Chipotle: The food safety gift that keeps on giving

In a previous life I was the scientific advisor for the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors.

We would meet a couple of times a year, and I would provide my food safety thoughts on what was going on at retail, but what struck me was that the first three hours of every meeting were like a self-help therapy session.

These heads of food safety at major Canadian retailers would bemoan their diminishing status at the corporate level: No one cares about food safety until there’s an outbreak. Twenty years later, the song remains the same.

Alexis Morillo of Delish writes that Chipotle workers claim that food safety practices are at risk at the fast casual restaurant due to managerial procedures that cause workers to “cut corners.”

A total of 47 current and former Chipotle workers from New York City locations came forward about the malpractice in a report to Business Insider. This news follows recent allegations that the company has been violating child labor laws.

In the report obtained by Business Insider, workers outlined concerns about the way things are done behind the scenes at Chipotle. It said that many incentives like pay bonuses let other responsibilities like cleanliness audits and food safety fall to the wayside.

Workers said in the report that working at Chipotle is “highly pressurized environment” with goals that include “minimizing labor costs.”

It was also said that managers are often told in advance when a restaurant will be inspected for cleanliness so they can be prepared. Meanwhile, when an inspection isn’t taking place the cleanliness standard is much more laid back. In the past, people have questioned Chipotle’s safety standards because of the E. Coli outbreak a couple years back. The chain also has an interesting sick day policy, where there are on call nurses for workers to check if they’re actually sick.

Chipotle said in a statement to Delish that the company is committed to safe food and a safe work environment and that the pay bonuses actually incentivize workers to be even more precise when following company policies.

The song remains the same.

49 sick: Glazed eclairs cause mass poisoning in two Armenian provinces

News Az reports the poisoning cases were reported in the town of Sisian in the southern province of Syunik and in Vanadzor and Stepanavan in the northern province of Lori.
According to the ministry, all the patients had symptoms of diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. A preliminary diagnosis said the cause of poisoning was an intestinal infection.

The National Center for Disease Control and Prevention said 41 patients were traced in Lori, and 8 in Syunik. Currently, 33 patients are still being treated in Lori and 8 in Syunik. Doctors assess the patients’ condition as satisfactory. According to the press service of the Food Safety Inspectorate, laboratory studies found salmonella in éclairs.

It said the Zeytun Sweet company was inspected but no violations of sanitary standards were found, but it turned out that the éclairs did not have a conformity assessment and did not have a safety certificate. Zeytun Sweet Company was ordered to ban the sale of the product and recall éclairs from the market and destroy them.

In addition, samples of eggs, oil, spread, as well as finished products used for the production of éclairs were taken for further examination.

Food safety culture in Brazilian restaurants

Food safety culture may establish the right environment for adequate food handling and management, reducing violations of food safety regulation, especially those related to foodborne disease outbreaks.

This study aimed to evaluate differences among elements of food safety culture in food services at low or high-risk for foodborne diseases. This study was conducted with 63 managers and 333 food handlers from 32 food services located in the metropolitan region of Campinas, State of São Paulo, Brazil. The following elements of food safety culture (considering the technical-managerial and human routes) were evaluated: management systems, style, and process; leadership; organizational commitment; food safety climate (communication; self-commitment; management and coworker support; environment support; risk judgment; normative beliefs and work pressure); and risk perceptions. In the technical-managerial route, restaurants were categorized as low- or high foodborne disease risk restaurants.

For the evaluation of food safety management systems, a validated checklist was used. In the human route, food safety climate analysis was performed by evaluating five elements applied exclusively to food handlers. High-risk restaurants presented a higher percentage of violation in most aspects related to food safety regulation and physical structure. Leadership and knowledge of low-risk restaurants’ managers presented a higher level when compared to high-risk restaurants’ managers, showing that in the first group managers acted as mediators of safe practices. Food handlers from low-risk restaurants presented higher scores in food safety knowledge, organizational commitment, and food safety climate when compared to food handlers from high-risk restaurants. In restaurants with lower risk for foodborne diseases, the elements of food safety culture were better evaluated, indicating fewer violations of food safety regulation. In these restaurants, a consistent food safety climate was perceived within the technical-managerial route.

This result shows that fewer violations of food safety legislation, especially those involving high-risk foodborne disease, were a positive outcome of an improved FS-culture. In this sense, it is possible to improve food safety by applying, evolving and maturing the concepts of FS-culture in restaurants in Brazil.

Food safety culture in food services with different degrees of risk for foodborne diseases in Brazil

Food Control

Marcel Levy de Andrade1, Elke Stedefeldt2, Lais Mariano Zanin3, Diogo Thimoteo da Cunha

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodcont.2020.107152

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0956713520300682

Best intentions don’t always help, in relationships or food safety

Evacuees from quake-hit Cotabato, Philippines, were rushed to the hospital in November (can you tell I’m still playing catch up with what I find interesting as my 8 broken ribs and broken collarbone heal) due to suspected food poisoning from donated packed meals.

