Most juice outlets in Kochi function by flouting food safety norms

Locating a juice shop in the city fully complying with the guidelines prescribed by the Commissioner of Food Safety may be a Herculean task this summer.

With shops mushrooming in every nook and cranny in Kochi, Indian Food Safety officials seem groping in the dark on how to curb the violations.

Even though reports on use of contaminated ice have come down gradually, they admitted that the majority of the shops store ice in thermocol boxes against the FRUITS_JUICE-2_1814515fprescribed rules. As per the guidelines, ice should not be stored in polystyrene boxes, but in freezers or ice boxes.

Many juice shop owners now claim that they use water supplied in cans by private manufacturers of bottled drinking water. But there is little check on whether these suppliers meet the safety standards.

Use of low quality milk, especially that brought from outside the State, is also rampant in juice shops offering milk shakes.

The Food Safety Department has no clues on whether the shops were storing milk in freezers well beyond the expiry period.

Farm free or die; Maine towns rebel against food rules

I was in New Hampshire once with Amy; she was talking at some conference, I had lunch with a health inspector, watched a serious girls lacrosse game, and became familiar with the license plate slogan, Live Free or Die.

The health type told me that meant some state legislator wanted to ilive-free-or-dientroduce raw milk for the school lunch program.

Maria Godoy of NPR appropriates the NH slogan and writes that in Maine, towns have declared independence from state and federal regulations on locally produced foods.

In May, the tiny Isle of Haut became the 10th town in the state to pass what’s known as a food sovereignty ordinance. Essentially, these resolutions claim that small local food producers don’t have to abide by state or federal licensing and inspection regulations if they are selling directly to consumers.

Until people get sick. Then they’ll want government.

An Italian view on food safety responsibility and law

This column initially appeared in the Italian publication, On promoteus, where food safety friend and consultant Luca Bucchini has a weekly column called Food Wars. An edited version appears below.

In early 2009, an American manufacturer of peanut butter and other peanut-based ingredients such as paste, ordered one of the most impressive  recalls in recent years.

The recall involved 3900 products, since as many as 350 different companies used ingredients by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA).

It was not precautionary action: the contamination of peanut butter with Salmonella Typhymurium was already spreading infection and death across promoteus.luca.may.13United States. According to estimates, at least 714 people were eventually sickened, alog with nine deaths.

Investigations later showed that PCA had obtained analytical results from external laboratories that confirmed the presence of the pathogen earlier than the recall was ordered, but managers decided to ignore them and hide them from their customers. Management even went so far as to invent false analytical results, altering those with unwelcome results and inventing results of tests never made.

If all this is true, it is difficult to disagree with the intention of the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute and potentially have those responsible jailed. Meanwhile, PCA is bankrupt, and some managers have since explained that financial concerns contributed to a delayed recall and falsified results.

Leaders of food companies are sometimes, though rarely, forced to make a choice: consumers’ lives or corporate survival.

That decision is influenced by moral fiber, courage, and legal incentives.

If a similar case occurs in the Belpaese (Italy, aka the beautiful country), two things are likely to happen. First, if cases were not very concentrated geographically, and the number of cases were a bit less dramatic, from the epidemiological side (epidemiologists collect data on cases of disease and try to interpret them, but they must have an effective surveillance system to do their job) there would be no alert. Second, if the contamination had become known somehow by the authorities, with or without illness, managers would have faced criminal charges.

In Italy’s system, with a few recent exceptions, a company’s relevant manager is criminally responsible for the contamination of food, regardless of causes. European food law imposes a duty on same manager to immediately report to the authority and to take action to recall food as soon as he or she discovers that their food, despite all efforts, is found to be contaminated.

Since for the Italian mentality, prevention is less important than doling out punishment for cases of the disease, who communicates to authorities that their company’s food is contaminated may bring upon herself or himself a criminal trial.

It is not uncommon to hear QA managers of food companies (to whom legal responsibility has been prudently delegated by higher management) quietly say when in confidence: I would not do it. I’m pretty convinced that, when there is evidence of cases of illness, all would agree to “fall on their sword” and risk criminal charges but rarely, when you have early analytical results, you know with certainty that one of your products is causing illness and sometimes death.

The result is that the incentives in Italy are still too much in favor of providing the public the satisfaction of the pillory, in the rare cases where authorities found that there has been an issue, and not in favour of protecting people’s health.

