An ode to my other dad, Ken Murray

My friend, mentor, patron and lab Godfather, Ken Murray, died on Saturday, aged 95.

I’m going to inter-splice some personal notes with the official obituary, and this may not be the best writing because I am flooded with memories, but here it is (that’s Ken’s head in the middle of my 2005 lab, where we had gathered at their place, and I slept there because stalker girlfriend was on the loose).

After a long full life, lived with purpose and generosity, Ken Murray died peacefully in Guelph at Hospice Wellington in his 95th year on Saturday March 2, 2019. He is survived by his wife Marilyn, his daughters Susan Pearce (Richard) and Leslie Harwood (Fred), his grandchildren Andrew Harwood (Kristin) and Lauren Harwood, and his great grandson James Murray Harwood.

He was only at the hospice for a couple of days.

He is lovingly remembered by Marilyn’s children and the extended Robinson family. Ken was predeceased by his first wife Helen Volker (1995), his brother Donald (Margaret), sister Jean Shetler (Elmer) and parents George Murray and Vera Irwin. 

A son of the manse, Ken was born in 1924 in Chatham Ontario and grew up in small town Ontario – Buxton, Newbury, Zephyr and Keene. After serving two years in the Canadian Navy during the Second World War he enrolled in the Ontario Agricultural College in 1946, married Helen Volker from Kitchener in 1948 and graduated in 1950 with a BSc (Agriculture). His first job was as a salesman for J.M Schneider Inc. in Kitchener, and he retired in 1987 as president.

Wait, that’s modest. The dude was president of J.M. Schneider Inc. in Kitchener, Ontario (that’s in Canada) and both Ken and the company were pillars of the community, and Canada.

My ex and I lived on Queen St. in Kitchener, not far from Schneider’s, for seven years, and just down the road from the Schneider historical house (and there he is, far right, in this 2002 lab photo).

Schneider (which was swallowed by Maple Leaf in 2003) and Seagram in neighbouring Waterloo (which is now a museum) were essential for the surrounding agricultural areas in the mid-20th century to convert their commodities into products people wanted: booze and meat.

I first met Ken and Marilyn in 1995.

Someone at the University of Guelph said Ken Murray would like to meet with you.

In 1995, I was a cocky PhD student and about to be a father for the fourth time.

I rode my bike to a local golf club, met the former long-time president of Schneiders Meats, and established a lifelong friendship.

Fairly fancy surroundings, reminding me of my caddy days at the Brantford Golf and Country Club, where the caddies weren’t allowed in the Club but were allowed out on the course for a round before 8 a.m. on Mondays (I lived the movie, Caddyshack).

Within moments, Ken and I were talking about our families who had suffered from Alzheimer’s – his wife, my grandfather – the effect on others and how accommodation could be bettered.

It was a special moment, that had nothing to do with surroundings and everything to do with compassion and curiosity.

Ken had heard I might know something of science-and-society stuff.

Ken shared his frustration that food irradiation had not been approved for meats in Canada, and was curious about my interests in the intersections between science and society (by that time I had been teaching engineering students at the University of Waterloo in science, technology and values for five years; keeping 100 engineering students engaged in a 3-hour night class they didn’t want to take was a fabulous learning experience, for me).

Ken funded my faculty position at the University of Guelph for the first two years.

Sure, other weasels at Guelph tried to appropriate the money, but Ken would have none of it.

For over 20 years now, I’ve tried to promote Ken’s vision, of making the best technology available to enhance the safety of the food supply.

Following retirement, Ken played a leadership role for more than 20 years at the Homewood Health Centre, serving as President and Chair, creating the Homewood Foundation and sitting on the Homewood Research Institute Board (that’s me and Ken and Marilyn when I was awarded aggie extension-type of the year in 2003)

Raising beef cattle was a favorite pastime for Ken, both on his home farm in North Dumfries Township and later in Bruce County.

Ken lived his life following the example of his minister father. He loved and was proud of his family. He was committed to the communities where he lived. He believed in giving back. He revelled in meeting new people. He found joy in supporting local causes and participating in their activities and special events. 

He was an active church member in the communities where he lived: Trinity United, Kitchener; Knox United, Ayr; Ellis Pioneer Chapel, Puslinch Twp and Harcourt Memorial United, Guelph.