Acting Vice Governor Shirlyn Macasarte said 30 evacuees were brought to hospitals after vomiting and experiencing diarrhea. The evacuees from Malabuan and Patulangon evacuation centers in Barangay Malasila in Makilala ate packed foods given to them.

Bienvenida Lagumbay, 71, said she vomited and experienced diarrhea after eating rice with dried fish and pork wrapped in banana leaf. She said four other people in the evacuation center ate the food and all of them experienced vomiting and diarrhea.

Distribution of hot meals or packed foods to quake-affected residents is now prohibited after the incident. Macasarte said despite their order to ban donated hot meals in evacuation centers to avoid food poisoning, the public can still help in other ways.

Macasarte said she instructed her staff to check on the patients’ conditions, including the hospital bills of those admitted in private hospitals.

7News investigates student concerns about food safety at UMass Lowell

Fed up students at UMass Lowell say millions of dollars from taxpayers and their tuition are being wasted on food that they can’t eat — and now that 7NEWS Investigates got involved, the university is threatening to cut ties with its food provider if the issues aren’t addressed.

A 7NEWS investigation of the food being served at the university uncovered mold, worms, and purple-colored undercooked chicken.

Freshman Matt Gorham is among those sounding off, saying, “We just want food that’s edible.”

Freshman Ronan Rogier agreed, saying, “It’s not healthy, it’s not safe.”

These students, and their classmates, are so upset with the food being offered in their dining halls, hey sent 7NEWS videos and pictures taken last semester, that show bugs in their pasta, black substances on their lettuce, and worms in their broccoli.

“It got so bad they had to stop serving broccoli because they always had bugs in them,” said sophomore Nate Polgreen.

University Dining stopped serving the broccoli in November, stressing that “food safety is always a top priority.”

In addition to being grossed out, students say they are paying a lot of money for food they can’t eat.

Meal plans at UMass Lowell range from $4,500 to $5,000 a year. Freshmen are required to get one.

The great university meal plan rip off; was going on when I started as an undergraduate in 1981, still going on today.

“It’s undercooked, it’s moldy, it’s even been soggy a few times when it’s not supposed to be,” Rogier said.

Gorham added, “What we are spending on that meal plan each semester, is unacceptable for this food.”

All the food is purchased and prepared by Aramark Education Services, a national company that UMass Lowell paid $18.5 million for this school year.

Aramark refused our request to talk on-camera, instead of issuing a statement, saying “Our top priority is to ensure a positive, safe, and healthy dining environment for the entire UMass Lowell community and we will continue to give this matter our constant attention. We maintain rigid food safety operating procedures for the entire flow of food production. This includes providing an environment that protects the safety and integrity of food from its delivery, throughout its storage, preparation, transport, and ultimately, to the point of service to the customer. We encourage anyone with a concern about their dining experience to contact any of our Managers on Duty in the dining location so that we can provide immediate attention to any concerns, comments or suggestions on the spot.”

Couldn’t make a point with a pin.

Fancy food ain’t safe food, Yelp California edition

The popular review site Yelp started warning Southern Californians about restaurants that get low health inspection grades Wednesday, and some of those places are famous, fancy eateries.

Joel Grover and Amy Corral of NBC Los Angeles report that starting Wednesday, if you try to read Yelp reviews of any LA County restaurant that has a C rating or worse, you’ll first see a big, bold warning that says “Consumer Alert: Low Food Safety Score.”

”The goal of the ‘health score alerts’ that we’re placing today is to both warn consumers, but also provide further incentive for businesses to improve their cleanliness and their hygiene at their establishment,” said Yelp senior VP Vince Sollitto.

Here’s what the new alert will look like on Yelp.

Among the dozens of restaurants that now have Consumer Alerts on Yelp is the upscale Rosaline in West Hollywood. Rosaline was honored as a “favourite for good value” by the prestigious Michelin Guide last year, but also received C grades on its last two inspections.

On Nov. 5, the health inspector cited Rosaline for 13 violations, three of them major,  including vermin. In his report, the inspector observed “at least a dozen live adult and nymph cockroaches” and “at least a dozen soft, fresh rat droppings.”

…at least a dozen live adult and nymph cockroaches” and “…at least a dozen soft, fresh rat droppings.

But customers might not know Rosaline got a “C” –70 out of 100 — because the letter grade is not prominently placed at eye level at the entrance.

Rosaline told the I-Team it has fixed the vermin problem and is waiting for a re-inspection.

