Massachusetts fermenter known for its unpasteurized tempeh wins award

According to the Berkshire Eagle, lacto-fermented vegetables are all the rage. But I’d be concerned about how food safety is managed.

Hosta Hill, a Berkshires-based maker of lacto-fermented vegetables and unpasteurized tempeh, has been honored with a 2016 Good Food Award for its Gochu Curry Kraut, a variation on traditional sauerkraut featuring Indian and Korean influences.IMG_9896

“We’re thrilled to be recognized for the second consecutive year by the Good Food Awards,” Elling, a Berkshires native and graduate of Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington, said in the press release announcing the award. “We love that they say we ‘celebrate the kind of food we all want to eat: tasty, authentic and responsibly produced’ because it acknowledges the complete method behind the meal. To have our handmade ferments, featuring sustainably grown ingredients from right here in the Berkshires, reach a national audience and be mentioned in the same sentence as so many of these other great companies is an incredible honor.”

Does responsibly produced include vetting their starter culture suppliers and asking them to test their products for Salmonella. And telling the folks who use the unpasteurized tempeh that they need to handle it like raw meat?

Food Safety Talk episode 47: But that’s not science

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 47 episodes, we’ve finally figured out to cross-post content.

Show notes for Episode 47:

The guys started by talking about their office and home podcasting set-ups; how Don inspired his son Zac; podcast sponsorship (thanks Dr. Indian Clarified Butter); the Food Science short course at Rutgers; MC-ing; Ben’s wedding; and, customer service at Frito Lay’s and General Mills.

In the bug trivia segment the guys talked about the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii, recently reviewed by Beniamino and colleagues. T. gondii was ranked the second worst pathogen in terms of quality adjusted life years (QALY) by Mike Batz (guest on FST 4) and colleagues, and recently featured on Back to Work.

The discussion took a short detour to food thermometers, including the PDT 300, iGrill, and ThermaPen, before coming around to the retiring Pete Snyder, from HI-TM. Pete is held in high regard by both Ben and Don, not only because he wasn’t afraid to ask questions, like Don did in the comment exchange to the Snapper barfblog article. Thanks to Pete’s guidance Ben is always seeking the primary information for creating his Infosheets.  A classic example of Pete’s drive for the scientific justification relates to the information produced on thawing poultry at ambient temperatures, which was picked up by barfblog.

Ben then talked about the CDC report on the tempeh related outbreak discussed in FST 18. He found it interesting that many of the illnesses appeared to be caused by cross-contamination rather than consumption of the contaminated, unpasteurized tempeh. Don was bummed that his own work wasn’t cited by the CDC, but he noted that Michelle’s recent work showed that cross-contamination was facilitated by moisture. This then turned into a broader discussion around managing risks in a food service setting.

Don then wanted to hear Ben’s thoughts about Bill Marler’s question on what cantaloupe and baseball have in common. Bill’s suggestion to change the incentives had the flavor of a Modest Proposal, but without the satire. Ben agreed that retailers and restaurants should be held responsible, as without them there isn’t enough pressure on the suppliers. The guys then discussed third party audits and the setting of supplier standards. Both agreed that the current system doesn’t work how it should and that proper data analysis could provide significant insights.

In the after dark the guys talked about Ben’s upcoming trip to Brazil, the PCV show, food safety a-holesMexican wrestling masks, the Conference for Food Protection councils, laws and sausages, and getting hurt at the doctor’s office.

Distributor of Salmonella-contaminated tempeh starter named; Tempeh Online website shut down

The investigation into the source of Salmonella Paratyphi B linked to Smiling Hara Tempeh now focuses on a Maryland company who distributed a fungal starter culture used to make the product. According to the Citizen-Times, North Carolina Dept of Agriculture and Consumer Services identified the distributor as Tempeh Online of Rockville MD.

A culture starter for tempeh, a bean product popular in vegetarian cuisine, was found to have the same type of salmonella that caused a county outbreak beginning as early as February, lab work by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed Thursday.

The Rockville, Md., company, Tempeh Online, sold the starter culture to Smiling Hara Tempeh, which made the meat substitute in Candler.
Federal regulators have been involved, and the Buncombe County Health Department on Thursday said it is continuing to investigate.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is already involved in tracing the origin of the ingredient to identify (the) source of contamination as well as the potential for other salmonella outbreaks in the U.S.,” according to a release from the Health Department. FDA spokesman Curtis Allen could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon. Allen has said the administration has a policy against naming companies behind outbreaks.

State Department of Agriculture spokesman Brian Long had identified the distributor as Tempeh Online but said he didn’t know the producer of the culture, which is made up of fungal spores. Long said his department was in touch with the FDA, trying to find out if other tempeh makers in the state are using the culture. “We are concerned whether other tempeh makers in North Carolina are using this culture, but we haven’t received any distribution records from FDA, which would first have to review the maker’s and distributor’s records,” he said.

Smiling Hara Managing Executive Chad Oliphant said he began buying cultures from Tempeh Online after his regular company ran out.

On April 26, after state agriculture inspectors found the possibility of salmonella in Smiling Hara’s tempeh, Oliphant said he contacted the company. “Once this thing came up, I contacted him and he wasn’t really forthcoming in the conversation,” he said.

The Citizen-Times reports that the distributor could not be contacted and a call to a number listed on their website (which has since been taken down – but can be seen here with some internet magic) was answered but "said the the number was wrong and hung up after learning he was speaking with a reporter." Doesn’t seem like Tempeh Online is employing a positive food safety culture – they would be forthcoming with risk-reduction steps, sympathetic towards those affected by the outbreak and would be infoming customers/recalling their products to avoid similar incidents.

Message should be cook and don’t cross-contaminate tempeh; western North Carolina Salmonella Paratyphi B outbreak up to 37 cases

There are now 37 people confirmed sick with Salmonella Paratyphi B linked to tempeh. Buncombe County Health Department in North Carolina has outlined three paths for infection: folks who have eaten tempeh (from Smiling Hara); others who have connections to someone ill with Salmonella Paratyphi b (person-to-person); and, a third group that is under further investigation to determine if there are other sources of contamination.
According to the update (and big props to the Buncombe Co health folks for releasing daily updates):
Confirmatory lab results are expected later this week that should confirm whether the tempeh is a match to the type of Salmonella associated with the current outbreak. At this time we cannot assure people that if they stay away from the tempeh that they won’t get sick. Health officials appreciate the precautionary measures taken by Smiling Hara, who recalled their tempeh product while awaiting confirmation that the tempeh is directly linked to this outbreak.
On the Smiling Hara Tempeh website, the product is marketed as a raw food and unpasteurized:
ONCE SMILING HARA TEMPEH IS THAWED YOU HAVE 5 DAYS TO COOK IT (for Listeria concerns? -ben).  For best taste and highest nutrtional value do not re-freeze. Our Tempeh is a raw food and is intended to be cooked.  In the heating process some of the probiotics and digestive enzymes will die, however, some will be retained and the mushroom qualities remain in full.  After eating our product regularly you will notice the cleansing effect it will have on your body, and how good you will feel after a “happy belly” meal including Smiling Hara Tempeh, vegetables, and grains.
It’s unclear from the available information whether illnesses have been linked to consuming this product at restaurants or in the home (or both). And it’s really unclear what folks were doing with this product once in the kitchen: did they know it was raw? Did they know there was any potential risk? Was the product labeled and did anyone follow the label directions?
Cross-contamination also could be a factor here – it’s likely that folks in the kitchen treat this stuff more like leeks and potatoes than raw chicken. Inadequately cleaned leeks and potatoes were thought to be responsible for an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in the UK that sickened 250 people over months.