Fish fraud: Seafood mislabeling persistent throughout supply chain

Not only does Canada continue to have a problem with fish mislabelling, but that problem persists throughout the supply chain, according to a first-ever study by University of Guelph researchers.

U of G researchers found 32 per cent of fish were mislabelled and the number of incorrectly identified samples became compounded as the samples moved through the food system.

“We’ve been doing seafood fraud studies for a decade,” said Prof. Robert Hanner, lead author and associate director for the Canadian Barcode of Life Network. “We know there are problems. But this is the first study to move beyond that and look at where the problems are happening throughout the food supply chain.”

The findings reveal that mislabelling happens before fish are imported into Canada, as well as throughout the supply chain, Hanner added.

“It seems it’s not isolated to foreign markets, but it’s also happening at home. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has partnered with us to actively find solutions to this persistent problem,” said Hanner.

Published recently in the journal Food Research International, the study was conducted in collaboration with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Hanner is the associate Director for the Canadian Barcode of Life Network, headquartered at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, University of Guelph.

U of G researchers examined 203 samples from 12 key targeted species collected from various importers, processing plants and retailers in Ontario. Of the samples, 141 (69.5 per cent) were from retailers, 51 (25 per cent) from importers and 11 (5.5 per cent) from processing plants.

Researchers identified the samples using DNA barcoding. Developed at U of G, DNA barcoding allows scientists to determine species of organisms using a short, standardized region of genetic material.

The findings revealed 32 per cent of the samples overall were mislabelled. The mislabelling rate was 17.6 per cent at the import stage, 27.3 per cent at processing plants and 38.1 per cent at retailers.

University of Guelph students suspected of bullying geese

The 1979 movie, Breaking Away, is the softer, more empathetic version of Animal House, chronicling the conflict between locals or townies or cutters, and the university students who invade these towns for four years at a time.

Set in Bloomington, Indiana, I was at the time similarly attracted by cycling and the exasperated father, played by Paul Dooley, in a role he BREAKING-AWAYessentially reprised in the teen classic, Sixteen Candles as Molly Ringwald’s father.

A resident of Guelph (that’s in Canada) stepped forward a couple of weeks ago and accused four males, three wearing Ontario Agriculture College (OAC) leather jackets that said “Aggie” on the back, of bullying geese by herding them to a nearby park and threatening to throw a large, inflated, plastic ball at them.

As reported by the Guelph Mercury, because of the OAC jackets, she concluded those harassing the geese were University of Guelph students. Because of this she said the April 3 incident became a tipping point for her in how she regards the continuing saga permanent residents encounter in the area shared with university students who rent temporary housing there during the academic year.

The resident approached the putative students and was told by one that if he wanted to kill the geese, he would have picked it up and snapped its neck. Another student tossed the ball at her, saying if she was worried about the ball, she could have it, which she still does.

Dean of the OAC, Robert Gordon, says if the incident unfolded as 16candles529Laverty-Pagnan asserts, the college is disappointed.

“It’s something we don’t condone,” Gordon says. “If there is a need to extend the code of conduct to other areas, our university is always prepared to take a leadership role.”

Way to go, Aggies.

But did the person work in food service? Hepatitis A in a University of Guelph residence

Health-types have reported a suspected case of hepatitis A in a student living in Maritime Hall in the University of Guelph’s South Residence (that’s in Canada).

They say the risk of infection is low, however, as a precaution, Public Health is notifying students that live in the affected residence and asking them to be immunized at a special clinic to be offered at Student Health Services. Vaccination within two weeks of exposure may help prevent illness from the virus.

Did that student work in food service in any capacity, on-campus or off?

I learned about the outbreak from Puking Veronika

That’s one of the responses Brae Surgeoner, Doug and I received when we asked University of Guelph students how they got information that a norovirus outbreak was happening on campus a couple of years ago. The kids were getting information through non-official channels and rumours were high. A lesson that was learned from the outbreak was to communicate with the target audience (whether it be college students or folks in a long-term care facility) with mediums they are already comfortable with.

I got an email from a couple of folks at Guelph this morning saying that our recently published Journal of Environmental Health article where the above results and conclusions were shared is making the rounds on campus. Here are some of the highlights from the interview I did with Katie Mangan at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

"We couldn’t follow students into the bathroom, because that leads to ethical problems," Mr. Chapman says. So the researchers focused on whether students were using a plastic bottle of hand-sanitizing gel placed at the entrance of a cafeteria that had been described to them as "ground zero" of the outbreak.

"What people do and what they say with regard to hand hygiene are two different things," Mr. Chapman reports.

He says health officials should aim their messages at specific audiences, such as students living in a particular residence hall. Instant messaging and other social-media tools should be used as well.