“After the Health Department found vermin in a wall cavity, Rosaliné closed for 10 days to repair damage found in two of our walls we believe was caused by neighboring construction. The health department thoroughly inspected and approved our reopening on November 15th. Over the past two and a half months, we have made multiple requests to the Health Department provide a current grade,” the Rosaliné team said in a follow-up email.

The LA County Health Department began giving restaurants letter grades in 1998, after the I-Team’s Joel Grover went undercover and exposed LA restaurants with filthy conditions and practices, like workers picking their noses while preparing food, and sneezing right into food that was about to be served to customers.

Before 1998, the health department kept restaurant inspection scores secret. Until then, if a restaurant failed an inspection, consumers remained unaware.

For the last 21 years, restaurant inspection information and scores have been made available on the LA County Public Health Department’s website, but finding information about specific restaurants requires several steps of digging.

The county’s online information is also sometimes inaccurate or incomplete; the I-Team noticed that one prominent Beverly Hills restaurant got a C rating last October, but then paid a fee for a reinspection and got an A. The C no longer appears on the county’s site. A restaurant inspection history is supposed to be publicly posted.

Yelp says its new Consumer Alerts will make information about low scoring restaurants easily accessible to consumers.

“The goal of the Yelp program is to make health hygiene scores for restaurants both more accessible to consumers and more easily understandable for them,” Yelp’s Vince Sollitto said.

But the I-Team found errors in Yelp’s Consumer Alert program too. As of this morning, more than 70 LA county businesses had Health Score Alerts –meaning their grades were C or below. But the I-Team found at least five of those businesses actually had As or Bs, on their most recent inspections listed on the county’s website.

When the I-Team asked Yelp about the discrepancies, a spokesperson said they “get an updated data feed from the Los Angeles County Health department on approximately a weekly basis,” and were factoring the most recent information into their consumer alerts.

Here’s the poop on the Poop Café

Liz Braun of the Toronto Sun writes the aptly named Poop Café has received a yellow rating from the Toronto Public Health food safety program

In other gross out news, a recent edition of barfblog recaps a CBSLA report about how the delivery guy from Ubereats might be munching on your fries or sipping your drink before those items are delivered to you. Think about that the next time you call DoorDash or Foodora.

If that’s not disgusting enough, barfblog will also let you read all about how many sushi joints in Ireland fail to meet food safety standards, or even about mice in an Amsterdam crepe restaurant. Ewwww!

Enjoy.

It’s always nice to know that someone reads me.

Sloan “Money City Maniacs” from Mark Cutler on Vimeo.

They still suck: After years of bashing agriculture and GMOs, Chipotle reverses course

I started bashing Chipotle about 2006, when driving through Kansas City with a trailer full of stuff as I moved to Manhattan, Kansas, to follow a girl, and cited this billboard.

Any company focused on this stuff usually meant they were somewhat oblivios to basic food safety.

Unfortunately for all the thousands of sick people over the next 14 years, I was right.

I tried to call them out for the food safety amateurs they were.

Even worse, when Amy was pregnant with Sorenne, she would get Chipotle cravings and I would dutifully comply, because she was doing the heavy lifting in pregnancy.

Now I have an entire book chapter I’m working on, devoted to Chipotle.

Kevin Folta of the Genetic Literacy Project writes that after years of attacking conventional agriculture and crop biotechnology, Chipotle now seems to have found a love for the American farmer that is as warm and inviting as the gooey core of a steak burrito. With the launch of its “Cultivate the Future of Farming” campaign, the company seeks to raise awareness about the hardships facing American agriculture and offer some recommendations and seed grants to address the problems. According to the campaign website:

It’s time to take real steps to give the next generation of farmers a bright future. Through our purpose to Cultivate a Better World, we’re putting programs in place that make a real impact, including seed grants, education and scholarships, and 3-year contracts. Our vision is bold, but we’re starting with a mission to cultivate the future of farming by focusing on pork, beef, and dairy.

It is good to see a company raising awareness about these issues. But given Chipotle’s past cozy relationship with organic food marketers, this seems more like a marketing stunt to woo consumers who are growing increasingly concerned about the status of American farms, and less like a genuine example of philanthropy.

Chipotle is absolutely correct about one thing. The crisis in agriculture is real. Farmers are facing low prices for their products, astronomical costs, and strangling regulation.  Farms, from commodity crops to dairies, are going out of business daily. Farmer suicides are a barometer of how severe the problem is.

From Chipotle’s website- The “challenge is real” and “It’s a hard living.”

However, Chipotle’s new ag-vertisment seems too little, too late. The threats to farmers and the public’s negative perception of agriculture didn’t seem to bother the company just a few years ago. For example, it’s 2014 video Farmed and Dangerous was an assault on large-scale animal agriculture, the industry that produces the ingredients that go into Chipotle’s burritos. Farmed and Dangerous was not the restaurant chain’s first effort, either.  The video short The Scarecrow falsely depicted a sad, dystopian world of dairy production in which forlorn cows are locked in stacked metal boxes as milk is extracted by an extensive network of plumbing.