Many organizations in Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph and beyond benefitted from his leadership and support. The Universities of Guelph, Waterloo and Laurier have all benefitted from Ken’s generous spirit, particularly his support for student scholarships and awards and he has received numerous honors and awards in recognition of those contributions.

He received honorary degrees from the University of Waterloo (1995) and the University of Guelph (1996). And one of his proudest moments was in 2001 when he became a member of the Order of Canada.
In 1996, Ken married Marilyn Robinson, who has been his soulmate and loving partner for more than 22 years. Together they continued their love of volunteering, travelling and connecting with family and friends. 

When my ex and I moved into our newly-built house in Guelph in 1997, Marilyn showed up to our open house and I said, where’s Ken?

He’s on his way.

About 30 minutes later Ken showed up, driving his lawn mower with a load of firewood on the trailer.

When Lester Crawford, former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, camped with us for a couple of days in Guelph, Ken was there, asking questions.

When the Listeria outbreak hit Maple Leaf in 2008, in which 23 died, I asked Ken, any ideas?

Ken reminded me how he used to walk the Schneider’s plant every morning, talk to every employee, just like the best university presidents do instead of being locked away in some ivory tower, and he said, I always worried about those slicers.

The deadly Listeria was found hidden deep in those industrial slicers at other Maple Leaf plants.

But Ken (and Marilyn) seemed most delighted hanging out with the various characters in my lab (older version, left).

Ken had a curiosity and a genuine interest in the human condition, whatever one’s status, that is foundational and resonates with me.

A colleague said that Ken viewed me as a son.

I read that, I cried, and thought I could never be worthy enough.

That colleague wrote back, “Doug, being a son has nothing to do with worthiness, but, rather, love. However, you did him proud and never doubt that. If we start looking for faults, we all have long lists.”

I was so proud to know him,

And to continue to share with Marilyn.

A celebration of Ken’s life will take place at Harcourt Memorial United Church, 87 Dean Ave., Guelph on Saturday, March 30 at 1 pm. Burial will take place at a later date at the Ayr Cemetery, Ayr Ontario.
In lieu of flowers and in memory of Ken, please consider a donation to the Ken Murray Fund at the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation, Harcourt Memorial United Church, Guelph or Hospice Wellington. Cards are available at Gilbert MacIntyre & Son Funeral Home, 1099 Gordon St., Guelph (519) 821-5077, or donations and condolences may be made at www.gilbertmacintyreandson.com

Ken and I are landlubbers, not sailors, but this song resonates.

MasterChef sucks at food safety

I blame celebrity cooking shows like MasterChef for the stupid things people do in their kitchens.

Raw egg aioli and mayo is bad enough, and leads to monthly outbreaks of Salmonella across Australia, but to decide that color is a reliable indicator of safety in chicken is stupid beyond belief.

Forget piping hot, forget color, get a thermometer.

I know food safety is 1% of the food discussion, while food porn is the other 99%, but this is just bad advice.

Our job is to provide people with evidence-based info and let them decide.

These people are preaching like a Baptist church.

According to Jamie Downham of The Sun, celebrity chef John, 55, revealed the pink uncooked flesh – which can deliver a devastating dose of salmonella – gagging: “Oh. Can’t eat that.”

Gregg and John were not impressed by Ottilie’s uncooked chicken

Undercooked chicken is often rife with foodborne illnesses that can leave people throwing up and confined to their beds for up to a week.

Viewers quickly dubbed the dish “chicken a la salmonella”, with John telling marketing manager Ottilie: “I think you’ve got to know when to stop. It’s all over the place.”

No where did the story mention using a fucking thermometer to ensure safety.

And these people are making meals for your kids, and they have no clue.

Everyone has a camera: Vancouver bakery edition

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has issued a recall for Betty brand and Nancy’s Fancy Yummy in the Tummy brand bakery products.

The agency says the products may be unsafe due to possible contamination from mice infestation at the manufacturing plant.

The affected products were sold in Ontario and Quebec up to and including Feb. 8, and may contain harmful bacteria.

CFIA says there have been no reports of illness linked to the products.

Evidence-based barf: Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop on new Netflix show

My friend, Timothy Caufield, a prof at the University of Alberta and author of, Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything? will get loads of material from this after the Goopster confirmed with ABC News that she had signed a deal with Netflix that would see 30-minute episodes of a docuseries focused on physical and spiritual wellness.

