Food Safety Culture

  • Posted: May 29th, 2012 - 3:26pm by Ben Chapman

    Ben Chapman

    A few weeks ago when reports of patrons becoming ill with Salmonella Paratyphi B after eating at Asheville, NC restaurants started appearing on the internet, I didn't know a whole lot about tempeh production. When epidemiology linked the illnesses to restaurants where Smiling Hara tempeh was handled and prepared, I did a bunch of digging (with the help of some processing colleagues) to learn quick.

    To make tempeh, soybeans are cooked and mashed. Vinegar and a fungal starter are added to the soybean paste and the fungus is allowed to grow for 2-3 days (and it consumes the vinegar). Salmonella and other pathogens can grow during this process - meaning unpasteurized tempeh should be labeled as such, and handled like raw meat.

    While the prime source of the Salmonella in this outbreak has been linked to the fungal starter, things seemed to get a lot worse for those affected when food handlers prepared ready-to-eat dishes (like salads and garnishes) after cutting up tempeh like it was cheese (which the product kind of looks like).

    The newest food safety infosheet, a graphical one-page food safety-related story directed at food businesses, is now available here.

    Food Safety Infosheet Highlights:
    - Unless noted on packaging, treat tempeh as a raw food.
    - Knives, cutting boards and other food contact surfaces must be cleaned and sanitized between preparation and use with ready-to-eat foods.
    - Salmonella and other pathogens can grow during the tempeh production process.
    - Wash hands after handling any potentially contaminated food or packaging (especially those that are leaking).

    Food safety infosheets are created weekly and are posted in restaurants, retail stores, on farms and used in training throughout the world. If you have any infosheet topic requests, or photos, please contact Ben Chapman

    You can follow food safety infosheets stories and barfblog on twitter @benjaminchapman and @barfblog.

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  • Posted: May 28th, 2012 - 9:24pm by Doug Powell

    Calum MacLeod of USA Today reports China's authoritarian government struggles to reassure citizens than it can deliver the safe food they rank as a top priority.

    In the city of Guangzhou, whose Cantonese cuisine is celebrated worldwide, more than 46% of residents are dissatisfied with food safety, and over 37% said they had suffered recent food safety problems, according to a survey released this month by the Guangzhou Public Opinion Research Center.

    "There are two Chinas on the tip of the tongue," says Shanghai student Wu Heng, a fan of the series. "There's the China shown on TV, with its traditional food culture and long history. Then there's another China shown on my website, the current environment in which black-hearted enterprises make black-hearted foodstuffs and have a large market."

    Wu, 26, became active in the food safety cause because of his favorite dish of braised beef and rice. Startled by a news report on fake beef, he was inspired to create an online food safety database that allows visitors to add the latest problems nationwide, often involving the illegal use of additives.

    With his website, "Throw It Out the Window," Wu hopes more public awareness and pressure will produce bold steps to tackle China's food safety crisis. His site's popularity is soaring at a million-plus views a day, Wu says.

    Food safety has already taken a turn for the better, says Wu Yongning, chief food safety scientist at the Ministry of Health in Beijing, who insists there are less serious incidents today than four or five years ago.

    "There is greater media supervision now which exposes problems and makes the government play the role it should," he says.

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  • Posted: May 28th, 2012 - 2:38pm by Doug Powell

    The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has alerted consumers and food businesses about a theft of a consignment of beef from a Dublin-based meat wholesaler.

    Consumers are being urged not to purchase any meat sold from unregistered outlets or unregistered door-to-door sales.

    Up to 43 boxes (approx 20-24kg per box) of beef containing prime cuts, rolled rib of beef and knuckle were stolen.

    The FSAI said food businesses have a legal obligation to only purchase meat from approved sources after checking all appropriate documentation.

    Any break in the cold chain between the time the meat was stolen and when it may be sold could result in a serious health risk to consumers, particularly given the recent hot weather.

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  • Posted: May 25th, 2012 - 4:39pm by Ben Chapman

    Ben Chapman

    Folks who want to make food in their home or garage and sell it are part of a growing business segment. By many accounts, the cottage food industry is growing in North America. The county extension agents I support are fielding an increased number of questions of how to break into the food industry in the past year. The situation in other states is apparently similar.