When draconian laws are urged, does this system favors investment in better detection techniques given the dilemmas posed by to managers when they learn that their own food is contaminated, or does it encourage inertia.

When I think that, in Italy, a manager of a supermarket can be treated as a criminal because the supermarket he supervises unwittingly sold a sausage laced with Salmonella (even if manufactured by another business and even if it is virtually impossible to test each received batch), I much admire those who, if they are aware of the risks, continue to assume responsibility in the food sector.

Farmer—regulate thyself; ag takes food safety into its own hands, now market it so consumers can choose

There’s plenty of talk amongst policy wonks about various food safety reforms, but that’s been going on for years: people eat three times a day.

Erin Brodwin writes in Scientific American that consumers look for safer food, especially as the public becomes more aware of
marketing-strategy-win-new-clients1bacterial outbreaks, and farms in the past seven years have led the charge to respond.

At least 15 years in my direct experience.

Consumers have begun to demand safer products via their collective buying power, says Greg West, president and CEO of National Pasteurized Eggs in Lansing, Ill. West’s company, which produces pasteurized eggs in an effort to eliminate Salmonella, has seen consumer demand for its product double in the past year. And West is more than happy to supply the safer eggs—sales, he said, have skyrocketed since the Salmonella outbreaks in the 1990s and a more recent flare-up in 2006 that made national headlines.

Preventing bacterial outbreaks is a matter of reducing risk, West says. Some cases of Salmonella-related illness, he notes, could have been prevented simply by cooking them thoroughly. Unfortunately, many people don’t cook eggs completely; over-easy, poached and soft-boiled eggs are all bacterial vectors. “Why not stop the risk before it enters the supply chain?” he says. All of the company’s eggs go through a hot-water pasteurization bath. Afterward, each egg is sealed with a wax coating to prevent potential future contamination and stamped with a red circle “P” to denote that they have been pasteurized.

Other companies, however, can’t bathe their products in bacteria-killing solution as a matter of practicality. Earthbound Farm in San Juan Bautista, Calif., which lost $70 million as a result of an E. coli outbreak in its fresh spinach in 2006, began a massive safety overhaul in 2006 that incorporated vigorous bacterial testing with innovative safety methods such as UV radiation. “At the end of the day you can’t rely on government or academia,” says Earthbound Farm head of food safety, Will Daniels. “You have to have relationships with the suppliers and know the process.”

The California Strawberry Commission has made products safer not by implementing new technologies, rather they better educate farmers, says Andrew Kramer, director of grower education. Strawberries are harvested year-round, so the field is continually replete with workers; as a labor-intensive crop, strawberries mandated a people-centered approach to safety.

For example, when the company discovered that workers were taking breaks in the field rather than in designated areas to the side of the crops, it also found that food trash residue was diminishing crop quality and attracting animals to growing areas. Kramer’s team found that animals and bacteria attracted to scraps would often invade crops as well. Commission experts soon realized that gaps in communication between commissioners, growers and farmers were to blame—growers
checklist-wholewere not telling farmers about break protocol, and some weren’t even supplying chairs in dedicated eating locations. So commission experts began a series of training and education workshops in English and Spanish, and instructed growers to provide workers with portable chairs at a central location, preventing food scraps from attracting bacteria to crop sites. To tackle other field safety issues, directors of the grower education program came up with a food safety flip chart—a giant wooden how-to manual complete with diagrams and illustrations on field safety (the 4-foot one we came up with over 10 years ago and hung in a high traffic area in greenhouses is above, left). Farm safety educators use the chart during trainings, during which they instruct workers on everything from correct hand-washing practices how to identify a diseased crop before it infects the whole field.

These examples have been well-known for decades. Those growers that take food safety seriously and can back it up with data should market their safety efforts at retail so consumers can choose.

Kosher: Private regulation in the age of industrial food

Some time ago a law professor contacted me about food safety regulations and that he liked barfblog. We began a spirited e-mail discussion, and apparently my influence is found throughout the conclusion. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

The result is the new book, Kosher, by Timothy D. Lytton, the Albert & Angela Farone Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School, and kosher.lyttonsummarized below.

Generating over $12 billion in annual sales, kosher food is big business. It is also an unheralded story of successful private-sector regulation in an era of growing public concern over the government’s ability to ensure food safety. Kosher uncovers how independent certification agencies rescued American kosher supervision from fraud and corruption and turned it into a model of nongovernmental administration.