CULVER CITY, CA – JUNE 09: Gwyneth Paltrow speaks onstage at the In goop Health Summit at 3Labs on June 9, 2018 in Culver City, California. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for goop)

Set to air later this year, Paltrow and Goop chief content officer Elise Loehnen will co-host the show and talk to experts, doctors and researchers. The pair already have a popular podcast series.

Paltrow started the company more than 10 years ago and has been criticised for promoting products like jade eggs, that Goop alleged improved vaginal muscle tone, hormonal balance and chi, but which health practitioners warned were dangerous.

Other health practices Paltrow and Goop have promoted include vaginal steaming, bee sting facials, bio frequency stickers (to “rebalance the energy frequency in our bodies”) and earthing.

She was married to that singer from Coldplay, and they suck.

Speaks volumes.

Fish fraud: Seafood mislabeling persistent throughout supply chain

Not only does Canada continue to have a problem with fish mislabelling, but that problem persists throughout the supply chain, according to a first-ever study by University of Guelph researchers.

U of G researchers found 32 per cent of fish were mislabelled and the number of incorrectly identified samples became compounded as the samples moved through the food system.

“We’ve been doing seafood fraud studies for a decade,” said Prof. Robert Hanner, lead author and associate director for the Canadian Barcode of Life Network. “We know there are problems. But this is the first study to move beyond that and look at where the problems are happening throughout the food supply chain.”

The findings reveal that mislabelling happens before fish are imported into Canada, as well as throughout the supply chain, Hanner added.

“It seems it’s not isolated to foreign markets, but it’s also happening at home. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has partnered with us to actively find solutions to this persistent problem,” said Hanner.

Published recently in the journal Food Research International, the study was conducted in collaboration with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Hanner is the associate Director for the Canadian Barcode of Life Network, headquartered at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, University of Guelph.

U of G researchers examined 203 samples from 12 key targeted species collected from various importers, processing plants and retailers in Ontario. Of the samples, 141 (69.5 per cent) were from retailers, 51 (25 per cent) from importers and 11 (5.5 per cent) from processing plants.

Researchers identified the samples using DNA barcoding. Developed at U of G, DNA barcoding allows scientists to determine species of organisms using a short, standardized region of genetic material.

The findings revealed 32 per cent of the samples overall were mislabelled. The mislabelling rate was 17.6 per cent at the import stage, 27.3 per cent at processing plants and 38.1 per cent at retailers.

How Henry Heinz used ketchup to improve food safety

Deborah Blum, one of my favorite writers, writes in National Geographic that ketchup—that cheerful red sauce sold in handy glass bottles—first came on the American market in the 19th century. But its ingredients were shockingly different than they are today.

Food advocates complained that the sauce was frequently made from tomato scraps thickened with ground pumpkin rinds, apple pomace (the skin, pulp, seeds, and stems left after the fruit was pressed for juice), or cornstarch, and dyed a deceptive red. One French cookbook author described the ketchup sold in markets as “filthy, decomposed and putrid.”

By the late 19th century, it would become less putrid, as manufacturers added chemical preservatives to slow decomposition in the bottle. But the real change—the invention of modern ketchup—occurred in the 20th century, and it’s a story of both politics and personality. It begins with an unlikely alliance between one of the country’s richest food manufacturers, Henry J. Heinz, and an underpaid federal chemist. The two men bonded over a mutual belief that unsafe and untrustworthy food was a growing national problem.

Harvey Washington Wiley’s position on the matter surprised no one. As chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chemistry bureau, Wiley had been pushing for food safety standards since the 1880s. At that time, his tiny department was the only federal division responsible for the country’s food quality. His chemists had exposed both widespread fraud—from gypsum in flour to brick dust in cinnamon—and a dismayingly reckless use of untested preservatives, ranging from formaldehyde to borax.

Heinz’s stance was a shock, especially to his fellow industrialists. He refused to fall in line with other US corporations, which were mostly moving to block any effort to establish food and drink standards. And to understand that, we need to take a look at the man himself as well as the successful businessman.

He was born in 1844 in Pittsburgh, the son of German immigrant parents. His parents, John and Anna Margaretha, were devout Lutherans; their children—Henry was the oldest of eight—were educated at a Lutheran school. Their mother insisted they live by Christian principles: “Do all the good you can. Do not live for yourself,” was one of her favourite sayings. It was also expected that the children would work hard and make a good living. That went without saying.

