The first time I met Amy, at a Canadian studies club meeting at Kansas State, I told Amy the French professor that French food was overrated and that sleeping with her cocker spaniel was a microbiological hazard.
She asked me out anyway.
Today we walked up to school and Sadie, the dog that saved our relationship, had a dump. And then there was this worm-like turd hanging out of her ass.
I thought and hoped and prayed it would go away.
It didn’t. So I grabbed a stick and tried to knock the poop off her ass.
So Amy gave me a tissue and I pulled the hanging turd out of her ass and there was another six inches of stick that came out.
Gross. Like when my daughter Courtlynn hurled as the plane landed in Atlanta – those airplane barf bags are fairly solid and I got it in time.
I really just needed a break from writing about the shit that is listeria in Canada.
My friend Marty will think this is hilarious, but I’m a bit of a fancier of words.
Except I have a habit of using an apt sounding word that means something totally different from what I was trying to convey. Marty has been making fun of that quirk for 25 years, going back to our university newspaper days. Fortunately, the computer dictionary has helped.
So has Amy. She’s really sharpened my word usage and helped me become a better writer. One of Amy’s greatest pleasures is identifying when people mix up it’s and its.
So when a wire story came out this morning with the lede,
“As Canada grapples with a deadly outbreak of listeriosis, a leading food safety expert says the federal government has not done enough to educate pregnant women and seniors about the potential dangers of eating deli meats.???”
I went a bit nuts.
I would never say that anyone needs to be educated. It’s arrogant. Sure, I’m perceived as arrogant about lots of things, but on this I’m clear: provide information, preferably in a compelling manner, and individuals will decide whether they want to be educated or not. I’m writing a paper about this. I’ve brought students to tears for using the educate people line.
???"Maybe we need warning labels (on the food), because the message isn't getting out there," said Powell, an associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University.???"
The Health Canada response was typically bureaucratic. "There are a number of food safety tips and fact sheets and a lot of consumer education on this," said Paul Duchesne of Health Canada.
Show me the data. Show anyone the evaluation you’ve done with your big budgets to ensure Canadians at risk are aware. Demonstrate the effectiveness of your fact sheets and consumer education which are best used as a sleep aid.
Abstract The potential for stigmatization of food is enormous. Well-publicized outbreaks of foodborne illness through traditional and new media demonstrate the rapid and dependent interactions between science, policy and public perception. Current risk management research indicates that it is essential for risk managers from farm-to-fork to demonstrate they are reducing, mitigating or minimizing a particular foodborne risk. Those responsible must be able to effectively communicate their risk reduction efforts in multiple media and to provide evidence that these efforts are actually reducing levels of risk.
Guess the folks at CFIA didn't get that paper. A well-meaning staffer at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency sent me an e-mail the other day, stating,
“The Media Monitoring Team here at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has been asked by our Director to start monitoring reputable food safety related blogs.
“I was wondering if you would happen to have a prepared list of any of these sites, and, if so, if you would be willing to share these with us?”
Sure. Always ready to help the government when asked. I told him barfblog.com and marlerblog.com. The other posers just run headlines.
But maybe I’m just a crazy Kansas-type. Jennie Garth, who is reprising her role as Kelly Taylor on a new 90210, enlightened the world as to why the new "90210" is likely to resonate with young viewers.
"It's going to reflect teenagers as they are. It's not going to sugarcoat it. You know teenagers are teenagers no matter if they live in Beverly Hills or if they live in crazy Kansas somewhere. All the kids are the same. They're going through the same elemental issues and problems."
Posted: August 27th, 2008 - 10:53am
by Ben Chapman
They've got pictures now.
After posting on Sunday night about the confusion around Maple Leaf's multiple brands and differing packaging, and seeing consumer reaction to the same, I'm happy to see that Maple Leaf has stepped up with some better comminication. In the below clip from CBC Toronto, one concerned Canadian shopper shows her frustration by saying "it's kind of hard to tell... a lot of things you don't know if they come from the Maple Leaf thing".
My favourite Maple Leaf thing has always been Doug Gilmour, circa 1993.
Maple Leaf foods has posted a viewer-friendly graphic (at the bottom of the notice) of how to determine if a product is part of the recall. I especially like the inclusion of variances of the establishment code.
Posted: August 27th, 2008 - 12:18am
by Doug Powell
Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, when it comes to the communication and building trust aspects of what must be your listeria nightmare, stay away from government.
Shortly after the first death was announced last Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008, various politicians and bureaucrats said the surveillance system was working. Robert Clarke, the assistant deputy minister of the Public Health Agency of Canada, said Friday that the government's actions in this case were quite rapid and an illustration of success.
