April 2009

  • Posted: April 17th, 2009 - 9:35pm by Doug Powell

    The bureaucrats have been busy.

    Three more Canadian government studies on the listeria outbreak of 2008
    which killed 21 were quietly posted Friday afternoon while the House of Commons was adjourned – what the Canadian Press called a traditional dumping ground for news the government wants to bury.

    The Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency each released their Lessons Learned Report today, following a thorough review of the steps taken during last year’s tragic listeriosis outbreak.

    Despite the fact that Canada has one of the best food safety systems in the world, and that outbreaks like the one in the summer of 2008 are extremely rare, it was clear that further improvements were needed.

    Who writes this shit?

    I already read one government report today and wanted to gouge my eyes out. I’ll need to spread these out over the weekend with viewings of old movies which make me feel secure and happy, like Monty Python and the Holy Grail which is playing right now.

    Some early highlights from media coverage:

    Despite having an emergency response protocol, the CFIA never did activate an emergency operations centre as laid out it the plan. Still, the report concludes: "In general, the CFIA exercised its inspection and other statutory powers during the recall process."

    The CFIA report first congratulates federal agencies on their "timely and appropriate exchange of information."

    But under the heading "Areas for Improvement," the report states that timely determination of an outbreak and timely notification of the public require "additional clarity at provincial and federal levels ... as to protocols and leadership roles."

    Conservative Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was the lead government spokesman during the crisis, and came under fire for making a tasteless joke about "death of a thousand cold cuts" during one internal conference call.

    Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett said she can't understand why Ritz was given the role of communicating to concerned Canadians.

    "It seems that there was interference, political interference, in what was clearly a public health outbreak that should have been managed by public health officials and done in a clear communication with the people of Canada.”

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  • Posted: April 17th, 2009 - 7:32pm by Katie Filion

    130 patrons of Noto’s Old World Italian restaurant in Grand Rapids, MI became ill after eating an Easter brunch buffet last weekend reports WZZM.

    The Kent County Health Department says that of the 176 people that they have interviewed who ate at [the restaurant], 130 have reported symptoms of the illness, including vomiting and diarrhea.

    A separate station, Grand Rapids News, indicated the restaurant reopened Thursday night after voluntarily closing and sanitizing.

    Health officials are interviewing patrons and awaiting tests of stool samples, said spokeswoman Bridie Kent.

    She continued,

    "It's not safe to say it was food-borne at this point, it's possible it was spread another way.”

    Buffets have been linked to illnesses in the past, including an E.coli O111 outbreak at a Ladies Tea, and a norovirus outbreak at a Norwegian hotel.

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  • Posted: April 17th, 2009 - 5:05pm by Doug Powell

    The feds failed miserably during the Aug. 2008 outbreak of listeria that claimed 21 lives across Canada but the province of Ontario handled the outbreak well and that, "compared to other outbreaks, experts will say this went amazingly fast.”

    I have no idea who these experts are that Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, said would endorse the response to the outbreak other than other bureaucrats and politicians who were quick to praise themselves in the early days of the outbreak. And while media accounts are focusing on the bureaucrat blame game, they’re giving the Williams report little more that a fawning glance.

    The good news is that the report has a basic timeline of who knew what when, at least from the perspective of Ontario bureaucrats.  By Aug. 1, 2008, the Ontario “Public Health Division identifies 16 cases of listeriosis in the month of July: the majority were in elderly people who had been in a long-term care home or hospital.”

    By Aug. 4, 2008, the Listeria Reference Lab confirms that three food samples from Toronto long-term care home – all opened 1 kg packages of meat cold cuts – are positive for Listeria.

    Yet the first public warning didn’t happen until the early hours of Sunday, Aug. 17, 2008.

    This is the bad news. Other questions are simply ignored in the report -- like what are long-term care facilities doing serving cold-cuts to the immunocompromised elderly? Should there be warning labels or additional information provided to others at risk, such as pregnant woman? Why aren’t listeria test results made public?

    The report does say the medical officer of health for Canada was missing in action during the outbreak, and that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency hampered the overall investigation.

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  • Posted: April 17th, 2009 - 1:35pm by Casey Jacob

    The New York Times reported this morning on the California leafy greens industry’s hiring of government inspectors in lieu of government-imposed visits by inspectors.

    The almond industry and the Florida tomato industry have also instituted their own safety measures that invited oversight by federal agencies when the government did not independently provide it.

