Funky duck: Processor goes full tilt on transparency

The kids in my lab had me buy a video camera in 1999 so we could film stuff and put it on the Intertubes long before youtube existed (and film my 2000 Ivan Parkin lecture at IAFP when I got turned away at the U.S. border).

Twenty years later, Leesburg, Ind.-based Maple Leaf Farms is offering a behind-the-scenes look at its duck farms with its new #MLFarmToFork campaign that focuses on transparency and the company’s commitment to operating responsibly.

According to Rita Jane Gabbett of Meating Place, Maple Leaf Farms will highlight its farm-to-fork process on social media through behind-the-scenes videos, farmer interviews and more.

“We want consumers to know the story behind our duck and our desire for continuous improvement,” explained Maple Leaf Farms Duck Marketing Manager Olivia Tucker. “We’re proud of our animal husbandry practices, our facilities and our people, and we want to showcase how vertical integration allows Maple Leaf Farms to produce the highest quality duck on the market.”

To explain vertical integration and how it benefits the entire supply chain, Maple Leaf Farms has created an animated video that outlines the production process and how products get to consumers’ tables. You can view the video at

Thousands of Oregon food safety inspections still past due

Our own Rob Mancini – most handsome man in food safety – was quoted in the Oregon Statesman Journal last week as saying, “In other jurisdictions high-risk facilities are typically inspected four times per year and low-risk facilities once per year.”

Yet according to Tracy Loew of the Statesman Journal, Oregon’s Food Safety Program remains in disarray, a year and a half after a state audit found it was so far behind on inspections of grocery stores, food processors and other licensees that public health could be at risk.

Although program officials touted an improvement in the inspection backlog just a few months ago, a newly discovered error in their tracking database has nearly wiped out the gain.

And officials can’t say whether the remaining improvement is due to completing more inspections or to adjustments they’ve made to inspection deadlines.

That means the state hasn’t checked whether hundreds of establishments are following rules to keep consumers safe — rules such as keeping deli food at correct temperatures, protecting products from pests like rats and cockroaches, keeping expired food off shelves and making sure employees wash their hands.

The Statesman Journal learned of the program’s failure after requesting a copy of the inspection database.

Stephanie Page, who oversaw the program, discovered the mistake in early March. She informed the Secretary of State’s Audits Division in early April.

“Unfortunately, the database coding error makes it very difficult for us to know for sure whether the improving trends that we were seeing were actually happening,” Page, who has since moved to another state agriculture program, wrote to auditors.

Food safety officials also discussed the mistake with the program’s Food Safety Advisory Committee, which is supposed to be open to the public.

But the committee has met in secret since the food safety audit was released in November 2016, leaving consumers out of the loop.

In a follow-up editorial, the Statesman Journal writes there are numerous explanations for the failures, but they all sound like excuses.

The takeaway remains the same for Oregonians: The state Department of Agriculture, which oversees the food safety program, cannot be both regulator and champion of those it manages.

That’s not quite true.

Safe food is a cornerstone of trade and policy.

What is true is the need for public accountability, so consumers can choose.

Going public: Is this why companies incorporate in Conn? Food safety info, public in the dark

Rob Cribb of the Toronto Star points out failings in transparency at Health Canada, and repeats a phrase I’ve often used, that there is no way the U.S would tolerate the amount of public service hidings that go on in Canada and Australia.

transparencyThank you, Britain.

Yet even the U.S. is becoming more, uh, secretive.

A state legislator told the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters it might be time for a change after seeing our reports on what some call a lack of information shared about foodborne illness outbreaks at restaurants.

Imagine stopping by a restaurant you frequent and seeing a sign in the window saying it’s closed by order of the health department, with no explanation, and nowhere to get one.

Several people have reached out to the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters with similar complaints and said the flow of information has to improve.

The Troubleshooters spoke with residents connected to two different foodborne illness cases in Connecticut, none of whom is satisfied with the way public health officials handled the incidents.

Kamran Niazi said he could not get answers from public health investigators last year when Yale-New Haven Hospital diagnosed him with salmonella hours after he ate at Oregano Joe’s in Orange and became violently ill.

Niazi was hospitalized for almost a week, and health inspectors had the restaurant temporarily closed.

“What’s the point of having a public health department that’s not protecting the public’s health and is actually hiding and withholding information from the public?” Niazi wondered.

Steve and Susan Herzog reached out after watching our reports on Niazi and said they came down with E. coli in the Willimantic area in late 2013.

The Herzogs learned the illness was most likely tied to salad they ate at a local restaurant, but the investigation was inconclusive.

“If you are going to get a foodborne illness, this is the worst state it could happen in,” said Steve Herzog. “What my lawyer was looking for was their produce invoices from the month of December.”

State epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Cartter points out most foodborne illness investigations are confidential by state law, and added that investigators learn about most outbreaks a week or two after they happen, so a news release would come too late.

The goal is often to learn from outbreaks and prevent them in the future.

“It’s not until we receive reports from multiple people that we are able to identify an outbreak,” Cartter said. “And there’s a delay between the time that someone eats a contaminated food item, gets sick, sees a doctor, gets a lab test and we hear about it.”