“Did the surveillance system work? No independent voice has said so yet, and it is hard to see why Mr. Clement's or Mr. Clarke's word should be taken at face value. The two-year-old Public Health Agency, which reports to Mr. Clement, has yet to distinguish itself for independence. And everyone - government health officials and the company involved, Maple Leaf Foods Inc. - considered it enough that the first warning of possible contamination went out to distributors, not the public. For four days, the loop was closed. Whether that was the right or the wrong approach, it does not do much for the public's confidence in Canada's food-safety system.”
Columnist Tom Brodbeck of the Winnipeg Sun wrote that,
“Federal Health Minister Tony Clement says the recent tainted meat outbreak that killed six people and caused at least 14 more serious illnesses is a shining example of how well Canada's food inspection system works.
“If this is what Clement calls a success story, I'd hate to see what he considers a system failure. … I don't think six deaths and 14 serious illnesses is anything to be proud of.”
These comments about success are even more bizarre and appalling now that the confirmed and probable death toll has been raised to 15.
So this afternoon, Dr. David Butler-Jones, MD, Chief Public Health Officer (that’s a lot of capitals), who had previously lauded the success of the surveillance system, wrote in a press release that, “As Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, I want to update Canadians on the state of the ongoing listeriosis outbreak.”
He really seems to enjoy that title; and he then proceeded to provide less than no information.
“We are all understandably concerned whenever we hear that something as precious as the food we eat may pose a danger. Years of effort to ensure safe and secure food supplies have allowed us to be confident in what we eat. …
“While not everything is preventable, fortunately there are some simple steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of illness for ourselves and our families. There are the usual things we should always be doing, like washing hands, storing and cooking food properly, washing fruits and vegetables well, and avoiding unpasteurized milk and milk products. …
“Canadians should be confident that the Government of Canada, through the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, is working closely with all provinces, territories, and with Maple Leaf Foods to respond to this outbreak and protect the public's health.
“We can never be completely immune to the risk of contaminations and outbreaks, even with the best food safety system in the world. That is why we operate surveillance and other systems to identify potential outbreaks and do the detective work that helps us to find the cause and stop further problems. And what we learn from each experience helps us to improve the system further.”
As Napoleon Dynamite sorta said, “That’s like, the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”
Why should Canadians have any confidence when the public servants at all these agencies with their six-figure salaries can’t provide basic information like who got sick when? How arrogant is it to tell someone they should be confident in an alphabet soup of agencies, in the absence of any data or statements that inspire confidence?
Warning labels are a lousy risk management strategy, but the outbreak of listeria in Canada which has killed at least 12 and sickened dozens has had lots of lousy aspects. So why not? A story that is running across Canada this morning says, With pregnant women and the elderly especially at risk from Listeria, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency needs to step up efforts to alert people to the hazard — perhaps going so far as to put warning labels on deli products — said University of Guelph adjunct professor Doug Powell.
What? Guess that was some stretch at Canadian content. I’m an associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University. If I’m adjunct at Guelph, I want access to all the money that was provided to deliver news and is instead being used as some sort of room renovation fund by a department chair I never met.
Michael McCain delivered a powerful and compelling apology over the weekend as authorities confirmed Maple Leaf deli meats were the likely source of food-borne illness that has killed at least six and sickened dozens.
Outbreaks of food and water-borne illness are far too common. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30 per cent of people in so-called developed countries will suffer each and every year. That's a lot of sick people.
But the current listeria outbreak turns statistics into stories, and challenges a company like Maple Leaf, with world-class aspirations, to do better.
The first case of listeriosis apparently surfaced in late June. Why it took the various health authorities so long to make a link remains to be uncovered.
For now, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada and others are providing little in the way of details regarding who knew what when.
The authorities are, however, proving unjustifiably adept at praising themselves for the speed with which they responded to the outbreak.
Two months after the first case is not an early-warning system. The political barbs that have been tossed around – which provide no insight on managing listeria – are simply embarrassing given the loss of life and illness.
McCain and Maple Leaf are better than this, and can be better:
• Issue pictures of the recalled products:
Telling people to look for products that contain the stamp "Establishment (EST) 97B" puts too much of a burden on people who just wanted to go shopping, not do homework. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration realized this, and last year started including pictures on their recall notices for products deemed to be high health risks.
Pictures aren't superficial, they are good communication. It's difficult for even PhD-types to wade through nine pages of recalled products, and pictures can make the connection for those who don't always know what brands they buy.
• Warn pregnant women and others at risk from listeria in deli meats:
My wife is six months pregnant and she hasn't had deli meats or smoked salmon or other refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods for six months.
That's because, as Michael McCain says, the bacterium listeria is fairly much everywhere, difficult to control, and grows in the refrigerator. It also causes stillbirths in pregnant women, who are about 20 times more likely to contract the bug than other adults.
