Friday, February 5, 2016

An Adage on the Appreciation of Prevention as Applied to Food Safety

The goal of food safety professionals is to prevent food safety issues for any facility or product in their purview. Unfortunately, these efforts often go unnoticed, and over time, are can be taken for granted. This passage by Thomas Cleary in the introduction to his translation of Sun Tzu's Art of War (The Art of War: Complete Text and Commentaries, 2003) fits this well.
According to an old story, a lord of ancient China once asked his physician, a member of a family of healers, which of them was the most skilled in the art.
The physician, whose reputation was such that his name become synonymous with medical science in in China, replied, “My eldest brother sees the spirit of sickness and removes it before it takes shape, so his name does not get out of the house.”
“My elder brother cures sickness when it is still extremely minute, so is name does not get out of the neighborhood. “
“As for me, I puncture veins, prescribe potions, and massage skin, so from time to time, my names gets out and is heard among the lords.”

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Report Summary - Consumer Trends in the Food Industry - Shifting Consumer Value Drivers

A collaboration of industry associations sponsored Deloitte to conduct a survey on consumer food purchasing trends, and now, the report from that survey is making the rounds in the media.  Here is a quick summary of that report, taken directly from the report (Here is the direct link to the that report -  Commentary is placed in [ ].
  • The food and beverage processing industry has exhibited stagnant growth over the past several years.
  • Consumer buying decisions on food are not only based upon the traditional drivers of taste, price, and convenience, but now include 'evolving drivers' of  health and wellness, safety, social impact, experience, and transparency.
  • There is a general distrust of larger food companies.
  • The information [or misinformation] for these evolving drivers likely comes from social media, mobile applications, and digital sources.
  • Evolving drivers:
    • Of these, wellness and health is most important.  It is also the most complex and varies for each category [understandable if you consider that the information gleaned from the web varies from the scientific to the bat-crap crazy...and can change suddenly as news reports are generated supporting or bashing specific foods or ingredients].  So there is no set definition of wellness.  And consumer will pay more for what they perceive as providing that.
    • Safety considers both short-term as well as long term implications, which interplays with wellness and  health.  Certainly free from harmful elements, but also clean labeling and  trustful sourcing.  Retailers will be relied on to play a bigger role in ensuring safety.
    • Social impact comes into play as small vocal groups can impact larger groups with their message - commitment to food safety, fair treatment of workers, local, values, environmental responsibility....political views.  About 1/4 of those surveyed indicated their choice are impacted by this - millennials and more wealthy [those who consider themselves a hipster] 
    • Experience - people look to have an experience shopping...looking for the new, interesting, and undiscovered.  A term to know is consumer engagement.
    • Transparency - people want access to whatever way they want to get that information (website, stores, etc)
  • Implications - an increasing fragmented marketplace with people wanting more information, thus putting demands on retailers and desire for smaller [perceived as local] companies.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Better Understanding Needed on Use of Oilfield Water to Irrigate Crops in Drought Stricken California

Questions are being raised about the use of  water from oilfields for irrigation water in California.  California has been in a drought since 2011 and community water systems have had to utilize more of this reclaimed water.  Unfortunately for the fruit industry, activists have publically decried certain brands / producers without much information to support claims.

Clearly, there needs to be more transparency on actual use as well as more knowledge about the actual risks.  One question - why was an extensive study not already completed by a government agency sooner?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Norovirus Sickens Hundreds at Dinner Theatre, Clean-Up Costly

A Kansas City dinner theatre was the site this past month of a huge norovirus outbreak.  Between Jan 15th and Jan 19th, more than 600 attendees and employees became ill.  The theatre company spent some $40,000 to clean/disinfect the location in order to mitigate the virus.

The source of the norovirus is not known, so it could have been a patron or an employee.  Food is served buffet style so the buffet tables could have easily served as a contamination point.

Incidents like this are reminders of how contagious norovirus is and how difficult it can be to control in these types of settings.  (Give me another reason to avoid buffet style service).

Kansas City Star
New Theatre Restaurant spends $40,000 on cleanup after more than 600 sickened
February 1, 2016 5:34 PM
By Joyce Smith

CDC Issues Final Report on Chipotle E. coli Outbreak

The CDC issued the final report indicating that there have been no further E. coli O26 illness associated with the outbreak.  Overall, 60 people were infected in 14 states with 22 requiring hospitalization.

 Chipotle has taken a beating, with it stock price dropping 33% over the past year.  It went up 4.8% on Monday.  Chipotle stated that it will close for a few hours (11AM to 3PM) on February 8th in order to do a company wide staff meeting where executives will answer questions.  This does not appear to be a food safety training event as much as it is an opportunity to let employees executives are engaged on food safety.
CDC Outbreaks
Multistate Outbreaks of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O26 Infections Linked to Chipotle Mexican Grill Restaurants (Final Update)
Posted February 1, 2016 12:00 PM ET

Monday, February 1, 2016

Dry Organic Shake Powders Recalled Due to Potential for Salmonella

Garden of Life is recalling its RAW Organic Meal Shakes due to the potential to be contaminated by Salmonella.  As reported by the Minnesota Department of Health, there is as many as 8 cases in 7 states.

The company seems to be taking the approach that their product is not to blame. “In an overabundance of caution we are taking this extreme measure because we want to ensure that you never have to wonder about the purity of any Raw Meal product.” said Brian Ray, President of Garden of Life.  In their release published by FDA, they state that all product is tested.

Upon evaluating the ingredient statement (pic below), we see that there is sprouted seed sprout items present.  If it is indeed raw, it can be the source of Salmonella.  Testing is not full proof, especially when there are low levels of the contaminate.  Even with large sample size testing, it may be difficult to find contamination levels below 1%.  It is important to remember that Salmonella can survive in dry products like this for months or even years.

Cottage Food Laws - Sidestepping Food Safety Regulations

Many states are enacting Food Cottage Laws to enable people to sell food that they made in their own kitchen without any oversight by government health and safety professionals.  The intended goal is to help support budding food entrepreneurs and support the local economy.  But at what cost? 

One example is the recently passed Cottage Food Laws of Idaho. The law does limit the type of food to non-potentially hazardous foods (excluding low acid and acidified canned foods) so the risk is lower, however there is little in the regulation that address food safety including the condition of the kitchen in which the food is handled and prepared.  Once made, the food can be sold through a number of channels including farmers' markets and online.