    “It’s an understandable response when the federal government has left a vacuum,” said Michael R. Taylor, a former officer in two federal food-safety agencies and now a professor at George Washington University. But, he added, “it’s not a substitute” for serious federal regulation.

    Is it the government’s responsibility to ensure that food is safe to eat, or is it the responsibility of those producing, processing, and selling it? Both, of course, in addition to those choosing to consume it and feed it to their loved ones.

    Then, what’s so great about government-imposed inspections as opposed to inspections the food industry asks for? After devastating outbreaks in each industry awakened them to their invested interest in food safety, these three have been vigilant about minimizing the microbial risks to their commodities. Would the feds do a better job?

    According to the Washington Post, a report by Taylor and his colleagues at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services determined that federal regulation of the inspection system and others is necessary to provide cohesion (and presumably increase efficacy) among safety-assuring efforts. In the report the authors urged Congress to “create a single cohesive food safety network composed of local, state and federal agencies and accountable to the secretary of health and human services.”

    Some coordination certainly might move the country toward reducing the number of people who get sick from the food they eat. But each link in the food supply chain must remain proactive in their role in assuring food is safe to consume—regardless of who’s the boss.


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  • Posted: April 17th, 2009 - 6:16am by Doug Powell

    I hear from local public health officials all the time, and the ones in Canada repeatedly say the single food inspection agency -- known creatively as, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency – sucks.

    The provincial regulators also suck.

    So after years of taking it, the City of Toronto is once again trailblazing when it comes to serving the public – those who end up barfing from bad food – and has come up with its own idea of a food safety system that serves people.

    Robert Cribb of the Toronto Star reports this morning that in a series of three reports to be presented to Toronto city council on Monday (available at http://www.toronto.ca/health/moh/foodsecurity.htm), foodborne illness in Toronto is rampant and that in order to have fewer people barfing:

    • Ontario should consider compensating food handlers who  are too sick to come to work due to "gastrointestinal illness;"
    •  Ontario and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency should provide "full and timely disclosure of the food safety performance of all food premises
    they inspect;” and,
    • mandatory food handler training and certification, as recommended in the Justice Haines report of 2004 (that was my contribution).

    A related story maintains that cases of foodborne illness began to fall almost immediately after Toronto began making restaurant inspection results public in 2001.

    John Filion, chair of the city's board of health, said it is the clearest evidence yet of the public health benefits of transparency.

    Good for Toronto, especially when the feds and the province leave the locals out to dry on outbreaks of foodborne illness. In the Aug. 2008 outbreak of listeria linked to Maple Leaf deli meats, Toronto health types said they had plenty of evidence something was amiss in July, but CFIA and others refused to go public until Aug. 17, 2008. So with a federal listeria inquiry set to begin Monday, and Maple Leaf all focused on federal regulations, how are Maple Leaf executives going to handle pesky local health units like Toronto – the ones who actually do the work, uncover outbreaks and create their own headlines.

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  • Posted: April 16th, 2009 - 10:31pm by Ben Chapman

    Food handler training, required or encouraged in various jurisdictions across North America has been demonstrated by multiple studies to have various results. Most of the published research has focused on looking at inspection results, but in 2000, researchers in Oregon (April 2009 issue of Foodborne Pathogens and Disease) explored food handler food safety knowledge.

    During April–September 2000 researchers administered a 28- question survey distilled from a longer survey obtained from the Oregon Food Handler Certification Program with 407 food handlers from 67 randomly-selected restaurants.The researchers found that their participants averaged 68% on the test. Significant differences were observed between managers’ average test scores and those of line staff: 74% versus 67%, respectively, and those with Oregon food handler training scored 69%, while those without one scored 63%.

    Meatloaf sang that two out of three ain't bad, but in food safety training, retention-wise, it's not great.

    The researchers conclude that survey demonstrates a limited level of knowledge among foodhandlers about food safety and that analyzing knowledge and comparing concurrent restaurant inspection scores would strengthen the understanding of food safety in restaurants.  The results of the survey also emphasize the need for educational programs tailored to improve foodhandlers knowledge of foodborne diseases.

    I'd add that it's not like knowledge translates automatically into practice. Demonstrating knowledge change is interesting, but not nearly as important as behavior change.

    Food handlers need some sort of basic training, but it's up to their managers and organization to make sure they stay up-to-date and that they have some sort of ongoing reminders (like food safety infosheets.