The banter in Canada about government or industry taking the lead on food inspection, whether food should be produced in large or small places, is misguided at best and more likely, political opportunism.
Long before the current outbreak, the advice from the Canadian government about listeria was mushy:
"Although the risk of listeriosis associated with foods from deli counters, such as sliced packaged meat and poultry products, is relatively low, pregnant women and immunosuppressed persons may choose to avoid these foods."
The advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is clear: Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats, unless they are reheated.
It has been documented that many pregnant women are not aware of the risks associated with consuming refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods like cold cuts.
Don't expect the bureaucrats in the Canadian government to do anything. If Michael McCain and Maple Leaf are truly concerned with public health, they could at a minimum put warning labels on their products. Maybe near the "(EST) 97B."
• Make your listeria data public:
Maple Leaf Foods spokesperson Linda Smith told CTV Newsnet Friday, officials at the plant are "... constantly looking for it (listeria), constantly swabbing and looking for it."
Smith said the equipment at the plant is sanitized every day and officials take about 3,000 swabs per year. The plant also has a microbiologist on site.
"This plant has an excellent food safety record, excellent inspection record, excellent external auditors. We'll never know exactly how it got here."
But you do have 3,000 samples per year. If Maple Leaf really wants to restore public confidence, release the listeria data. How many positives does the Toronto plant see in a year? Were there positives leading up to the initial Aug. 17 recall? If there were no positives, why not? What is the protocol when a positive is discovered?
Consumers can handle more, not less information about the food they eat.
Maple Leaf Foods has the unfortunate opportunity to set new standards for consumer confidence.
Douglas Powell of Brantford is an associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University.
The coverage of this outbreak isn't really going away as more details came out yesterday.
Earlier in the day, Maple Leaf spokesperson Linda Smith was cited as saying that inspectors failed to detect listeria in this case, but they are constantly swabbing for the bacterium. "Did we find it? Absolutely not. We did not find that listeria," she said. "Did we let people down? Yes. But we were doing the right things."
On CBC's National tonight (clip below), Smith was quoted as saying "We would occasionally find a listeria positive swab, at which case we sanitize that complete area and swab again."
I was talking with my mom yesterday. Her and dad live in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, and she asked if I was busy with the listeria outbreak. I asked her if she was concerned at all, and she says she doesn’t buy deli meat – her, and more often, dad, will cook a roast or a ham and eat leftovers.
At that point, I realized I had become my parents. I do buy the occasional shaved turkey breast, and lots of smoked salmon, but it’s been nothing but roasts and birds fillets for the past six months of Amy’s pregnancy.
Others in Canada aren’t so sure what to do.
Ken Barnett of Ajax, Ontario, said that in the future, he and his wife are sticking to salads and salmon for lunch. I wonder if he knows smoked salmon is another one of those refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods that can harbor listeria.
“We’ve sort of made a decision not to buy any cold meats for the time being.”
Meanwhile, health types announced this afternoon that the number of dead in the Maple Leaf listeria outbreak has risen to six confirmed and six more suspected deaths, along with 26 confirmed illnesses and another 29 suspected ill.
“Canadian consumers should be assured that Canada's meat supply is recognized amongst the safest in the world.”
The release went on to describe all the money that has been invested in the meat system and that consumers needed to do their part. I’m sure none of this was reassuring to the dead and sick, especially since these are ready-to-eat products.
Medical types on Vancouver Island received a letter warning them to be on the lookout for patients with symptoms of listeria. Shouldn’t this have happened two months ago when the first cases were reported?
And an academic type, my buddy Rick Holley at the University of Manitoba, said he wasn't surprised to learn of the listeria outbreak since Canada's tracking of food-related illnesses is inadequate, and that,
"I am constantly troubled by the lack of surveillance information on foodborne and waterborne illnesses in Canada.”
Relying on the government is a really bad strategy to rebuild confidence in a consumer brand. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada and any number of other agencies – 50 per cent of government press release content contains praise for other agencies -- have provided scant data during the listeria outbreak in Canada. A technical briefing last night was little more than another opportunity for government types to praise … themselves.
When was the first onset of illness? When were the various deaths recorded, and when were they identified as cases of listeriosis? How many pregnant women have been stricken and have there been any miscarriages or stillbirths?
Yesterday, Michael H. McCain, president & CEO of listeria-embattled Maple Leaf said in a press release,
"If there is any question in the consumers' mind about any product from that plant, then the onus is on us, and the CFIA, to act decisively and swiftly to restore consumer confidence. Our actions are guided by putting public health first."
