredient – source food from safer sources.

And don’t rely on inspections or external audits.

Does any company really want to bet their brand on someone else?

The Pinto defense: our record keeping ‘meets or exceeds industry standards’ so where’d the salmonella beef come from?

My friend Dave had a beat up Vega. Similar to the much-maligned Pinto, the Vega got us around for our teenage mischief, along with the green Datsun B-210 missing a front panel.

The Pinto became famous for its tendency to blow up when struck from behind, and also by the manufacturer’s claim that the Pinto met or exceeded all government standards. For over 30 years, the meet-government-standards line has been known to engender no trust and instead create distrust. But, watching the food industry is sometimes like watching the History Channel, a mix of fact, extraterrestrials and the perils of ignoring history.

Federal regulators trying to track down the source of salmonella-tainted beef that’s sickened 19 people in seven states say Hannaford’s “inadequate” records and meat-grinding practices have hindered the investigation.

The federal Food Safety Inspection Service said in a statement yesterday that it still doesn’t know where ground beef infected with the bacteria Salmonella Typhimurium originated, despite a nearly three-week investigation. Authorities believe the infected meat was bought at Hannaford supermarkets.

Earlier this week, Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom declined to comment on the ongoing investigation, but insisted the company’s records passed muster.

“What I can tell you is all our record keeping practices either meet or exceed industry standards.”

Just like the Pinto.