Transparency? Hepatitis A outbreaks in Belize, UK schools

The Ministry of Health is working to contain a localized outbreak of Hepatitis A at a government school in Buena Vista, Cayo.

hepatitis.AAccording to reports, there was one case of the virus reported before Christmas, and since then at least 20 more cases

The outbreak in a public school has been kept under the radar by the Ministry of Health. When the media asked Ministry of Health C.E.O. Peter Allen about it, he was surprised by the fact that the news had gotten out. But, of course, he claims that the Ministry seems to have the situation under control.

“I don’t know why I am surprised that the media knows more about these things than I ever expect them to but indeed, we appear to have an outbreak of Hepatitis A in that particular school.”

The UK is a tad more forthcoming, noting that vaccinations are being offered to staff and children at a school in Portsmouth after a case of Hepatitis A was discovered.

A pupil at Isambard Brunel Junior School contracted the illness, which is often associated with foreign travel.

Public Health England (PHE) has recommended vaccinations for those who have been in close contact with the child, including a class at the school.

Where’s the micro? Whole Foods to introduce produce ratings program

It’s just too easy to make fun of the adjective-embracing data devoid Whole Foods Market, Inc.

old school blueThe company is going to introduce a produce ratings program on Oct. 15, said John Mackey, co-chief executive officer of the Austin, Texas-based retailer.

“Organic is not enough,” he said Oct. 1 during the GE Capital Corporate Finance Food & Beverage Summit. “Consumers want total information, total transparency. Some people want it all.”

Yes, I want it all. Especially microbial food safety.

Instead consumers will be offered a buffett of “good,” “better,” and “best” labels that will be displayed throughout the retailer’s produce department. The labeling system is based on an index to measure the performance of products relevant to such sustainable topics as pest management, farmworker welfare, pollinator protection, water conservation and protection, soil health, ecosystems, biodiversity, waste, recycling and packaging, energy and climate – good, better and best.

market.natural“People have a hunger for more transparency,” Mr. Mackey said Oct. 1. “We have the technology to make that transparency come alive. Every product we sell has a story attached to it. People want it and we try to give it to them.”

Bring that technology alive for microbial food safety – the stuff that makes people barf.

Be open: McDonald’s, Yum release supplier data after China food safety issues

Five fast food chains including McDonald’s and Yum Brands Inc  have published details of their suppliers on their Chinese websites, following a request from Shanghai authorities after the latest food safety scare.

transparencyShanghai’s Municipal Food and Drug Administration said on Saturday that it had asked the two chains, along with Burger King, Dicos and Carl’s Jr, to publish the usually closely-guarded information as part of efforts to strengthen oversight of food suppliers. 

Dutch safety council poised to slam ‘untransparent’ meat industry

I’m not sure untransparent is a word, but that’s the Dutch.

According to a new report in the Telegraaf, the Dutch safety institute is poised to publish a damning report about food safety in the meat industry.

The report by the Onderzoeksraad voor de Veiligheid says there are serious shortcomings in food industry supervision which pose a risk to food safety, the paper says.

In particular, the report is criticial of the lack of transparency in the meat trade. For example, a supermarket hamburger or meatball could have been handled by three or four different meat processors and the origin of the meat is often untraceable.
The Telegraaf says the industry itself is waiting for the report on tenterhooks following a string of food safety scandals over the past year.

These involve beef contaminated with horse and feces and salmonella in salmon.

Last year some 60,000 people suffered salmonella poisioning in the Netherlands, the paper says.

Yet the number of NVWA food safety inspectors has been ‘eaten away’ over the past few years.

Full disclosure: Toronto Public Health creates institutional outbreak website

Public health folks seem to wrestle with when to make investigation information public: they want to have enough data to be confident before fingering any specific foods or locales. Releasing incorrect or incomplete information, like the Florida tomato industry often points out, can affect business. Sitting on info can further put individuals at risk.
Schaffner often credits epidemiologist Paul Mead with summarizing the problem “If you’re wrong, you went public too early; if you’re right, you went [public] too late.”torontopublichealthexhibitorlogo

Having a consistent policy on what gets released when is lacking in the public health world – and Toronto Public Health (TPH), in an effort to increase openness and transparency, is pulling back the curtain on outbreak investigations. According to the Toronto Star’s Robert Cribb, TPH has begun listing all current confirmed and investigated healthcare-linked outbreaks on their website, and will update the list weekly.

For the first time, all outbreaks in Toronto nursing homes, retirement homes and hospitals will be publicly posted on a city website — a new public health disclosure system prompted by a Toronto Star-Ryerson University investigation.
Each Thursday, Toronto Public Health will now detail outbreaks by nature, institution name and address, as well as indicate whether it is still active. The reports will include both gastroenteric outbreaks (such as those causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever) and respiratory infections (which result in symptoms such as coughing, runny noses, sore throats, fevers).
The current report, covering the week of Feb. 13-19, lists 15 outbreaks — 10 in long-term care homes, three in retirement homes and two in hospitals. Ten were still active at time of reporting.