As a child Henry sold extra vegetables from the family’s kitchen garden to neighbours; by age ten he had his own garden and carried produce by wagon to local grocers. By the time he was a teen, he was delivering produce to the grocers by horse cart and also selling prepared horseradish in small glass jars. Many commercial varieties were sold then in coloured glass—sometimes for decorative purposes, sometimes because it obscured the contents. Young Heinz deliberately used clear glass so that customers could see the horseradish inside. By 1888, at age 44, he had his own food manufacturing business, the H.J. Heinz Company, and from there he never looked back.

Heinz’s company made some 60 products in 1896—and that would rise to 200 by the turn of the century. The company still offered horseradish but also pickles, ketchup, vinegars, chilli sauces, tomato sauce, mincemeat, fruit butters, baked beans, preserved cherries, mustard dressings, currant jelly, pineapple preserves, an assortment of mustards, canned pastas. Heinz was a master promoter—the company used everything from lighted billboards to painted wagons to displays at World Fairs to advertise its products.

But Heinz also believed that for promotion to succeed, the product itself had to be good, the manufacturer trustworthy. He allowed public tours of his Pittsburgh factory so that people could admire its cleanliness and well-treated workers. He built greenhouses to experiment with the best varieties of fruits and vegetables. He continued to use clear glass, rather than coloured, for his products. For his ketchup, he created one with an eight-sided base so customers could study the sauce from many angles.

And it was ketchup itself that would inspire him to go even further. …

In June 1906 the first two pieces of major consumer protection legislation in the United States—the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act—became law, laying the foundation for federal safety regulations.

And H.J. Heinz’s new, preservative-free ketchup was ready to go. As the company’s advertising campaign proclaimed, it was “recognised as the standard by Government pure food authorities.” It was also the new model for American ketchup—a thick mixture of politics, personality, a 20th-century acceptance that food safety matters, and of course, tomatoes.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Deborah Blum is director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT. Her books include The Monkey Wars and her latest, The Poison Squad.

Public was never told: 4 dead, 30 sickened from Listeria in pasteurized chocolate milk in Ontario, Nov. 2015—June 2016

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) really sucks at this communication thing. They sucked during the 2008 Listeria outbreak linked to Maple Leaf cold cuts that killed 24 and sickened a further 33, they have always sucked when discussing numerous outbreaks of Cyclospra, and I guess they realized they suck so bad they didn’t even try during an outbreak spanning 2015-2016 linked to Listeria in milk.

Now, over three years since residents of Ontario (that’s in Canada) began reporting illnesses from Listeria in pasteurized chocolate milk produced at a dairy in Georgetown, Ontario, investigators have gotten around to saying just how many people got sick.

According to health-types writing in Emerging Infectious Disease, 11 case-patients had an onset date during November 14, 2015–February 14, 2016. Onset dates ranged from April 11 to June 20, 2016, for 21 case-patients in the second wave; the remaining 2 case-patients were outliers. Median age was 73 years (range <1 years–90 years). More than half of the case-patients were female (20/34, 59%). Hospitalizations occurred for 32 (94%) case-patients, and 4 deaths (12%) were reported.

In Ontario, local public health professionals complete the national invasive listeriosis questionnaire and collect food samples. We conducted a case–case analysis by using Ontario case-patients listed in the national listeriosis database as controls. We used a variety of methods to support hypothesis generation, including supplemental questionnaires, centralized interviewing, and reviewing purchase records collected through shoppers’ loyalty card programs. A meeting was also held with representatives from a grocery chain that was common for case-patients (retail chain A) for insights into possible sources.

PFGE and whole-genome sequencing were performed at the Public Health Ontario Laboratory, in accordance with PulseNet Canada protocols (Table). Food safety investigations, including targeted retail sampling, were conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs. Laboratory analyses of food samples were conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Public Health Ontario Laboratory.

Several hypotheses were generated during the course of this outbreak. In the first wave, a concurrent listeriosis outbreak associated with leafy greens was ongoing in the United States and Canada. However, product testing did not establish a relationship between the 2 outbreaks. Cheddar cheese was also suspected, but a food safety investigation, including sampling at the manufacturer, did not support a link to this outbreak (6,7). Although leafy greens and cheddar cheese were ruled out, 1 commonality remained; shopping at retail chain A was reported frequently by case-patients.

