Food Safety Talk 81: Food safety matters every week

Food Safety Talk, a bi-weekly podcast for food safety nerds, by food safety nerds. The podcast is hosted by Ben Chapman and barfblog contributor Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor at Rutgers University. Every two weeks or so, Ben and Don get together virtually and talk for about an hour.  They talk about what’s on their minds or in the news regarding food safety, and popular culture. They strive to be relevant, funny and informative — sometimes they succeed. You can download the audio recordings right from the website, or subscribe using iTunes.

After a brief discussion about Quadrophenia, the guys thankfully decide to not sing this episode.Unknown-3

Ben mentions that the last video store in the Raleigh area is closing. This led to some discussion about the job security of academic careers where Don stated, ‘prediction is very difficult especially about the future.’

Spurred by Ben’s short visit to Baltimore, the guys then discuss how awesome The Wire is.  Don mentions a perspective by David Simon, the Wire’s creator, on the real life situation in Baltimore.  Ben was recently in Baltimore for the Food Safety Summit.  A nod goes out to Brian Saunders for doing a good job of boots on the ground coverage of what’s going on in Baltimore during the Food Safety Summit.

Don recommends Acorn TV for anyone interested in British TV. This subscription service has British programming not typically shown on US TV. At the Acorn website Ben spotted Time Team an archeology reality series that he thinks his kids would love.

This week Ben talks about media interviews and a focus on multiple food safety stories all hitting at the same time. He talked a cutting boards post on barfblog that garnered some attention.  He also fielded inquires regarding the Blue Bell Listeria outbreak .  Ben noted that Blue Bell announced they are recalling all the ice cream.

A tragic botulism outbreak linked to a church potluck in Ohio was also a topic in multiple media outlets. The potluck outbreak was linked to home-canned potatoes but the coverage prompted a side conversation about bot and foil-wrapped baked potatoes.

Looking ahead to future food outbreaks Ben mentions that a bill was introduced in North Carolina to legalize raw milk.  This bill would allow consumers to legally acquire raw milk via a cow share mechanism.  In this article Ben is quoted challenging an inappropriate comparison of raw milk outbreak data by the bill’s sponsor.

In After Dark Don shames Ben for not listening to Roderick on the Line. Again.

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1 dead, 252 sickened in 2011: Beware the dirt: E coli O157 outbreak on UK leeks and potatoes

I was up early, as I do, and did a long interview with Good Housekeeping that will appear … I don’t know when.

leek_washThe hygiene hypothesis came up, or that a little bit of dirt is good for you.

I said we humans aren’t smart enough yet to know when dirt is good or bad.

The writer was in New York City, and said her friends were all going on about the microbiome – our stomach bacteria.

I said if Michael Pollan endorses the idea, I’m immediately suspect.

So after almost five years since UK health types, out of no where, announced there were 252 people sick with E. coli O157 , apparently linked to poorly washed leeks and potatoes – blame the consumer – UK types finally published a paper about the outbreak.

 Between December 2010 and July 2011, 252 cases of STEC O157 PT8 stx1 + 2 infection were reported in England, Scotland and Wales. This was the largest outbreak of STEC reported in England and the second largest in the UK to date. Eighty cases were hospitalized, with two cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome and one death reported.

Routine investigative data were used to generate a hypothesis but the subsequent case-control study was inconclusive. A second, more detailed, hypothesis generation exercise identified consumption or handling of vegetables as a potential mode of transmission. A second case-control study demonstrated that cases were more likely than controls to live in households whose members handled or prepared leeks bought unwrapped [odds ratio (OR) 40, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2·08-769·4], and potatoes bought in sacks (OR 13·13, 95% CI 1·19-145·3). This appears to be the first outbreak of STEC O157 infection linked to the handling of leeks.

 A large Great Britain-wide outbreak of STEC O157 phage type 8 linked to handling of raw leeks and potatoes

Epidemiology and Infection

Launders, M. E. Locking, M. Hanson, G. Willshaw, A. Charlett, R. Salmon, J. Cowden and G. K. Adak

More food tampering with potatoes in Canada

Maybe it’s boring living on the east coast of Canada, maybe there’s some mob retribution by messing with potatoes, but seriously, if you want revenge, do it Jersey style.

Television programme : The Sopranos starring James Gandolfini asThe Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is advising consumers of a possible food tampering situation involving potatoes following consumer complaints where nails and needles appear to have been inserted into potatoes.

To date complaints have been received from Atlantic Canada.

As tampering is a criminal offense, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are leading the investigation into this matter. The CFIA is supporting the investigation.

There have been no confirmed illnesses or injuries associated with the consumption of these products. As a precaution, consumers should carefully check potatoes for foreign objects.

Anyone who finds any foreign metal objects in a potato is asked to refrain from throwing out the potato, metal object or the bag and any tags related to the product. Please contact your local police so the potatoes and related items can be passed along to the investigators.


More Stompin’ Tom: Sewing needles now found in 10 P.E.I. potatoes

The first bar I got into underage with false ID was the Horseshoe Tavern to see Toronto-based Goddo, who I would later book at my high school when I was student council president (damn glad to meet you). Due to many requests, here’s Stompin’ Tom at the Horseshoe.

But it’s no trivial manner for growers when the RCMP in Prince Edward Island say their investigation into food tampering now includes 10 potatoes containing sewing needles.

The Mounties say the needles were found in three more potatoes originating from Linkletter Farms in Summerside with the help of metal detection equipment.

The potatoes were returned as part of a voluntary recall and have been sent to a forensic laboratory for more testing.


More tampered Canadian potatoes discovered

CBC News reports that tampered potatoes from P.E.I. have reached other parts of Atlantic Canada.