“(The new disclosure system) is a good idea,” said Doug Powell, a Canadian food safety expert. “They’re already collecting this information, so making it public isn’t that much more work. They work for the public and they’re there to serve public health. And from a personal point of view, I’d want to know if one of my relatives were in one of those institutions. It brings a level of public accountability.” 

Horse meat scandal leads to tighter rules: Ireland food safety chief

Excerpts below from an op-ed in in the Irish Times by Prof Alan Reilly, chief executive of Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

Over three months have elapsed since the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) uncovered the practice of replacing processed beef with horse meat. Initial inquires put the spotlight on three processing plants, o-HORSE-MEAT-COSTUME-570two in Ireland and one in the UK. Soon, it became evident the problem was not confined to these islands, as most countries in Europe became involved.

It is disturbing that in Europe where, in the wake of food scares, the food control systems have undergone extensive review and renewal, a scandal of large proportions went unnoticed and undetected.

The scale of the scandal is astounding. Numerous foods, beef burgers, beef meals, pies, meat balls, kebabs and remarkably, even chicken nuggets were removed from sale. One recall alone in the Netherlands involved 50,000 tonnes of meat – over 500 million burgers. Leading international food brands and retailers were caught in a web of deception perpetuated in Europe for at least a year, possibly longer.

Some businesses have ceased, others lost market share, and consumer confidence eroded. Brands and reputations carefully nurtured over years will take a long time to recover their association with quality and trust. Apart from reputational damage, the scandal resulted in the regrettable waste of considerable quantities of food.

What is clear is the risk to public health from this incident is low, as most evidence to date suggests the horse meat used came from approved abattoirs. All products in Ireland that tested positive for horse DNA, tested negative for the anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone, or “bute”.

Nevertheless, the practice of replacing processed beef with horse meat and failing to inform consumers is unacceptable. The primary motive is profit.

Already changes are coming. Global standards for the trade in beef trim will become more stringent. It will no longer be the industry norm to purchase frozen beef blocks on face value. Laboratory testing for horse.o.brotherspecies authenticity will be commonplace. DNA testing of meat products will be standard for major retailers. Verification of the authenticity of meat species will underpin product labelling.

As ever with food incidents, an important lesson is how risk communication minimises damage to reputations and brands. There were interesting contrasts in how food companies responded to the crisis, from denial to full acceptance of responsibilities.

Our experience is that the more a food company is open and transparent , the less likely it will be accused of cover up or lack of due care. The horse meat scandal demonstrated again how proactive risk communication and acceptance of responsibility increases public trust and minimises reputational damage.

Humane handling and video recording: Should you share the recordings?

I’ve long been an advocate of video observation in slaughterhouses to verify and improve and food safety and animal welfare.

Steve Sayer of Meatingplace apparently agrees, writing, What’s there to conceal?

An interminable proverbial snag linked with our industry has been the unwillingness to be transparent. Keeping all communication channels wide-an.welfare.videoopen is always the prudent passageway for companies to take.

Full and unabridged transparency, indelibly evinces a company’s veracity and intent to run ones business within defined demarcation lines of legality and integrity.

An adopted full transparency stance projects to the PETA’s of the world, including the susceptible public, that when egregious acts to livestock occur – and they do – that it’s going to be corrected in a timely manner with future preventive actions planned, documented and executed in order to preclude a similar occurrence in the future.

Cut! Case closed. That’s a take.

I like video cameras at meat and poultry plants.

A lot.

That is, if a company makes it a policy to share video footage.

Video cameras are an exceptional all-around deterrent as well as a useful tool for plant security, occupational safety, human resources, quality assurance, production efficacy, HACCP and SSOP Systems, and the humane handling of livestock.

I’ve written in the past how the USDA can shut down slaughter plants entire operations in a nanosecond with leaving no recourse for the establishment to stay open.

If a slaughter company has video cameras in place, their recordings could help preclude a plant closure, truncate NR’s, while making the USDA video.kitcheninspector think 3 or 4 times on her/his sometimes subjective call involving egregious treatment of livestock.

If a slaughter company is equipped with video cameras and they really want to claim fame to having the USDA’s proclaimed robust humane handling program, then sharing video footage from the continuum of receiving livestock to the shackling and sticking stages of a slaughter HACCP flow chart is a must.

Like it or not, video cameras in one form, (smart phones) or another, (hidden fiber-optic cameras) are here to stay. They’re never going away.

Ask PETA or HSUS’ Oscar winning undercover cameramen, (and women) under the category of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir cinematography if they’d like your company having well-managed video cameras.

They don’t. It’s the last thing they want.

But if you do have video cameras, and you fail to share your video recordings, then you’re doing precisely what they’re hoping you’d do. You’re promulgating suspicion that you’re hiding something.

Today, many food folks are held hostage by their worst employees, agenda-oriented foodies, and their own stupidity.

Whether it’s a restaurant inspection, a farm, a slaughterhouse, provide that data to the public; I don’t care who does it, as long as it’s open to public scrutiny by mere mortals. Sorta what Jefferson was getting at when he said,

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion by education.”

Thomas Jefferson