Currently, a network of over three hundred private certifiers ensures the kosher status of food for over twelve million Americans, of whom only eight percent are religious Jews. But the system was not always so reliable. At the turn of the twentieth century, kosher meat production in the United States was notorious for scandals involving price-fixing, racketeering, and even murder. Reform finally came with the rise of independent kosher certification agencies which established uniform industry standards, rigorous professional training, and institutional checks and balances to prevent mistakes and misconduct.

In overcoming many of the problems of insufficient resources and weak enforcement that hamper the government, private kosher certification holds important lessons for improving food regulation, Timothy Lytton argues. He views the popularity of kosher food as a response to a more general cultural anxiety about industrialization of the food supply. Like organic and locavore enthusiasts, a growing number of consumers see in rabbinic supervision a way to personalize today’s vastly complex, globalized system of food production.

Horsemeat scandal – like every other scandal — turns into blame game

The story is dominating local news: illicit activity, selling something not as advertised, possible links with organized crime.

Footy in Australia is under intense scrutiny as government types realize, there may be a problem. Like cycling and the Tour de France.

Like horse meat substituting for other meat apparently throughout the EU.

Doug Powell, a Kansas State University food safety expert, told the Toronto Star“It isn’t really a food safety story at this point. It is food fraud. How could
gummer.hamburgersomeone not have known? Now you’ll get a lot of finger pointing.”

What I also said was that food fraud is centuries old, and that only now is technology available to provide data to support all kinds of food hucksterism.

I also mentioned that companies marketing stuff they don’t know about are the primary villains here; government and regulatory complacency is to be expected.

Ed Bedington, editor of Meat Trades Journal, told the BBC the Findus horse meat case has brought into question the security of supply chains.

“Retailers make great play about the audits they do and the robustness of the supply chain. But as a long-term observer of the sector, it calls all that into question.”

But rest assured Canadians, home of the Walkerton E. coli-in-water outbreak, 23 deaths from listeria-in-deli meats, and the 2003 downer-cattle-slaughtered-after-hours at Aylmer Meats: rapid DNA tests of 15 hamburgers by University of Guelph types has concluded they were all beef.

Will food safety rules really make fewer people barf?

There’s been a few stories of late asserting that the U.S. feds’ delay in passing some new food safety rules is somehow making food more dangerous.

Maybe for the talking heads in Beltway-land, but there is no evidence any rule would have made a cantaloupe farmer add sanitizer to his wash water and not kill 35 people.

The animal welfare types figured this out a long time ago: don’t even bother with government, go to retail and consumers’ pocketbooks. That change, even in the absence of evidence, happens much faster.

Producers, take responsibility for your own food safety. Do you really need a babysitter?

Ensuring safe foods and medical products through stronger regulatory systems abroad

A new report calls on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to export its regulatory knowhow to improve the safety of imports arriving in the U.S.

Almost 40 percent of the fruits and nuts and 85 percent of the seafood that Americans purchase come from aboard. More than 80 percent of active pharmaceutical ingredients are imported, and 40 percent of medicines are imported as finished products.

The report from a committee of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies says many regulatory agencies abroad lack the legal framework, funding, training, and oversight that have helped to transform the FDA into one of the world’s top-notch regulatory agencies.

Jim Riviere, a professor of pharmacology at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, and chair of the committee said, "Globalization is not going to reverse. … No matter how much inspection we do, we are always going to find flawed products. We’re not saying we need to cut back on inspections, but all resources can’t be spent on inspection."

Instead, the IOM says the onus is on the FDA to help the exporting countries improve their own regulatory systems and supply chains, so that everyone can be more confident that what they’re producing is safe.

Theatre of the bizarre as North Pole Republican wants to eliminate government regulation of food

A couple of our Alaskan food safety friends sent along updates on the ban food safety regulation movement in the state legislature that looks more like a Second City improv skit.

The Mudflats blog reports Alaska State Rep. Tammie Wilson, a Republican from North Pole, who has taken her quest for deregulation to new and unsanitary heights.

Behold House Bill 202 – Sale of Food by Processors to Consumers. Gone are the days of food inspectors, rules and regulations, requirements for refrigeration, and soap and water. All’s fair at the farmer’s market, no matter what you’re selling.