    Twenty U.S. states allow certain foods to be processed in the home and sold for consumption – but it’s a patchwork of regulatory approaches. In some states, the entire process is deregulated for certain exempt products. These products usually are limited to direct-selling (at a farmers’ market or roadside stand) of baked goods, jams and jellies.

    Last year Colorado jumped into cottage food rules including a requirement for small business folks to take a mandatory food handling course for foods deemed to be low risk (jellies, breads, etc).

    In 2010 Michigan also adopted a new law allowing for home-based food production. In the absence of inspection, the law requires each item to have a label saying it was produced in an uninspected home kitchen, listing the food's ingredients and any known allergens, and includes the producer's name and address.

    The cottage foods discussion has also popped up in Wyoming with a turn towards leafy greens and cut fruit processing, similar to discussions in North Carolina in April 2012.

    From the Star-Tribune:

    “People in Wyoming are concerned with food safety,” state Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse said. “Many want to buy locally.”The problem is, according to Wyoming Department of Agriculture spokesman Derek Grant, unregulated processing of locally produced products, such as chopped lettuce or cantaloupe, increases the chances of contamination.One proposed rule allows farmers to sell leafy greens at a farmers market, for example, as long as they are not in a bag. If the greens are cut and placed in a bag, they are considered cut leafy greens and producers must meet sanitation requirements and obtain a license to sell them.Wallis said farmers in Jackson Hole have been selling bagged greens to local restaurants at the restaurants’ request.If the rule change is adopted, farmers will have to invest in a certified kitchen, with equipment to meet department requirements for cleaning the greens.

    While it might not be a current followed regulation, it's best practice to manage cut leafy greens (things like shredded lettuce, etc) like a high risk food, processed in a clean environment, and the end product kept at refrigeration temperatures. Following over 20 multi-state outbreaks between 1998 and 2008, 'cut leafy greens' was added to the definition of potentially hazardous food requiring time-temperature control for safety (TCS) in the U.S. FDA Model Food code.

    Storage and transport time and temperature are contributing factors for pathogen growth in cut leafy greens; water and nutrient availability, along with a suitable pH create an environment to support the growth of lots of foodborne bacteria. This is similar for other cut/minimally processed fruits and vegetables like melons, tomatoes and sprouts.

    In response to cottage food excitement, our friends at the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) have released a guidance document  (unfortunately it's not free) defining the types of foods that should fall under cottage food exemptions, and those, like cut fruits and vegetables, which should require some sort of commercial facility.

    The scope of these guidelines is comparable to those accepted practices currently recognized in several states and represents a consensus opinion of AFDO members. AFDO believes that adopting and implementing these guidelines, where there is little or no oversight of such activities, can eliminate a void in the national goal of a seamless food safety and security system

    The guidance document can be found at

    Having a mandatory food handler course for exempt processors, like Colorado does, based on the AFDO guidance document, might help avoid the sometimes tragic outbreaks.


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  • Posted: May 25th, 2012 - 3:07pm by Ben Chapman

    Ben Chapman

    For the past couple of years we've been vermicomposting a lot of fruits and vegetables, egg shells and dryer lint. Everything else either goes into recycling (mainly paper, cans and thick plastic) or landfill waste. Included in our landfill waste is stuff like raw poultry, beef and pork trimmings and packaging. There's a pretty good chance that my house is a decent supply of pathogens into the garbage stream - as are most of my neighbors.

    Garbage trucks seem to be a hot issue in North East Ohio - so hot that a local TV station grabbed some samples of the fluids dripping from the trucks and found, wait for it, Listeria, as well as "very high levels of bacteria and low levels of Salmonella."

    That's some fine detective work there, Lou.

    Listeria is in lots of places, including soil, and I'd expect to see "lots of bacteria", including Salmonella, in an environment where folks put their food waste, it gets mashed together, and sits around at ambient temperatures.

    From Channel 3 News:

    Listeria, a potentially deadly food-borne bacteria, was found in high levels of fluids dripping from garbage trucks onto neighborhood streets, a Channel 3 News investigation found.The bacteria has a mortality rate of 20 percent and, according to microbiologist Roger Pryor, of Accra Labs in Twinsburg,  it poses an especially significant threat to the elderly, children and to pregnant women.