"It really hits home," he notes, "when their classmates start changing their IM names to something like Puking Veronica."

Gotta know how to reach the kids with health messages; make it relevant and compelling. Check out www.foodsafetyinfosheets to see how we attempt to do that.

The kids might be alright, if they start washing their hands

Brae Surgeoner, Doug and I had a paper published in the September 2009 Journal of Environmental Health about some research we conducted in the Winter of 2006. The study came about because a whole bunch of kids in the University of Guelph’s residence system started puking from an apparent norovirus outbreak. There were lots of handwashing signs up and we wanted to know whether they changed hygiene behavior (especially if kids were using the tools available when entering the cafeteria). Turns out that the kids weren’t doing as good of a job at hand hygiene as they reported to us.

NC State’s press release is below (the Kansas State release is here):

As public health experts warn of potential widespread outbreaks of H1N1 flu this school year, a new study from North Carolina State University shows that students do not comply with basic preventative measures as much as they think do. In other words, the kids aren’t washing their hands.

“Hand washing is a significant preventative measure for many communicable diseases, from respiratory diseases like H1N1 to foodborne illness agents, such as norovirus,” says Dr. Ben Chapman, assistant professor of family and consumer sciences and food safety extension specialist at NC State. The new study, which examined student compliance with hand hygiene recommendations during an outbreak of norovirus at a university in Ontario, finds that only 17 percent of students followed  posted hand hygiene recommendations – but that 83 percent of students reported that they had been in compliance. Norovirus causes gastrointestinal problems, including vomiting and diarrhea. Every year there are 30 to 40 outbreaks of norovirus on university campuses, affecting thousands of students.

Chapman, who co-authored the research, says this is the first study to observe student hygiene behavior in the midst of an outbreak. Previous studies examined self-reporting data after an outbreak – and the new research shows that the self-reporting data may be inaccurate.

“Typically, health officials put up posters and signs and rely on self-reporting to determine whether these methods are effective,” Chapman says. “And people say they are washing their hands more. But, as it turns out, that’s not true.

“The study shows that while health authorities may give people the tools we think they need to limit the spread of an outbreak, the information we’re giving them is not compelling enough to change their behavior. Basically, it doesn’t work. But we do it again with every outbreak, and we’re doing it now with H1N1.”

Chapman says the study shows that health officials need to target specific audiences, such as students in a particular dorm or who eat at a particular cafeteria, and tailor their information to those audiences. For example, telling them where the nearest washrooms are, or pointing out where hand sanitizer units are located. “The more specific the information is for an audience, the better off you are,” Chapman says.

Chapman adds that health authorities also need to use language appropriate to their target audience. “For example, don’t refer to something as a ‘gastrointestinal illness,’” he says, “instead, tell them ‘this could make you puke’ or ‘dude, wash your hands.’ The idea is to craft compelling messages that create discussion in that audience. Make them talk about it.”

Chapman also says that health officials should take advantage of social media, such as text messaging and Facebook, to raise awareness. “If your audience consists of students,” he explains, “you should use media that students use.

“Campuses need to expect outbreaks will happen and plan accordingly. Have the response tools in hand.”

The study, “University Students’ Hand Hygiene Practice During a Gastrointestinal Outbreak in Residence: What They Say They Do and What They Actually Do,” was co-authored by Chapman, Dr. Douglas Powell of Kansas State University and Brae Surgeoner, a former graduate student at the University of Guelph. The study was published in the September issue of the Journal of Environmental Health.

Bye bye, listservs

This is what I sent out to all the previous subscribers of my various listservs over the years. I’m grateful for all the support I received and still pissed that the University of Guelph just scooped up the leftover money for their paper clip fund. Seriously, I left $140,000 that all you great supporters provided for news, and Guelph just sucked it up. Why anyone would ever give them another dime is beyond me. But I’m just a widget; I get that.

The listserv you have been subscribed to no longer exists. All of the activities of the International Food Safety Network at Kansas State University have been consolidated under

The 9,000 or so direct subscribers to fsnet-l have been transferred to bites-l. We’re still working on a daily digest version, so will keep the istserv going for now.

It’s a listserv, and you can subscribe with instructions below.

The fastest way to get breaking food safety news is to subscribe to We’re also working on moving all the barfblog history to

The University of Guelph copyrighted the name, Food Safety Network in Canada, without telling anybody. And then they shut it down (no one ever talked with me, they just wanted the cash; what total assholes). I decided the name was old. A Network was cool before Al Gore invented the Internet in 1995, but now?