Most of Rep. Wilson’s testimony came in the form of a skit where the plot focused only on produce and baked goods. She played a beleaguered farmer, just trying to sell her humble wares at the market, and her aide played an uptight, joyless, and unreasonable inspector from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

The ensuing skit involved a lot of food props, and the committee members had also been given samples of peeled and sliced fruit, and cookies. “I do have a knife,” Wilson demonstrated to the audience, “and I will not use it on anyone, I promise.” (Cue a weirdly awkward moment as Wilson’s aide let forth with a too-loud cackle, and the rest of the room sat in uncomfortable silence).

And thus began the dramatic demonstration. Slicing of tomatoes was not allowed, because that was considered “food preparation.” Orange peeling was forbidden for the same reason. Next, she tried “an apple…one that we know daycares like to do. And I’m sure that they’re able, with no permit or anything, to be able to cut an apple for a snack.” No dice, says the inspector, “And as far as a daycare goes, if you have five or less children, you may cut. Any more than that, you’d be permitted.” (Remember this part for later, because it’s not true).
But we’re not done yet. Next up – a strawberry. Wilson begins to remove the green top.

“This may have seemed ridiculous, but you know, it is ridiculous! Do I want to poison anybody? It’s not a good thing to be a Representative and poison your constituents. I just want to put that on the record.”

The TV cameras were rolling, but there was no audio hookup yet. This happens so people don’t embarrass themselves by saying something stupid into a “hot mic” that they weren’t intending to say in public. In this particular case, that didn’t matter. Behold our food-prepping farmer, who beautifully illustrates the hazards of her own bill during the ten minutes before the meeting started:
Who could object to dirty cutlery, snotty carrots, unrefrigerated egg custard, and the underside of Tammy Wilson’s germy fingernails in their strawberries? Ridiculous. As long as there was no willful attempt to poison, that should be enough.

Kristin Ryan, Director for the DEC, identified the Food Safety and Sanitation program as “the main target of Rep. Wilson’s bill” and began her testimony by stating what really should be the obvious:

“The DEC recognizes the interest from small food business owners throughout the state to sell products. Provisions in HB202 could cause significant risks for the general public, and increase foodborne illness outbreaks.

When you purchase food to eat, you assume it is safe. While no one intends to harm their customers, food-borne illnesses are common, and can easily happen. Precautionary measures are important to make and serve safe food. At a minimum, you need a sanitary environment, employees to wash their hands, and proper temperature control.”

The Republican bill would eliminate the ability of the DEC to investigate if an outbreak of food-borne illness was occurring. The agency would not be allowed to inspect, test, or stop the sale of a food product that is making people sick.

Because Republicans love freedom. And food safety inspectors don’t.

Tokyo chefs swell with anger over new blowfish laws

Blowfish chefs are upset that Japan, which just threatened to tighten regulations on serving raw meat to control disease, is proposing to loosen regs on potentially deadly blowfish.

Reuters reports that for more than six decades, dicing blowfish in Tokyo has been the preserve of a small band of strictly regulated and licensed chefs, usually in exclusive restaurants.

But new laws coming into effect from October are opening the lucrative trade to restaurants without a license, making chefs like Naohito Hashimoto see red.

"We have spent time and money in order to obtain and use the blowfish license, but with these new rules anybody can handle blowfish even without a license," said Hashimoto, a blowfish chef for some 30 years.

"They’re saying it’s now okay to serve blowfish. We licensed chefs feel this way of thinking is a bit strange."

The poison known as tetrododoxin is found in parts of the blowfish, including the liver, heart, intestines and eyes, and is so intense that a tiny amount will kill.

Every year there are reports of people dying after preparing blowfish at home.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government says city laws covering the serving of blowfish should be changed to reflect changing times and hope that relaxing the rules will cut prices and bring Tokyo in line with the rest of the nation.

"Outside of Tokyo, the regulations for blowfish are even more relaxed and yet there are hardly any poison-related accidents," said Hironobu Kondo, an official at the city’s Food Control Department.

"There is the hope that the number of restaurants with unlicensed chefs serving blowfish will rise, and that blowfish as an ingredient will be used not only for traditional Japanese foods but also others such as Chinese and Western foods."

A full course meal of blowfish, known as fugu in Japanese, features delicacies such as blowfish tempura, slices of raw fish thin enough to see through fanned out across a plate like chrysanthemum petals, and toasted fins in cups of hot sake.

But the meal is far from cheap, as diners pay for the safety of a licensed chef. At Hashimoto’s restaurant, a meal costs at least 10,000 yen a person.

"I don’t want people to forget that you can actually die from eating blowfish," he said. "I feel the government’s awareness of this has diminished."