Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Food Safety Bill Passes

It has been a long time coming, but the Food Safety Modernization Act is just a President's signature away.  But does it mean our food will be safer once that ink is dry...not by a long shot.  As in the LA Times article (link below), there are funding concerns.  And then, the FDA has to convert this into an actual regulation.  The battles will continue as it transformed into a document that will be actually implemented.  What will the FDA require as far as food safety plans....will it be similar to Seafood HACCP, or will it be watered down to a point that it has little resemblance to what we know as HACCP?  There is much debate to come. 

And once in place, will our food be safer? Not totally.   Putting regulations in place does not guarantee that some owner won't knowingly ship contaminated product, or that some farmer inadvertently irrigates his leafy greens with contaminated water.  But in most likelihood, it will improve the overall food safety system, thus reducing the overall risk.  The increased probability of an inspection for an establishment that never had an inspection before may make the owner maintain a cleaner establishment.  Having more control on imported good will reduce the risk of another melamine incident. Requiring a food safety plan, or HACCP, not only means that a company has to really think about how they will control food safety, but this plan serves as a guide for the inspector who audits the facility.  More importantly, requiring HACCP may lead to the need for training for the people making food.  In order to develop an acceptable plan, companies will need to learn more about the hazards associated with their process, and this will be a step towards bringing all companies up to a higher level of understanding food safety risks.

So don't look for this new legislation to eliminate foodborne illness altogether, but rather, it will be a step towards reducing risks and thus increasing the safety of the food throughout the supply continuum.
M. Bucknavage

Food-safety bill backed by House

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The House passed a measure to overhaul the nation's food-safety laws by a vote of 215 to 144 Tuesday afternoon, and President Obama is expected to sign it into law as soon as Wednesday.
The vote marked the final hurdle for a bill that cleared an unusual number of obstacles, despite enjoying bipartisan support and backing from a wide array of groups across the political spectrum, from the Consumers Union to the Chamber of Commerce.

"This is a big victory for consumers that finally brings food-safety laws into the 21st century," said Jean Halloran of Consumers Union. "This win is a powerful testament to the people across the country who came to Washington to tell their lawmakers how contaminated food had killed their loved ones or left them horribly sick. This win is for them and all Americans."

But some critics said the new legislation will expand the reach of the federal government without making food safer. "The federal food bureaucracy needs to get smarter and better coordinated, not more omnipotent," said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.).

The proposal survived filibuster threats in the Senate, constitutional confusion and tensions between big agricultural companies and the burgeoning local food movement.

The setbacks repeatedly sent the bill back to both chambers, where new challenges arose. In the end, the House voted on it three times and the Senate twice.
The legislation will affect all whole and processed foods except meat, poultry and some egg products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It is the first major change to the nation's food safety laws since 1938, and comes after a series of national outbreaks of food-borne illnesses linked to a wide varietyof foods, including spinach, peanuts and eggs.
"I beg you, the safety of your constituents is at stake," Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) said during debate on the House floor.

Unlike the current system, which relies on federal officials to trace the source of an outbreak to its origin after consumers have become ill, the new requirements are designed to create a system in which manufacturers and farmers come up with strategies to prevent contamination, then continually test to make sure they work.

The bill includes an exemption for small farmers and food processors, and those who sell directly to the public at farmers markets and farm stands. That exemption was pushed by advocates for local food, who argued that small producers would not be able to afford the testing and record-keeping required by the legislation. But it drew objections from major agricultural producers, which argued that no one should be exempt from producing safe food.

The exemptions "will limit the ability of the [Food and Drug Administration] to assure consumers that all foods they purchase, whether at grocery stores, restaurants, farm markets or elsewhere, have met the same food-safety standards," said Robert Guenther of United Fresh Produce Association, which represents the major fruit and vegetable growers.

"We remain fearful that this profound error will come back to haunt Congress, public health agencies and even those who thought they would benefit from food safety exemptions, but more importantly, we are fearful of what may slip through the food safety loopholes . . . and adversely affect consumers."
The measure also gives the FDA the authority to recall food; now, it must rely on food companies to voluntarily pull products off the shelves. And the bill would give the FDA access to internal records at farms and food-production facilities.

The bill would for the first time require importers to verify that their products from overseas meet U.S. safety standards.

One in six Americans becomes ill from tainted food each year, and 3,000 die, according to government estimates. Businesses spend billions of dollars as a result of lost sales, recalls and legal expenses triggered by the problem.

The measure is expected to cost $1.4 billion over the next four years, including the expense of hiring 2,000 new FDA inspectors.