    Channel 3 news collected samples of fluids spilling from garbage trucks in Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, Maple Heights and Brooklyn and had them tested. In addition to listeria, Accra Labs found very high levels of bacteria and low levels of salmonella.

    Cleveland City Councilman Mike Polensek says homeowners in the Collinwood neighborhood he represents often complain about the filthy stains left behind by city trash haulers.
    "It becomes a major problem because you don't know what's in it," said Polensek (some pretty nasty stuff, whether in Ohio or elsewhere- ben).

    Some experts say a single drop of listeria is enough to make you sick. Children playing ball in the streets can easily come in contact with the contaminated fluid.

    This is a bit of a stretch for me - while gross, I'm not sure that dripping garbage juice would ever be considered a major source of Listeria. But I guess some data exists to support the statement: Don't drink garbage truck juice.

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  • Posted: May 23rd, 2012 - 9:26pm by Doug Powell

    Restaurants are about making money. So is everything involved with food. It’s nice if that food is healthy – however that is defined at the time – and abundant and whatever other marketing spins are out there, but follow the money.

    That’s why business publications still exist, to provide puff pieces about titans of commerce who, especially in the U.S., reimagine their histories into storylines.

    It’s about the money.

    Jimmy-I-decided-to-pull-raw-sprouts-from-my-menus-after-5-outbreaks Liautaud said as part of a National Restaurant Association Show panel in Chicago last week that in 2003 he was unhappy with his potato chip supplier; they didn't treat him very well, "So I figured out how to make potato chips myself. I designed the bag and everything. And my bags have 2½ times the chips that were in the other chip bags. What's better is I'm making a lot more money with the Jimmy Chips than I did before."

    Great. Maybe you can figure out what to do about sprouts rather than continue to sicken unsuspecting customers.

    For the ambulance chasers, the story notes Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches is a 1,300-plus-unit chain that pulled in $895 million in 2011, according to Technomic.

    Liautaud described his relationship with franchisees as one full of "tough love." A corporate team is in each restaurant every 30 days to make sure things are running smoothly.

    "It works for us. I call it proactive discipline," he said. "Especially if you're a new franchisor, it's important to be in the store to make sure it's successful."

    Success in the world of Jimmy John’s apparently does not include serving safe food.

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  • Posted: May 22nd, 2012 - 4:38pm by Ben Chapman

    Ben Chapman

    My friends at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics are at it again. Last week they recycled a press release on the dangers of reusable bags that was full of holes, This week Sarah Kriegar of The Academy decided to remind folks that washing pre-washed leafy greens is a good idea.

    “Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy eating plan, and should fill half of your plate, but just like any food product, extra precautions should be taken to reduce the risk of food poisoning,” said Sarah Krieger, a registered dietitian and academy spokeswoman, in a statement.
    She said (
    among other things -ben):

    - Buy loose produce rather than pre-packaged, but if you do buy packaged lettuce or carrots or other items, wash them even if they say “ready to eat.”

    I'd like to see what data The Academy has that shows this recommendation would result in risk-reduction.

    Washing pre-washed leafy greens in the home isn't going to accomplish further risk-reduction than what was applied at processing; tight attachment or internalization of the target pathogens are likely for whatever is left when it gets to someones kitchen.

    A review paper published in Food Protection Trends in 2007 contained guidelines developed by a national panel of food safety folks and concluded:

    "… leafy green salad in sealed bags labeled ‘washed’ or ‘ready-to-eat’ that are produced in a facility inspected by a regulatory authority and operated under cGMPs, does not need additional washing at the time of use unless specifically directed on the label.”
    The panel also advised that additional washing of ready-to-eat green salads is not likely to enhance safety.

    “The risk of cross contamination from food handlers and food contact surfaces used during washing may outweigh any safety benefit that further washing may confer."

    A table of leafy green-related outbreak is available at I'm not sure there's any data out there that shows washing would have been a protective step for any of the outbreaks.

    The merits of washing produce at home are debatable - many papers show somewhere around a 1-log reduction of pathogens from washing produce with no difference whether the fruit or vegetable was washed with water or some sort of sanitizer. A ten-fold reduction is okay if there isn’t much pre-home contamination, but washing as a kill step sucks and is really more about increasing quality(removing grit). Effective risk reduction actions for fresh produce are more likely found in production, processing and food service preparation (where contamination often occurs) – not in home kitchens.