So everything is at

And everything is archived at and

You can subscribe to bites-l

To subscribe to the listserv version of bites, (subscription is free), send mail to:
leave subject line blank
in the body of the message type:
subscribe bites-L firstname lastname
i.e. subscribe bites-L Doug Powell

If you only want specific news, you can subscribe to RSS feeds to get just the news you want:

RSS (Rich Site Summary, or Really Simple Syndication) is a format for delivering regularly changing web content. Many news-related sites, weblogs and other online publishers syndicate their content as an RSS Feed to whoever wants it.

If you only want stories about animal welfare, or norovirus, go to and click on that section. Then click on the RSS symbol, and add to your reader.

Dr. Douglas Powell
associate professor, food safety
dept. diagnostic medicine/pathobiology
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS
cell: 785-317-0560
fax: 785-532-4039


Hockey and triathalons – don’t swim in the Oklahoma River

I miss hockey. The closest ice is two hours away. I used to play 4-5 times a week, coached a whole bunch of girls teams, and now I’m in Kansas, watching TV, and I’m fat.

Maybe my friend Steve will guilt me into getting back into shape. But Steve doesn’t have a six-month-old, and Ben does, and he understands the laziness.

Amy spent 6 years doing her PhD at the University of Michigan so figures she’s a Detroit Red Wings fan. Last year, she watched more of the Detroit- Pittsburgh final than I did while we were in Quebec. Detroit just eliminated Chicago in overtime, and I’m still crushed that Carolina lost in 4 games.

If I’m going to work on fitness, it won’t be the triathalon.

More than 100 athletes who swam in the Oklahoma River during a triathlon earlier this month have returned health questionnaires from state officials investigating an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness among participants in the event.

Laurence Burnsed of the Oklahoma Health Department says several athletes who were sickened have also provided stool samples to aid the investigation.

The Boathouse International Triathlon, including a 1.5 kilometer swim in the downtown river, was held May 16-17. The cause of the illness remains under investigation.

BTW, those old farts in the pic, upper right, haven’t won the faculty tournament since I left in 2005.

Does it matter if people are disconnected from food?

I used to be physically fit from playing hockey and squash and golf with friends in Guelph, Ontario. A lot of them worked in agriculture – for the feds, province, university, industry, and farm groups – and a lot of them insisted that people were disconnected from how food was produced and so support for agriculture sucked. If people were better educated about growing and preparing food, problems with food safety would be largely resolved and an Age of agricultural Aquarius would be achieved (Harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding …)

So it was hardly surprising to read this morning that the best and brightest in Guelph told some federal politicians that people are disconnected from the food they eat.

Vern Osborne, assistant professor of animal and poultry science at the University of Guelph, said Canadians, especially young ones, are disconnected from the food they eat. A policy, he suggested, should include educational components that teach kids where their food comes from and how to actually prepare it. Kids have largely lost the ability to cook, he and others said.

Rickey Yada, professor of food science at U of G, agreed that young people have lost the ability to prepare even simple dishes, a fact that is contributing to widespread indifference towards food issues.

Such generalizations are of little use. My kids know how to cook; so do lots of others. Lots of people drive but don’t know how their cars work. Lots of people use computers and know little about integrated circuits. I recognize it’s trendy to say people are disconnected from food production, but so what? Where’s the evidence that having a connection with food –however that is defined —  will make people fitter, healthier and safer?

Sewing needles in Maple Leaf meats

In what appears to be an isolated incident, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Loblaw Companies Limited are warning the public after 50 mm sewing needles were found in certain luncheon meat kits and wieners at the No Frills Store located on Silvercreek Parkway in Guelph, Ontario. That’s in Canada.

Plate-for-one? It’s called an electric frying pan

In 1981 I moved into residence as a freshman at the University of Guelph. Back then the meal plan consisted of paper cards that were worth $20 each. There was a German-themed dining hall/bar in the basement of Johnson Hall, called Der Keller, or what we called it, Derks.

Those were the waning days of higher education. The student newspaper had just completed its annual homegrown judging contest, and students could purchase beer with their meal cards. There was also a thriving entrepreneurial culture of meal card scalping. Because new cards were issued at the beginning of each semester, the value would decline as the semester wore on. In the last few weeks, $20 meal cards could be had for $12, which could then be transformed into several pitchers of beer.

And what did those students who traded in meal cards for cash or beer eat? Cereal. Sandwiches. Whatever. For me, the electric frying pan was caloric salvation. I lived on grilled cheese, fried hot dogs, and scrambled eggs. Straight out of the frying pan.

Today, some hustler has reinvented my memories into the plate-for-one. Geeky Gadgets says,

Just cook your food directly on the plate and then once it’s done, you can eat it directly on the plate itself. … It’s perfect for those that are single (and like to keep your meals simple), as well as college students. It’d also make it so you could cook directly from your desk, if you so chose.

A better marketing slogan may be: Plate-for-one, beer for many.