LA Times Article,0,5901585.story

Monday, December 20, 2010

New case estimates show foodborne illness still a big problem

Monday, December 20, 2010

University Park, Pa. -- New estimates on the number of foodborne illness cases that occur each year in the United States, just released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, show that food safety remains a concern in this country, according to an expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
The new report states that about 48 million people, or one in six Americans, become ill from the consumption of contaminated food annually. Of this number, about 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.
"These numbers are lower than CDC previously estimated in 1999," said Catherine Cutter, associate professor of food science. "While there has been a drop in the actual number of foodborne illness cases monitored by the CDC over the last decade, the decrease of the estimated cases -- from 76 to 48 million -- may be attributed to better data collection.
"While we have done a good job of improving food safety, the CDC estimates show that there still is a lot of work to do," Cutter added.
Of the 48 million cases, an estimated 9.4 million were from one of 31 microbial agents, while the cause of most other cases is unknown. Approximately 90 percent of the 9.4 million estimated illnesses were due to seven pathogens, Cutter noted -- Salmonella, Norovirus, Campylobacter, Toxoplasma, E.coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, and Clostridium perfringens.
"Of these organisms, Salmonella was the leading cause of foodborne illness resulting in hospitalizations and deaths," Cutter said.
"These estimates are important because they give regulatory agencies, consumer groups, academics, public-health officials and industry personnel a measure of the impact of foodborne illness on our society."
According to Cutter, the data demonstrate that there is a lot of work to do throughout the "farm-to-fork" continuum, referring to what happens to food from when it is harvested in the field to what the consumer does while preparing and handling it.
"Individuals working in every segment of the food chain must be knowledgeable about handling food properly," she said. "They must understand how they can reduce the risk of foodborne illness."
She advises that consumers remember four basic principles of food safety:
-- CLEAN: Wash hands and surfaces to remove any pathogenic organisms;
-- SEPARATE: Raw and cooked foods should be kept apart to prevent cross contamination;
-- COOK: Cook foods to a proper internal temperature with a properly calibrated thermometer to kill bacteria that may be present; and
-- CHILL: Refrigerate foods promptly to prevent growth of harmful bacteria.

Keep food safety in mind when preparing for holiday celebrations

Friday, December 17, 2010
University Park, Pa. -- The holidays are a special time -- family, friends, food and more food. But many of the folks handling the preparations are not used to cooking for large groups, and it is easy for them to overlook some important practices, warns a food-safety expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
"Certainly, preparing food for large numbers of people often creates conditions in our kitchens with which we are not familiar," said extension food-safety specialist Martin Bucknavage. "Because of this, lapses in safe food handling and preparation can occur."
He noted that one of the most important things consumers can do is to properly plan and prepare before the event. "If we wait until the last minute, a forgotten ingredient or an overstocked refrigerator can result in some major confusion and possibly some contaminated food."
Bucknavage recommends taking the following seven precautions before a holiday party:
1. Decide on the recipes for the food you are going to make. Avoid using a recipe for a large group if you have not used the recipe before. If possible, try the recipe before the gathering. Also, make sure the recipes are accurate, according to accepted safe-food-preparation guidelines.
"Too often we find that recipes from less-reputable sources state incorrect cooking parameters, such as too-low cooking temperatures," he explained. "Recently, a friend used a recipe that stated a final cooking temperature for chicken that was 10 degrees lower than the USDA guideline of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Missing this fact, the cook could have put his guest's health in jeopardy."
2. Set a schedule for buying ingredients. Most dry ingredients can be bought well before the event, but if you are buying fresh seafood, you will want to buy it a day or two before, at the most. "Actually, with seafood, it is probably better to buy frozen unless you are close to the source where the seafood is caught," Bucknavage said. "Make sure all ingredients are on hand before you begin cooking. You hate to be running out to the store when you have a pot cooking on the stove."
3. Make sure you have the proper equipment and supplies. The most important implement is a cooking thermometer. There is no better way to tell when a food item is fully cooked than with a thermometer, according to Bucknavage.
"For poultry, the temperature of the bird should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit or higher," he noted. "Also, make sure you have the right cooking equipment, whether it is a properly sized roasting pan or having several serving utensils for the side dishes you plan to serve. Have an adequate amount of aluminum foil and resealable plastic bags for handling leftovers."
4. Plan adequate time for thawing any frozen items, especially larger cuts of meat and poultry. There are a few proper methods for thawing. One is to thaw in the refrigerator, and this may take more than four days for a large, frozen turkey. You can also thaw a food item in running cool water.
"Thawing under running water is a good way to thaw frozen shrimp," said Bucknavage. "You also can thaw foods in the microwave, but be sure to continue cooking completely once thawed this way."
5. Clean out the refrigerator so there is adequate space for all of the refrigerated food items you plan to have, including food items your guests bring. "Too often, the refrigerator is too full, and we are forced to leave food out longer than it should be, or the refrigerator is so packed that it loses cooling capacity," he said. "If needed, have a cooler at the ready along with some bagged ice."
6. Prepare any shelf-stable food items such as cookies or breads a day or more in advance so that you can concentrate on those food items requiring more care, such as a roasted turkey. If guests ask if they can bring something, suggest shelf-stable items such as cookies or cakes. It is an easier, safer alternative.
If they wish to bring items that require refrigeration or cooking, make sure that you and the person preparing the food item have planned accordingly to properly transport, store and serve those items. "If refrigerated, keep below 40 degrees Fahrenheit; if hot, the temperature should be 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher," he said.
7. On the day of the event, start early and have a plan. "Roasts often can take longer than expected, so get them going early," he said. "Besides, having the cooking done early will allow you more time to spend with your guests. Otherwise, they will be crowding in your kitchen to talk, and this can only add to the stress."
Prior planning and preparation will not only help reduce the risk of foodborne illness, Bucknavage pointed out, "but will help reduce the stress that occurs during your holiday gathering, ensuring that all -- including the cook -- have a happy holiday."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