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  • Posted: May 21st, 2012 - 2:09pm by Ben Chapman

    Ben Chapman

    When it comes to social issues I'm a bit of a libertarian hippy. I've looked the part (big bushy beard and longer thinning hair); used to play ultimate frisbee (poorly); and, our first-born was delivered at home. I saw The Dead, after Jerry, but I never really got into Phish.

    The philosophy I've embraced around food safety is let people eat what they want. 

    Extension folks like me should provide the best available evidence culled from the literature to help eaters calculate the risks and benefits of food choices. Present the info in a compelling way and then step back to let the individual do their thing.

    Hopefully the choice results in the least amount of barf.

    As North Carolina moves down the path of adopting the U.S FDA model food code, restaurant patrons will be able to order an undercooked burger, and the restaurant able to serve it, without risking a lower inspection grade. The responsibility to communicate the risks associated with undercooked burgers, and other raw/undercooked animal-derived foods (eggs, poultry, fish) lies with the restaurant. Risk must be disclosed somehow, and a reminder presented to the patron when they order.

    Temperature guidance for cooking burgers doesn't change (the food code suggests 155F for 15 seconds or 160F for 5-log reduction), just the ability for the restaurant to respond to patron requests - with the caveat of the mandatory risk discussion. And the risk dialogue applies to stuff like Caesar salad dressing, hollandaise sauce and sushi.

    According to Kathleen Purvis of the Charlotte Observer:

    The N.C. Commission for Public Health this week approved the adoption of most of the 2009 federal food code. Among other changes, it would allow restaurant customers to order raw or undercooked foods if the restaurant provides a warning – usually a note on the menu – to remind you it’s dangerous. A similar procedure is already followed in many states, including South Carolina.

    “This really does represent the largest comprehensive change in our food safety rules in over 30 years.”
    How big is that? It’s so big that when we called chef-owner Tom Condron at The Liberty, a pub known for its burgers, he was actually willing to come to the phone during the lunch rush.
    “About time,” he said happily. “The quality of beef and the preparation have come so far. It’s about time North Carolina stepped up. For restaurants like us and others that grind in-house and take all the steps to make sure we get top-quality beef, it’s an important change.”
    Michael says adopting the federal food code allows North Carolina to use the latest research in forming its own food safety standards.
    “The majority of states use it,” he said. “It’s the most comprehensive standard out there.”
    But the big one, Michael admitted, is the standard on allowing customers to request raw or undercooked foods. As it is now, undercooked burgers are often served to customers even though the restaurant isn’t supposed to do it – a sort of “wink-and-nudge” approach to food safety.
    What the new regulation would do is put the decision into the hands of the consumer. The restaurant would have to tell you that you’re ordering a food that isn’t cooked to a safe level and it has to tell you that eating undercooked or raw foods puts you at a risk of foodborne illness, such as salmonella.
    “This consumer advisory will be more helpful in ensuring consumers know they’re increasing their risk.”
    I'm not sure what knowing the source well has to do with evaluating whether the primal cuts have pathogen-containing poop on the surface and in-house grinding can spread that surface bacteria just as well as at a processing plant.
    Regardless of the source or method, undercooked ground beef carry food safety risks; restaurants with a positive food safety culture will communicate this effectively - or won't serve it at all.



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  • Posted: May 21st, 2012 - 6:30am by Doug Powell

    Generalizations are generally risky.

    But too often, celebrity doctors focus too much on the hypothetical and not enough on the things that actually make people barf.

    Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of The Dr. Oz Show, and Dr. Mike Roizen, chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute wrote in a recent column that food safety is a big concern for North Americans.


    The good doctors' idea of food safety is to ban agricultural use of antibiotics and clean up other aspects of the “food-pollution” problem such as growth hormones, artificial dyes and pesticides.

    There are risks and benefits to any agricultural technology, meaning they require careful consideration and use.

    The antibiotic apocalypse has been just about to happen since the Swann report of 1969.

    The pesticide pestilence has been imminent since Silent Spring of 1962, renewed with Alar in 1989.