A second wave began in April 2016 in which 10 of 17 case-patients reported consuming coleslaw. Six case-patients ate coleslaw from the same manufacturer, which supplied retail chain A and a fast food restaurant chain. However, the food safety investigation, including sampling at the manufacturer and supplier, did not support this hypothesis.

On May 24, 2016, L. monocytogenes isolated from expired bagged chocolate milk collected from the home of 1 case-patient was confirmed to have the outbreak strain PFGE pattern. Fluid milk in Canada is often sold in plastic bags. In this instance, the outer packaging, which is the only area that contains the brand name, was discarded. Thus, the brand name was uncertain, and efforts were undertaken to confirm the source of the chocolate milk. Because the proxy of the case-patient reported purchasing brand B milk, samples of brand B chocolate and white milk were collected from retail for testing. Brand B was the main brand of chocolate milk sold by retail chain A, and it is distributed only in Ontario.

Although the hypothesis-generating questionnaire used stipulated milk, with flavored milk as a prompt, chocolate milk was not specified, and as a result this type of milk might have been underreported. Exposure to pasteurized milk was reported by 60% of case-patients in the first wave compared with 76% of controls. Thus, milk was not originally pursued as a source. However, this new positive isolate led to re-interviewing of case-patients from the second wave and resulted in 9 (75%) of 12 case-patients reporting consuming brand B when asked specifically about chocolate milk.

On June 3, a retail sample of brand B chocolate milk was confirmed positive for L. monocytogenes. This finding led to a class I recall of 1 lot of brand B chocolate milk. On June 5, the recall was expanded to all lots of brand B chocolate milk processed at that facility because of the result of extensive retail sampling. Isolates from the original sample and 3 subsequent positive samples of chocolate milk matched the outbreak strain by PFGE and whole-genome sequencing. No white milk samples were positive for L. monocytogenes.

Environmental sampling at the manufacturer confirmed the presence of the outbreak strain within a post-pasteurization pump dedicated to chocolate milk and on nonfood contact surfaces. This post-process contamination of the chocolate milk line was believed to be the root cause of the outbreak. A harborage site might have been introduced by a specific maintenance event or poor equipment design. The equipment was subsequently replaced, and corrective measures were implemented to prevent reoccurrence. Chocolate milk production was resumed after vigorous testing for L. monocytogenes under regulatory oversight.

Conclusions

This outbreak lasted 7 months and resulted in 34 confirmed listeriosis case-patients. Discovering the cause of this listeriosis outbreak was challenging because pasteurized chocolate milk is a commonly consumed product. Although there have been previous outbreaks outside Canada caused by chocolate milk, pasteurized milk products are generally not expected to be the source. This outbreak highlights that even pasteurized products can be contaminated by and support the proliferation of L. monocytogenes when contamination is introduced post-pasteurization. The possibility of post-processing contamination indicates an ongoing need for regulatory oversight and robust quality assurance processes, which include routine sampling of the environment and finished products.

Brand B chocolate milk is a widely distributed product in Ontario, and contamination of this product could have resulted in >34 case-patients. It is possible that a lower number of case-patients were reported because chocolate milk may primarily be consumed by younger, healthier persons, in whom invasive listeriosis is less likely to develop. Another possible explanation is that the contamination in the milk appeared to be intermittent, with some samples testing positive while others tested negative. As such, careful attention should be given to equipment design and maintenance programs, as harborage sites could result in recurring contamination that goes undetected by routine monitoring. Targeted retail and environmental sampling was instrumental in identifiying the root cause in the facility and the breadth of potentially implicated products in the marketplace. Thus, this type of sampling should be considered during outbreak investigations.

Ultimately, the implicated product was determined on the basis of testing of food items obtained from the home of 1 case-patient. This finding highlights the necessity of obtaining a thorough food history and collecting and testing available samples of food that case-patients consumed during the incubation period. In Canada, where bagged milk is common, labeling of the inner and outer bags with the brand name would facilitate product identification by consumers. This recommendation could extend to other food products in North America (e.g., frozen hamburger patties) that have multiple layers of packaging.

That is a lucid, thought provoking summary of a complex foodborne outbreak, fraught with uncertainties.