Potato Head2Over the last few days, police received three reports of tampered potatoes, one in Neil’s Harbour, Nova Scotia, one in Musgrave Harbour, Newfoundland and one in Chance Cove, Newfoundland.

All the potatoes contained a metal object. 

Police believe the potatoes originated from Linkletter Farms in P.E.I.

In all three of the most recent instances, the foreign metal objects were discovered prior to consumption and no one was injured.

With the latest reports, this makes five reports so far of metal objects found in potatoes packaged at Linkletter Farms.

All the tampered potatoes were on a voluntary recall list issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, October 7.

Canadian potatoes recalled after possible tampering

Potatoes grown and packaged on a farm in Prince Edward Island are being recalled and RCMP are investigating after a metal object was found inserted inside a potato.

On Oct. 6, P.E.I. RCMP were informed a potato in Labrador City, Newfoundland and Labrador had been found with a metal object inside.

The table potato is believed to have originated from Linkletter Farms, located in Summerside P.E.I.

RCMP communications officer Sgt. Leanne Butler says police are treating this as a mischief investigation involving food tampering.

Gary Linkletter, general manager of Linkletter Farms, requested the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to issue a voluntary recall of the potatoes to ensure the public is not at risk.

The RCMP major crime unit, forensic identification unit and members of the East Prince RCMP Detachment are all involved in the investigation.

Gratuitous food porn shot of the day – oven-baked salmon, asparagus spears, baked potatoes and roasted corn

Sorenne eating dinner with mom and dad, Oct. 8, 2009.

Oven-roasted salmon fillets (the farm-raised kind – more sustainable) with olive oil, lime juice, garlic and fresh thyme, corn-on-the-cob (Sorenne’s favorite, but getting starchy as the cold weather moves in), baked Russett potatoes and asparagus spears, the frozen kind, which were surprisingly good.

Top 5 Records top ten list of riskiest foods

I love High Fidelity. The book introduced me to Nick Hornby, the movie introduced me to Jack Black and the soundtrack introduced me to Bruce Springsteen.

Okay, I knew about the Boss before, but the soundtrack indirectly led me to discover Thunder Road (which has helped me forget Dancing in the Dark).

The High fidelity-esque, Top 5 Records Rob Gordon-style, Center for Science in the Public Interest released a list of the top ten "riskiest" foods.

I place riskiest in dick fingers not because I want to be a dick, but because I don’t think that’s the right word. The list has been generated through data collected from CDC outbreak listings, state health departments and other various sources. The list should be called "The top 10 foods that are in dishes with foods regulated by the FDA, at some point, which have caused the most microbial foodborne illness outbreaks". But that title is too long.

CSPI is better than anyone else at pulling this stuff together and has an outbreak database that I use all the time. The missing bit of information which is not captured in the list (but is alluded to a bit in the report) and is needed to put the info into context is where did the contamination occur or where was the risk reduction step missed. What is the attributed source?

Source alone doesn’t matter, food alone doesn’t matter but putting those two data sources together allows for a concentration on where risk reduction efforts are needed.

Potatoes are the food on the list I have the most problem with. And it’s not because I have a soft spot for Idaho or Prince Edward Island. It’s because the outbreaks that place potatoes on the list are associated with potato dishes. It just happens that potato salad is consumed a lot, is prepared alongside other foods that carry risks by foodhandlers who might suck at hygiene. Potato dishes (mainly because of the additon of other foods) also create a great medium for pathogens. Potatoes aren’t on this list because potatoes are a particularly risky food.

The report says that over 40% of the included potato outbreaks were linked to foodservice or processing. 60% come from elsewhere (which probably includes community dinners, festivals, and in-the-home). Should I not eat potatoes, or should I not eat potato dishes? What about potato chips? 

That information matters when it comes to dedicating resources to address the risky foods. It’s not a potato problem, it’s not an FDA regulated-food problem. Food safety is a farm-to-fork, almost every food, food handling problem.

Microwaving listeria out of potatoes

Minnesota-based food maker Northern Star is recalling several different refrigerated potato products after some samples were found to have Listeria monocytogenes.

According to WCCO-TV, a former employee had already reported concerns about listeria on plant equipment to the FDA.

I’m not sure what his role was in the company, but he told the news crew,

“…I like to protect the people who eat this product. I’ve seen mice all over the place. Cockroaches, black mold, listeria: I mean you name it, you can find it."

Sounds pretty gross, but—if necessary—most of the poop can be cooked out of food.

A report of the recall by noted,

“Officials say properly cooking the food kills Listeria bacteria, but the Minnesota Department of Agriculture says often times people overlook the cooking instructions and simply heat these products in the microwave.”

It only takes a couple minutes to kill listeria if you can get the food up to 158F. A microwave can do this quickly, but unevenly. The cold spots that don’t get up to the right temp can still have listeria bacteria living in them.

Therefore, many manufacturers—such as Northern Star—don’t provide that option in the cooking instructions.

However, pretending people don’t use the microwave is not a realistic way to minimize the risk of someone getting sick.

Some have suggested acknowledging consumer use of microwave ovens by pasting DO NOT MICROWAVE on packages of foods that are likely to make people sick if they’re not cooked properly (like raw chicken thingies).

In the case of refrigerated hashbrowns, it’s probably reasonable to provide instructions for the microwave and include a little note on the dangers of uneven cooking.

This would give consumers the opportunity to make an informed decision on how they’ll cook their potatoes. Particularly when there’s poop in them.

So far, no illnesses have been reported in connection with this recall. Providing more information to consumers could help ensure that’s the case.