And of course, Chipotle’s penetrating campaign against genetic engineering (GE) sought to capitalize on the momentum of several failed GMO labeling efforts, which were designed to demonize crop biotechnology by suggesting to consumers that GE seeds were dangerous—an allegation known to be false.

Let’s get real. Chipotle’s decisions to criticize agriculture and then embrace it were not born of altruism.  Public-facing corporate positions are spawned from focus groups and surveys. As a multinational, billion-dollar food empire, Chipotle is no different. The company’s ad campaigns aim to reinforce consumers’ perceptions and identity, showing that Big Burrito shares their values. That is what we see in this latest pro-farm campaign. The public is becoming increasingly aware of the fragile state of US agriculture and the crisis that has hit rural North America hard, and Chipotle is responding.

So is “Cultivate the Future of Farming” just an ag-washing ornament to exploit farmer hardship, or is this a genuine change of heart?

If it is indeed the latter, it needs to start with an apology—an honest one. Chipotle needs to publicly reject its anti-science positions and profound misrepresentation of agriculture. In the six years since the fast food chain’s anti-farming efforts hit a feverish pace, public perception has changed. The fear-based misinformation campaigns are failing, and time has not treated such efforts well. Chipotle’s videos are a shameful reminder of the rhetoric that was so prevalent just a short time ago.

Imagine where we’d be today if in 2014 Chipotle and other brands  invested heavily in research, rural mental health, or resources to bring precision agriculture to farmers. I think the perception of Chipotle and the perception of crop and animal production would be very different.

Perhaps the most important takeaway is that you shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds in the first place. Targeting farmers who produce the products you sell is bad business—and it threatens a critical industry we all depend on.

Faith-based food safety: Unlicensed California food service fined after illnesses

AP News reports an unlicensed food delivery service in the Sacramento area has been fined more than $100,000 after several customers were sickened.

The owner of Anna’s Kitchen “repeatedly delivered hundreds of meals that had not been kept properly hot or cold for extended periods of time, increasing the likelihood of foodborne illness,” the Yolo County district attorney’s office said in a statement Monday.

The business used the popular Chinese app WeChat to market its homemade Chinese food to Chinese foreign exchange students at the University of California, Davis, authorities said.

A health investigation began after several students reported becoming sick.

The business owner, Xin Jiang, agreed to settle a civil enforcement action by paying nearly $107,000 in costs and penalties. The agreement was approved by a judge last month.

Jiang admitted wrongdoing and is no longer operating Anna’s Kitchen but he could face another $90,000 in penalties if he reopens it or is found selling any type of food without a valid county permit, the DA’s office said.

Australia’s food safety system falls well short

Adele Ferguson of The Age writes that food safety is again in the headlines following an investigation into the Grill’d burger chain.

The long list of food safety transgressions at hamburger chain Grill’d outlined in a series of leaked internal food and safety audit reports, internal documents, a council report, and dozens of photos from staff, triggered a social media backlash.

In an attempt to dilute the public’s disgust Grill’d announced it would hire a global food auditor to review its food safety and work practices.

But in the process of exposing the worker exploitation and uncleanliness scandal it became clear there was another scandal that has been festering away: an overall lack of enforcement by the relevant authorities of food hygiene regulations and fines that are so low they fail to act as a deterrent.

Take for instance, Grill’d in Windsor, Victoria, the local council, Stonnington, issued an inspection notice of “major non-compliance” in October 2018. It said it didn’t have effective cleaning systems in place, which is the basic requirement of any restaurant.

What was even more disturbing was the council admitting that the same non-compliances were happening every year and that “infringement notices may be issued if this continues”.

In other words, the council’s inspection notice and wishy-washy threats were ineffectual.

This was no better demonstrated in early December when a photo was taken and posted on The Age and Sydney Morning Herald websites of a mouse inside a tray of hamburger buns sitting on the floor at Grill’d in Windsor.

The council’s reaction was to keep the public in the dark. It refused to say how many years of non-compliance it had recorded at the Grill’d Windsor restaurant and its only reaction to the buns stored on the floor, which attracted a mouse in the pest infested restaurant, was that it would act if someone lodged a complaint.

On a broader level, it illustrates shortcomings in the food safety system in Australia. It seems the public only get to know what’s going on when it is too late.

The Victorian Health register of convictions of food safety is an eye-opener. In 2019 only a few cases went to court and received a conviction, which attracted a minuscule fine.

The laws may be strict but if they aren’t properly monitored and enforced then things fall apart.