When the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced the recall on June 4, 2016, Chapman wrote it up for the blog, reminiscing about his childhood innocence in southern Ontario, and noted, as has become the pattern, that CFIA reports recalls, but it’s up to PHAC or provincial health ministries to identify the number of sick people. As far as I can tell, no public statement about illnesses was ever made, until now.

What the fuck do these people do, especially the communication hacks? Do they have a responsibility to the public? Why didn’t epidemiology count and a public warning issued rather than waiting for a positive sample in an unopened package, which has apparently become the Canadian standard for going public?

If that’s the standard, that sucks.

Listeria monocytogenes associated with pasteurized chocolate milk, Ontario, Canada

March 2019

Emerging Infectious Diseases vol. 25 no. 3

Heather Hanson , Yvonne Whitfield, Christina Lee, Tina Badiani, Carolyn Minielly, Jillian Fenik, Tony Makrostergios, Christine Kopko, Anna Majury, Elizabeth Hillyer, Lisa Fortuna, Anne Maki, Allana Murphy, Marina Lombos, Sandra Zittermann, Yang Yu, Kristin Hill, Adrienne Kong, Davendra Sharma, and Bryna Warshawsky

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/25/3/18-0742_article

In an investigation of a listeriosis outbreak in Ontario, Canada, during November 2015–June 2016, Public Health Ontario identified pasteurized chocolate milk as the source. Because listeriosis outbreaks associated with pasteurized milk are rare in North America, these findings highlight that dairy products can be contaminated after pasteurization.

BS: Report says poor regulation contributed to Australia strawberry tampering crisis

A new report into Australia’s 2018 strawberry tampering crisis, which caused catastrophic economic damage to the industry, has found food-tracing protocols need to be strengthened.

Lucy Stone of The Sydney Morning Herald reports the report also found that food safety expertise in the horticulture industry was “variable” due to there being many small businesses, with no regulatory or industry oversight particularly for strawberry farmers (uh, I’m right here).

The “fragmented nature” of the sector also complicated matters with no regulation tracking strawberry farm locations during the crisis, and the use of seasonal or contract pickers muddying traceability.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) was commissioned by Health Minister Greg Hunt to review the response to the strawberry contamination crisis, which began on September 9 when a man swallowed a needle hidden inside a strawberry.

Within days more reports had been made to Queensland Health and Queensland Police of similar incidents, sparking copycat actions of needles being hidden in fruit across Australia and New Zealand.

The crisis saw strawberry production nationally grind to a halt, with Queensland growers dumping thousands of tonnes of fruit that could not be sold.

A Caboolture woman, 50-year-old strawberry farm supervisor My Ut Trinh, was arrested and charged with six counts of food tampering, ending the crisis.

But is more regulation and oversight really gonna stop someone driven by demons from inserting needles into produce?

Is there a better approach to both protect and enhance consumer confidence in the wake of an outbreak, tampering, or even allegations of such?

On June 12, 1996, Dr. Richard Schabas, chief medical officer of Ontario (that’s a province in Canada), issued a public health advisory on the presumed link between consumption of California strawberries and an outbreak of diarrheal illness among some 40 people in the Metro Toronto area. The announcement followed a similar statement from the Department of Health and Human Services in Houston, Texas, which was investigating a cluster of 18 cases of cyclospora illness among oil executives.

Turns out it was Guatemalan raspberries, not strawberries, and no one was happy.

The initial, and subsequent, links between cyclospora and strawberries or raspberries in 1996 was based on epidemiology, a statistical association between consumption of a particular food and the onset of disease.

The Toronto outbreak was first identified because some 35 guests attending a May 11, 1996 wedding reception developed the same severe, intestinal illness, seven to 10 days after the wedding, and subsequently tested positive for cyclospora. Based on interviews with those stricken, health authorities in Toronto and Texas concluded that California strawberries were the most likely source. However, attempts to remember exactly what one ate two weeks earlier is an extremely difficult task; and larger foods, like strawberries, are recalled more frequently than smaller foods, like raspberries.

By July 18, 1996, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control declared that raspberries from Guatemala — which had been sprayed with pesticides mixed with water that could have been contaminated with sewage containing cyclospora — were the likely source of the cyclospora outbreak, which ultimately sickened about 1,000 people across North America. Guatemalan health authorities and producers vigorously refuted the charges. The California Strawberry Commission estimated it lost $15-20 million in reduced strawberry sales.