    Reuters reports on a strategy for training that might have some applications with food handlers -- video game simulations.

    Many businesses use serious videogames designed for the PC but Hilton Garden Inn (HGI) has taken the virtual training concept portable for the first time with "Ultimate Team Play".

    Working with North Carolina-based game developer Virtual Heroes, HGI has created a videogame for Sony's PSP (PlayStation Portable) that allows employees to practice their jobs before they have to interact with customers.

    It has the potential to be pretty cool and useful especially if used to demonstrate the team-like nature of foodservice and risk identification, but if it's pulled off cheaply it could look like Duck Hunt.



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  • Posted: April 16th, 2009 - 2:01pm by Katie Filion

    Health inspectors from Brighton and Hove City Council said the conditions of Riz Raz Egyptian restaurant reminded them of a farmyard, reports The Argus.

    [I]nspectors revealed how grime and cigarette ends were found on work surfaces at Riz Raz - despite two previous warnings. The eaterie, in Western Road, which had cobwebs and grease hanging from the cooker hood, did not even have hot water for workers to wash their hands.

    The owner of Riz Raz, Alaa Asfour, was fined £5,650 after admitting to breaking 17 food hygiene regulations.

    Nicholas Wilmot, one of the council's environmental health managers, said he found floors blackened with dirt and grease on walls and pipes.

    He continued,

     “I advised Mr. Asfour that conditions in the cooking area were so filthy that it reminded me of a farmyard.”

    Scores on Doors is a restaurant disclosure system in the UK that uses star-ratings posted at the establishment to communicate inspection results to the public. I would assume Riz Raz’s latest star-rating was around zero-out-of-five stars, however I can’t confirm this as the restaurant isn’t in the online database of results.

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  • Posted: April 16th, 2009 - 1:53pm by Doug Powell

    Unfunnyman Dane Cook and untalented Jessica Simpson have a better chance of finding future employment in pizza preparation – actually, a ridiculously certain chance -- than the two below.

    Police in Conover, North Carolina say two Domino's Pizza workers and home video enthusiasts, 31-year-old Kristy Lynn Hammonds of Taylorsville and 32-year-old Michael Anthony Setzer of Conover (right, not exactly as shown) have each charged with distributing prohibited foods.

    The pair (below, exactly as shown when booked) produced some employee training videos for Domino’s Pizza that are available at GoodAsYou, including one of Michael wiping his ass with a sponge and then using it to clean a pan, and another in which Kristy says, "Did you all see that? He just blew a booger on those sandwiches.”

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  • Posted: April 16th, 2009 - 12:39pm by Doug Powell

    Boatloads of beer can mean barf.

    And with the opening today of the movie Beer Wars, Digital City decided to produce a best beer movies list. For those playing at home, the criteria for this list is that the movie either features great beer games or that the movie would have no story without beer. The list does not discriminate between good or bad movies.

    Strange Brew (right) may be the greatest beer movie of all time. Max Von Sydow plans on taking over the world with a beer additive that allows him to control those who drink it. In one scene, Rick Moranis saves himself from drowning in vat of beer by drinking it. Their how-to on how to get a free beer: putting a mouse inside. It's timeless because it works.

    The rest are irrelevant, but are included for curiosity:

    Artie Lange's Beer League


    Revenge of the Nerds (with Booger, left)

    The Saddest Music in the World


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  • Posted: April 16th, 2009 - 10:29am by Doug Powell

    A 22-year-old woman who helped prepare food at two catered events was diagnosed with hepatitis A in March, meaning that more than 200 people at one corporate event and about 100 at a second event, along with co-workers and roommates, had to be vaccinated.

    South Australia Health refused to release any specific details, but did note there was an unrelated but "significant" increase in hepatitis A cases in SA and Victoria in a separate outbreak.

    SA Health Communicable Disease Control Branch director Dr Ann Koehler said,

    "We think it is probably a vegetable, but we just don't know yet."


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  • Posted: April 16th, 2009 - 6:24am by Doug Powell

    Samuel L. Jackson would be proud of Australia’s Qantas airlines after four pythons escaped from their carrier and became snakes on a plane.

    The Sydney Morning Herald reports the plane was grounded and fumigated after the snakes could not be found.

    Native to the arid and rocky parts of western and central Australia, the Stimson's python eats its prey whole — and this includes small mammals, birds, frogs and other reptiles.