CDC Releases New Numbers for Foodborne Illness Cases Each Year

Finally, we can stop quoting the ole ‘76 million people get stick each year from foodborne illness, with 300, 000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths’.  Now it is 48 million sick, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths. They claim the number is more accurate, which means the number we have been quoting for the last umpteen years was not accurate.  I think most of us guessed that, but in conference after conference, news report after news report, that number was laid out there.  All hail the new number, but think of the number of PowerPoint’s that will need to be changed.

CDC Reports 1 in 6 Get Sick from Foodborne Illnesses Each Year
New estimates more precise
About 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according new estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The figures are the most accurate to date due to better data and methods used. The data are published Wednesday in two articles in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The papers provide the most accurate picture yet of what foodborne pathogens are causing the most illness, as well as estimating the proportion of foodborne illness without a known cause. The reports are the first comprehensive estimates since 1999 and are CDC's first to estimate illnesses caused solely by foods eaten in the United States.
"We've made progress in better understanding the burden of foodborne illness and unfortunately, far too many people continue to get sick from the food they eat," said CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D, M.P.H. "These estimates provide valuable information to help CDC and its partners set priorities and further reduce illnesses from food."
CDC's new estimates are lower than in the 1999 report. The difference is largely the result of improvements in the quality and quantity of the data used and new methods used to estimate foodborne-disease. For example, it is now known that most norovirus is not spread by the foodborne route, which has reduced the estimate of foodborne norovirus from 9.2 to approximately 5.5 million cases per year. Because of data and method improvements, the 1999 and current estimates cannot be compared to measure trends.
CDC's FoodNet surveillance system data, which tracks trends among common foodborne pathogens, has documented a decrease of 20 percent in illnesses from key pathogens during the past 10 years. However, these FoodNet pathogens make up only a small proportion of the illnesses included in the new estimates.
Of the total estimate of 48 million illnesses annually, CDC estimates that 9.4 million illnesses are due to 31 known foodborne pathogens. The remaining 38 million illnesses result from unspecified agents, which include known agents without enough data to make specific estimates, agents not yet recognized as causing foodborne illness, and agents not yet discovered. In both the 1999 and current estimates, unspecified agents were responsible for roughly 80 percent of estimated illnesses.
"Foodborne illnesses and deaths are preventable, and as such, are unacceptable," said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. "We must, and can, do better by intensifying our efforts to implement measures that are prevention-oriented and science-based. We are moving down this path as quickly as possible under current authorities but eagerly await passage of new food safety legislation that would provide us with new and long overdue tools to further modernize our food safety program."
Among the additional findings for foodborne illness due to known pathogens:
·         Salmonella was the leading cause of estimated hospitalizations and deaths, responsible for about 28 percent of deaths and 35 percent of hospitalizations due to known pathogens transmitted by food.
·         About 90 percent of estimated illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths were due to seven pathogens: Salmonella, norovirus, Campylobacter, Toxoplasma, E.coli O157, Listeria and Clostridium perfringens.
·         Nearly 60 percent of estimated illnesses, but a much smaller proportion of severe illness, was caused by norovirus.
"People expect food to nourish them, not to harm them. So we need to intensify efforts to decrease the number of illnesses and deaths due to foodborne diseases," said Christopher Braden, M.D., director of CDC's Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases. "We now know more than ever what pathogens are causing the most harm, and we will continue our work to help protect people from these illnesses. Much that remains unknown about how and why people get sick and we are committed to learning more in the future."
CDC continues to encourage consumers to take an active role in preventing foodborne infection by following safe food-handling and preparation tips of separating meats and produce while preparing foods, cooking meat and poultry to the right temperatures, promptly chilling leftovers, and avoiding unpasteurized milk and cheese and raw oysters.
The full report is available online at For more detailed information on the estimates and methods, please visit To learn more about foodborne illness trends, visit the FoodNet site at To learn about how to prevent foodborne illness, visit