The California strawberry growers decided the best way to minimize the effects of an outbreak – real or alleged – was to make sure all their growers knew some food safety basics and there was some verification mechanism. The next time someone said, “I got sick and it was your strawberries,” the growers could at least say, “We don’t think it was us, and here’s everything we do to produce the safest product we can.”

That was essentially the prelude for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration publishing its 1998 Guidance for Industry: Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. We had already started down the same path, and took those guidelines, as well as others, and created an on-farm food safety program for all 220 growers producing tomatoes and cucumbers under the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers banner. And set up a credible verification system involving continuous and rigorous on-farm visits: putting producers in a classroom is boring, does not account for variations on different farms and does nothing to build trust. Third-party audits can be hopeless indictors of actual safety on a day-to-day basis and generates the impression that food safety is something that can be handed off to someone else.

The growers themselves have to own their own on-farm food safety because they are the ones that in the marketplace. Bureaucrats will still have their taxpayer-funded jobs, farmers lose.

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? Do such regulations exist? Who can they ask to find the answers?

The Sydney Morning Herald also notes that in the report published on Friday, FSANZ made several recommendations to prevent similar crises in the future, including greater regulation for the industry.

The lack of a peak soft fruits regulatory body left the small Queensland Strawberry Growers Association “inundated with calls”, while national horticulture body Growcom later helping manage communication.

The crisis prompted Prime Minister Scott Morrison to announce legislation to extend the jail time for anyone convicted of food tampering to 15 years.

Police handled more than 230 reports of fruit sabotage across Australia, across 68 brands, with many reports of copycats and hoaxes.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand made seven recommendations in its final report, including a recommendation that all jurisdictions review food incident response protocols.

A central agency should be engaged to manage national communication in future food tampering incidents, and communication between regulators, health departments and police should be reviewed, the organisation found.

Triggers for “activation and management of intentional contamination of food” under the National Food Incident Response Protocol (NFIRP) should also be reviewed.

This recommendation was despite the NFIRP not being activated during the strawberry contamination issue. The protocol is a national incident response that can be activated by any agency to manage food incidents.

 “Due to the unique criminal nature of this case and associated investigation, the protocol was not triggered,” the report said.

The horticulture sector also needs a representative body to “support crisis preparedness and response”, and traceability measures to track food through the sector needed greater work.

“Government and industry should work together to map the current state of play and identify options and tools for enhancing traceability,” the FSANZ report recommended.

A single national website for food tampering should be set up to give the public clear information, the report found.

The report found greater regulation of the horticulture sector was needed and cited the complexity of small farm and distribution operations as making the investigation difficult.

A suggestion that strawberry farms should be fitted with metal detectors also raised concerns about cost and practicality, while tamper-proof packaging risked shortening shelf life, and criticisms about increased use of plastic packaging.

For 20 years, I have been advising fruit and vegetable growers there are risks: Own them: Say what you do, do what you say, and prove it. The best producers or manufacturers can do is diligently manage and mitigate risks and be able to prove such diligence in the court of public opinion; and they’ll do it before the next outbreak.

Poland sick cow slaughterhouse: Meat from closed abattoir ‘sold to nine EU countries’

Secret filming by broadcaster TVN revealed the unwell animals being killed at a slaughterhouse situated 112km east of Warsaw.

Chris Harris of Euronews reports meat from the abattoir went to Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden.

“The priority today is to trace and withdraw from the market all the products originated from this slaughterhouse,” Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU commissioner responsible for food safety said in a statement.

“I call on the member states affected to take swift action.

“At the same time, I urge the Polish authorities to finalise as a matter of urgency their investigations, taking all the necessary measures to ensure the respect of the EU legislation including effective, rapid and dissuasive penalties against the perpetrators of such a criminal behaviour that could pose risk to public health and portrays an unacceptable treatment of animals.”

Polish police are investigating after the secret footage appeared to show sick cows dragged into the slaughterhouse and sold with little or no veterinary inspection.

Authorities reacted to the scandal by imposing controls in Polish abattoirs.

“This is the problem of just one company. It is unpleasant, and it is worth stigmatising.