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  • Posted: April 16th, 2009 - 4:49am by Doug Powell

    Domino’s Pizza posted a youtube response last night and has moved quickly to douse the Internet-fanned yuckiness of poop in its pizza.

    But when Domino's spokesman Tim McIntyre told USA Today today the company is considering banning video cameras in stores, I wonder if they actually understand this social networking stuff – and that anyone can have a video camera on their cell phone.

    The USA Today piece explains that two Domino’s employees in Conover, N.C. — fired and facing charges — posted a video on YouTube on Monday that shows one of them doing gross things to a Domino's sub sandwich he is making, such as sticking cheese pieces up his nose and passing gas on the salami.

    Although Domino's is getting fairly high marks from social-networking and crisis-management types about its response, McIntyre told the N.Y. Times today that company executives initially decided not to respond aggressively, hoping the controversy would quiet down.

    Scott Hoffman, the chief marketing officer of the social-media marketing firm Lotame, said in social media, “if you think it’s not going to spread, that’s when it gets bigger.”

    That’s actually traditional media 101, but sure, dress it up with terms like new and social media.
    By Wednesday afternoon, Domino’s had created a Twitter account, @dpzinfo, to address the comments, and it had presented its chief executive in a video on YouTube by evening (see below).

    Yet more than one commentator has said the video may make things worse.

    Domino’s CEO Patrick Doyle fails to look into the camera. Instead his eyes peer at 45 degrees, presumably in the direction of a script. The effect is not reassuring. What is even more unfortunate for Domino's is that the posting of the video apology has caused even more YouTube commentary about the company, some of it extremely unflattering.

    However, marketers are getting an instant lesson in the dangers of an online world where just about anyone with a video camera and a grudge can bring a company to its knees with lightning speed.

    Here are key things experts say marketers can do to quickly catch and respond effectively to similar social-networking attacks:

    • monitor social media;

    • respond quickly;

    • respond at the flashpoint (Domino's first responded on consumer affairs blog The Consumerist, whose readers helped track down the store and employees who made the video);

    • educate workers about social media;

    • foster a positive culture; and,

    • set clear guidelines.

    We covered many of the same points in our Food Technology paper about food safety blogging that appeared earlier this year.

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  • Posted: April 15th, 2009 - 7:28pm by Doug Powell

    Maple Lodge Farms is Canada's largest independent chicken processor and I’ve been to the slaughter plant in Brampton, Ontario. With all the Maple Leaf listeria stuff over the past eight months, Maple Lodge has been sorta quiet.

    Until today.

    Maple Lodge chief executive officer Michael Burrows unveiled a new high-pressure method of killing listeria and other bacteria in sliced luncheon meats after the package is sealed. The process applies water under extremely high pressure to the packaged product, has no adverse impact on the product itself, and has been approved by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

    So Maple Leaf, using that newfangled blogging technology, responded by saying Maple Leaf Foods was an early adopter of Ultra High Pressure (UHP) technology in Canada and began using it in Maple Leaf Simply Fresh entree products when they were introduced more than two years ago, in a bunch of other products, and will look at using it in deli meat if it can provide added food safety assurance to consumers.

    Maple Leaf, seriously, you need better writers.

    But this is what I like about the Maple Lodge approach:

    They came out and said internal research showed consumer demand for higher levels of food safety has risen sharply in the past year, and that consumers would be willing to pay a premium of 1-2 cents per 100 grams of product to get it.

    Maybe, consumers will say anything on a survey but vote with their money at checkout.

    But Maple Lodge is going to label the stuff with a" SafeSure" sticker and market food safety at retail.

    Good for them. Rather than lecturing consumers, let them choose. At checkout.

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  • Posted: April 15th, 2009 - 4:23pm by Doug Powell

    Arrest warrants have been issued for Kristy and Michael, the two former Domino’s employees who had their 15-minutes of Internet fame yesterday.

    The videos are available at GoodAsYou, including one of Michael wiping his ass with a sponge and then using it to clean a pan, and another in which Kristy says, "Did you all see that? He just blew a booger on those sandwiches.”

    The Charlotte Observer reports that Catawba County health inspection records show the Domino's in Conover, on 10th Street N.W., has a very good sanitation rating -- 96.5. In fact, its last four inspections have produced scores ranging from 95.5 to 97.5.