I’d keep CFIA out of it. They test the plants for listeria a few times a year. As Maple Leaf Foods spokesperson Linda Smith told CTV Newsnet Friday, officials at the plant are,
"… constantly looking for it (listeria), constantly swabbing and looking for it."
Smith said the equipment at the plant is sanitized every day and officials take about 3,000 swabs per year. The plant also has a microbiologist on site, she said.
"This plant has an excellent food safety record, excellent inspection record, excellent external auditors. We'll never know exactly how it got here."
But you do have 3,000 samples per year. If Maple Leaf really wants to restore public confidence, release the listeria data. How many positives does the Toronto plant see in a year? Were there positives leading up to the initial Aug. 17, 2008 recall? If there were no positives, why not? What is the protocol when a positive is discovered?
I'm not sure what Mr. McCain and his team has done in preparation for this outbreak, but in March I wrote about Quaker Oats handling of a recall due to Salmonella in some of their Aunt Jemima products:
"Quaker Oats has great information on their website already [less than 4 hours after the recall], with a nice graphic on how to handle the recall.... Especially love that people can sign-up for ongoing info -- good preparation on Quaker Oats' part."
It looked like they were ready for a problem, and already had the resources in place to get information out to their customers.
The thing I liked the most about Quaker Oats' Aunt Jemima situation was that they had pictures of the recalled product. A company with a culture of food safety is ready for a recall, has a website with pictures and consumer-friendly information ready to go in anticipation, like Quaker Oats did.
Sometimes I buy lunch meat. Sometimes I even get the prepackaged stuff. I don't always know what brand it is, and I don't know all the intricacies of the food system and get mixed up as to which parent company makes Shopsy's. The list system is confusing.
The Globe and Mail is reporting tonight that: Maple Leaf is working with distributors to track down all 220 products from the Toronto site, which Mr. McCain told reporters could be anywhere in Canada. That could take as long as three to five days, he said during a news conference at the firm's Toronto head office.
At about 7:50pm this evening I thought I'd take a look at whether I could find any of these recalled products at the grocery store and get some pictures to demonstrate where the codes can be found.
I found some.
About 2 minutes after entering Ultra Food and Drug in Guelph, I was able to find the recalled Maple Leaf's EZee Sub Dagwood products, with the establishment code (denoted, I assume, by the "EST. 97B" still on the shelves. That's the bad news.
The good news is that I can use a real example of what one of the recalled products looks like and where the establishment code is. Something that Maple Leaf hasn't done.
"It (Listeria) is virtually impossible to eradicate in its entirety. It exists in plants, in supermarkets, potentially in your kitchen.”
That’s true. And deli meats and other refrigerated ready-to-eat foods like smoked salmon are particularly good sources of listeria.
Back in May, U.K. environmental health officers from 42 local authorities purchased 1,127 samples of sliced-at-the-counter cooked meats from food retailers including butchers, delicatessens, market stalls and supermarkets.
Laboratory tests found that 15 per cent of the samples were contaminated with low numbers of listeria on the day of purchase, while 7.3 per cent were contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, the more serious form of listeria.
Although these were within European Food Safety Standards, when the contaminated samples were tested again after storage for 48 hours in a refrigerator, the L. monocytogenes in some of the contaminated samples had multiplied to unsafe levels.
In July, 2008, health types in Ireland warned pregnant women to avoid ready-to-eat, refrigerated and processed foods, such as soft cheeses, cold cuts of meat, pates and smoked fish after an increase in pregnancy-related listeriosis.
“One of the most important changes during pregnancy is the down-regulation of the cellular immune system. Because the fetus is genetically different from the mother, the body treats it as a graft. To prevent the maternal immune system from rejecting the fetus, cell-mediated immunity must therefore be suppressed during pregnancy. This is favored by high levels of progesterone. However, reduced cell-mediated immune function leads to increased susceptibility of the woman and her fetus to infections by intracellular pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes. That is why pregnant women are 20 times more at risk of contracting listeriosis than are other healthy adults. Pregnant women account for 30% of all cases of listeriosis and 60% of cases among persons 10 to 40 years of age.
“Typically, systemic infection occurs most frequently after ingestion of food contaminated with L monocytogenes. The bacteria cross the mucosal barrier of the intestine, probably aided by active endocytosis of organisms by epithelial cells. Once in the bloodstream, bacteria spread to different sites, but they have a particular affinity for the central nervous system or placenta. While circulating, the bacteria are internalized by macrophages and other plasma cells and are thereafter spread cell-to-cell through phagocytosis. As a result, antibodies, complement, and neutrophils become unable to protect the host.”
So, Michael McCain, I know what I’d tell my wife or any other pregnant woman. What would you tell a pregnant woman about deli meats? Would you be willing to put a health advisory on the back of the package?