“Fortunately, it is a small slaughterhouse and the other 99.9% of meat processing plants are good,” said Janusz Rodziewicz, head of meats lobby SRiWRP.

But Patryk Szczepaniak, the reporter who uncovered the scandal, said it was a nationwide problem.

Poland produces about 560,000 tonnes of beef a year, with 85% exported to countries including Britain, Spain, Italy and Germany.

Developing official control in Finnish slaughterhouses, 2018

From a PhD dissertation by Jenni Luukkanen of the University of Helsinki. Here’s hoping the defence last week went well.

Official control in slaughterhouses, consisting of meat inspection and food safety inspection, has an important role in ensuring meat safety, animal health and welfare, and prevention of transmissible animal diseases. Meat inspection in the European Union (EU) includes the inspection of food chain information, live animals (ante-mortem inspection), and carcasses and offal (post-mortem inspection).

Food safety inspections are performed to verify slaughterhouses’ compliance with food safety legislation and are of the utmost importance, especially if slaughterhouses’ self-checking systems (SCSs) fail.

The aim of this study was to investigate the prerequisites for official control such as the functionality of the task distribution in meat inspection and certain meat inspection personnel-related factors. In addition, needs for improvement in slaughterhouses’ SCSs, meat inspection, and food safety inspections, including control measures used by the official veterinarians (OVs) and their efficacy, were examined. In the EU, competent authorities must ensure the quality of official control in slaughterhouses through internal or external audits, and the functionality of these audits was also studied.

Based on our results, meat inspection personnel (OVs and official auxiliaries [OAs]), slaughterhouse representatives, and officials in the central authority were mainly satisfied with the functionality of the present task distribution in meat inspection, although redistributing ante-mortem inspection from the OVs to the OAs was supported by some slaughterhouse representatives due to perceived economic benefit.

Ante-mortem inspection was assessed as the most important meat inspection task as a whole for meat safety, animal welfare, and prevention of transmissible animal diseases, and most of the respondents considered it important that the OVs perform antemortem inspection and whole-carcass condemnation in red meat slaughterhouses.

In a considerable number of slaughterhouses, OA or OV resources were not always sufficient and the lack of meat inspection personnel decreased the time used for food safety inspections according to the OVs, also affecting some of the red meat OAs’ post-mortem inspection tasks. The frequency with which OVs observed post-mortem inspection performed by the OAs varied markedly in red meat slaughterhouses. In addition, roughly one-third of the red meat OAs did not consider the guidance and support from the OVs to be adequate in post-mortem inspection.

According to our results, the most common non-compliance in slaughterhouses concerned hygiene such as cleanliness of premises and equipment, hygienic working methods, and maintenance of surfaces and equipment. Chief OVs in a few smaller slaughterhouses reported more frequent and severe non-compliances than other slaughterhouses, and in these slaughterhouses the usage of written time limits and enforcement measures by the OVs was more infrequent than in other slaughterhouses.

Deficiencies in documentation of food safety inspections and in systematic follow-up of corrections of slaughterhouses’ non-compliance had been observed in a considerable number of slaughterhouses. In meat inspection, deficiencies in inspection of the gastrointestinal tract and adjacent lymph nodes were most common and observed in numerous red meat slaughterhouses. Internal audits performed to evaluate the official control in slaughterhouses were considered necessary, and they induced correction of observed non-conformities. However, a majority of the interviewed OVs considered that the meat inspection should be more thoroughly audited, including differences in the rejections and their reasons between OAs. Auditors, for their part, raised a need for improved follow-up of the audits.

Our results do not give any strong incentive to redistribute meat inspection tasks between OVs, OAs, and slaughterhouse employees, although especially from the red meat slaughterhouse representatives’ point of view the cost efficiency ought to be improved. Sufficient meat inspection resources should be safeguarded in all slaughterhouses, and meat inspection personnel’s guidance and support must be emphasized when developing official control in slaughterhouses. OVs ought to focus on performing follow-up inspections of correction of slaughterhouses’ non-compliance systematically, and also the documentation of the food safety inspections should be developed.

Hygiene in slaughterhouses should receive more attention; especially in slaughterhouses with frequent and severe non-compliance, OVs should re-evaluate and intensify their enforcement.

The results attest to the importance of internal audits in slaughterhouses, but they could be developed by including auditing of the rejections and their underlying reasons and uniformity in meat inspection.