    Domino's officials and Catawba County health department inspectors took nothing to chance late Tuesday, sanitizing all equipment in the restaurant and throwing away all opened food items.

    NewsChannel 36, the Observer's news partner, said Kristy sent an email to Domino's officials, saying it was a prank and that she and Michael never would prepare food that way -- in contrast to what they said on the video.

    Domino's officials responded to the video Tuesday, sending out a news release that said, “We are appalled by the actions of these individuals and they do not represent the 125,000 hard-working men and women of Domino’s Pizza across the country and in 60 countries around the world.”


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  • Posted: April 15th, 2009 - 1:53pm by Doug Powell

    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?

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  • Posted: April 15th, 2009 - 9:52am by Katie Filion

    One year after publishing restaurant hygiene ratings online, the number of top-rated establishments has increased, reports the Northampton Chronicle and Echo.

    [Last year hygiene ratings] revealed 19 venues were awarded a five- star rating while 46 were given the lowest possible rating of no stars. Twelve months on and the number of top-rated venues has increased to 30, while the number of zero-starred outlets has fallen to 37.

    Restaurant hygiene scores have been available online in the UK borough of Northampton for a year as an attempt to name-and-shame establishments into cleaning up their act.

    Leader of Northampton Borough Council, Councillor Tony Woods said of the disclosure scheme,

    "It's good to see that standards of hygiene in Northampton are improving at a time when businesses are under significant financial pressure. We are going to carry on pressing home the importance of food hygiene and those venues that are not complying can expect us to take further action."

    Northampton restaurant hygiene ratings can be accessed online, here.

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  • Posted: April 15th, 2009 - 2:41am by Doug Powell

    The rojak served at Singapore’s Geylang Serai Temporary Market, which sickened more than 150 and killed two women, was cross-contaminated with Vibrio parahaemolyticus from raw seafood, according to government investigators.

    Rojak is a fruit and vegetable salad dish commonly found in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

    In 1983, 34 people fell ill - also after eating at a Geylang Serai Indian-rojak stall, after drippings from raw cuttlefish fell into the rojak gravy, which was in uncovered containers on the lower shelves of a refrigerator.

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    Food Safety Policy  |  Comments
  • Posted: April 15th, 2009 - 2:17am by Doug Powell

    Pistachio growers probably won’t agree, but the New York Times says in an editorial this morning that  the recent blanket warning from the Food and Drug Administration about salmonella in pistachios was one of the most encouraging events in years and sent a powerful signal to those in the food business that the F.D.A. planned to focus more urgently on the safety of consumers.

    The editorial concludes that even though the Obama F.D.A. appears to be doing a better job, Congress needs to beef up the agency’s staff and broaden its recall authority. Longer term, Congress and the White House need to keep promises to take a deeper look at food safety. It is time to think seriously about establishing one federal agency to coordinate and enforce food-safety regulations — and give consumers the protections they need and deserve.

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  • Posted: April 14th, 2009 - 10:41pm by Doug Powell

    Don’t buy cheese in a parking lot.

    That should probably apply to raw seafood as well.

    Winnebago County Health Department Administrator J. Maichle Bacon said at least three people have been sickened and four more cases are being investigated after buying cheese from parking lot vendors.

    The Rockford Register Star reports that samples of the cheese are still being tested at the Illinois Department of Public Health laboratory in Springfield, but had been found positive for fecal coliform and Listeria.

    The three confirmed cases were positive for the bacteria Campylobacter jejuni. Bacon said,

     “This, of course, is a product that would never be approved for sale.”

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  • Posted: April 14th, 2009 - 2:52pm by Doug Powell

    Kristy and Michael used to work at Domino’s Pizza in North Carolina. Then they decided to upload their, uh, creative approach to food preparation to youtube.

    The videos were later taken off of youtube, but GoodAsYou managed to snag all of them including one of Michael wiping his ass with a sponge and then using it to clean a pan.All the videos are there. Essential tools for future food service training.

    Tim McIntyre, vp communications, Domino's Pizza, LLC, wrote to GoodAsYou to say,

    “Thank you for bringing these to our attention. I don’t have the words to say how repulsed I am by this – other than to say that these two individuals do not represent that 125,000 people in 60 countries who work hard every day to make good food and provide great customer service. I’ve turned this over to our security department. We will find them. There are far too many clues that will allow us to determine their location quite easily.”

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