    Food coloring?

    Cry wolf.

    People pick their poisons. Sometimes those choices are informed by data, sometimes by preference and learned behavior.

    I have my own risk-benefit schizophrenia, as do most folks. So it’d be hypocritical to tell people what to choose or do. My job is to provide information in a compelling manner and adults can choose while protecting their kids.

    Sanctimonious doctors sidestepping data in pursuit of ratings doesn't help anyone.

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  • Posted: May 14th, 2012 - 2:41am by Doug Powell

    People want to know about their food. Where it was grown, how, what’s been added and if it’s safe.

    The N.Y. Times, as usual, gets that little bit right in a commentary yesterday, but wrongly thinks right-to-know is something new, that media amplification is something new because of shiny new toys, and offers no practical suggestions on what to do.

    The term pink slime was was coined in 2002 in an internal e-mail by a scientist at the Agriculture Department who felt it was not really ground beef. The term was first publicly reported in The Times in late 2009.

    In April 2011, celebtard chef Jamie Oliver helped create a more publicly available pink slime yuck factor and by the end of 2011, McDonald’s and others had stopped using pink slime.

    On March 7, 2012, ABC News recycled these bits, along with some interviews with two of the original USDA opponents of the process (primarily because it was a form of fraud, and not really just beef).

    Industry and others responded the next day, and although the story had been around for several years, the response drove the pink slime story to gather media momentum – a story with legs.

    BPI said pink slime was meat so consumers didn’t need to be informed, and everything was a gross misunderstanding. BPI blamed media and vowed to educate the public. Others said “it’s pink so it’s meat” and that the language of pink slime was derogatory and needed to be changed. USDA said it was safe for schools but quickly decided that schools would be able to choose whatever beef they wanted, pushing decision-making in the absence of data or labels to the local PTA. An on-line petition was launched.

    Sensing the media taint, additional retailers rushed to proclaim themselves free of the pink stuff.
    BPI took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, the favored reading choice for pink slime aficionados, and four mid-west governors banded together to repeat the same erroneous messages during a media-show-and-tell at a BPI plant. Because political endorsements rarely work, and the story had spread to the key demographic of burger eaters, others sensed opportunity in the trashing of BPI. Wendy’s, Whole Foods, Costco, A&P, Publix and others launched their own media campaigns proclaiming they’ve never used the stuff and never would.

    Guess they didn’t get their dude-it’s-beef T-shirts.

    These well-intentioned messages only made things worse for the beef producers and processors they were intended to protect.

    Here’s what can be learned for the next pink slime. And there will be lots more.
    Lessons of pink slime
    • don’t fudge facts (is it or is it not 100% beef?)
    • facts are never enough
    • changing the language is bad strategy (been tried with rBST, genetically engineered foods, doesn’t work)
    • telling people they need to be educated is arrogant, invalidates and trivializes people’s thoughts
    • don’t blame media for lousy communications
    • any farm, processor, retailer or restaurant can be held accountable for food production – and increasingly so with smartphones, facebook and new toys
    • real or just an accusation, consumers will rightly react based on the information available
    • amplification of messages through media is nothing new, especially if those messages support a pre-existing world-view
    • food is political but should be informed by data
    • data should be public
    • paucity of data about pink slime that is publicly available make statements like it’s safe, or it’s gross, difficult to quantify
    • relying on government validation builds suspicion rather than trust; if BPI has the safety data, make it public
    • what does right-to-know really mean? Do you want to say no?
    • if so, have public policy on how information is made public and why
    • choice is a fundamental value
    • what’s the best way to enable choice, for those who don’t want to eat pink slime or for those who care more about whether a food will make their kids barf?
    • proactive more than reactive; both are required, but any food provider should proudly proclaim – brag – about everything they do to enhance food safety.
    • perceived food safety is routinely marketed at retail; instead market real food safety so consumers actually have a choice and hold producers and processors – conventional, organic or otherwise – to a standard of honesty.
    • if restaurant inspection results can be displayed on a placard via a QR code read by smartphones when someone goes out for a meal, why not at the grocery store or school lunch?
    • link to web sites detailing how the food was produced, processed and safely handled, or whatever becomes the next theatrical production – or be held hostage

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