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pennsylvania's new food-safety law initiates major changes

Thursday, December 9, 2010
University Park, Pa. -- A new law recently adopted by the state Legislature will have some immediate and important impacts on eating establishments in Pennsylvania, according to a food-safety expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
House bill 74, which became Act 106 of 2010 when it was signed by the governor in early December, combined and updated previous regulations, noted Martin Bucknavage, senior extension associate in food science. "After years of wrangling, Pennsylvania lawmakers finally updated state regulations affecting establishments that make and sell food," Bucknavage said.
"Clearly, one of the benefits is that the new law provides a single minimal standard across the state," he said. "The law will use the current U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code as a standard, and so Pennsylvania regulations across the state will stay current as the Food Code is updated."
There are some aspects of the law that managers of retail food establishments should be aware of, he explained. First, there are now fees for reinspection of a facility."If an establishment must be reinspected due to obtaining noncompliant status in the first inspection, there is a fee of $150 for reinspection," Bucknavage said. "If a third inspection is required, then a fee of $300 must be paid.
"It will be wise for establishments to be proactive in correcting situations that can result in the facility being graded noncompliant," he said.
In the past, eatery proprietors could request that a state inspector do a cursory inspection, which was a free service. But now there will be a $150 fee charged for unofficial inspections.
"It is also important to note that the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has the right to perform an inspection if the local health authority has failed to perform the required inspection," Bucknavage said. "So if your local inspector is not on time, don't be surprised if a Department of Agriculture inspector shows up.
"Pennsylvania inspectors have the right to inspect any facility that makes and sells food," Bucknavage added. "And they have the right to take samples for testing of any food items to insure that the food products are safe. The Department of Ag, of course, will have to pay for those samples."
One of the biggest changes may be the new requirements regarding the establishment's certified manager, Bucknavage suggested. The certified person is considered the "person-in-charge" of the facility. "So if an inspector comes into the facility and wants to talk to the person-in-charge, that person will need to be certified," he said.
"Under the new law, if the owner is not certified, then the owner is not technically in charge. Additionally, the certified person must be accessible at all times the facility is operating. And the certified employee can be the person-in-charge for only one facility. The only exception is temporary facilities such as at a fair."

As a result of the new law, the state no longer will be involved in issuing certifications. In the past, people wishing to be certified took an approved food-safety training course followed by an examination and then sent the testing body's certificate and $20 to the Department of Agriculture to receive an official state certification. No longer, Bucknavage said. The testing body certificate will now be the accepted document.
"While this makes it easier, it does have a downside," Bucknavage said. "The state no longer will issue recertification certificates. That is, a person will need to take the certification examination every five years, instead of just having to participate in eight hours of training and then sending the old state certification to the Department of Agriculture for reissuance of a new certificate."
Those who wish to obtain recertification under current law have until Jan. 22, 2011 to apply. Bucknavage said Penn State Cooperative Extension offices throughout the state will offer limited recertification opportunities.
Extension conducts state-approved food-safety certification training for food-service managers through ServSafe, a national program developed by the National Restaurant Association. For more information, contact your county Penn State Cooperative Extension office or visit extension's food-safety website at

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Food Modernization Act Passes Senate

The Food Safety Modernization Act took another step forward by passing the Senate.  It must now go to the House where there will be debate on whether to pass as is or to wrangle  some more.  If there is more wrangling on the provisions, it may die.  A few important notes:

·         This does not affect USDA facilities.

·         The House had its own version, but it additional components that would render it less likely to pass, including fees to food companies for registration.

·         There are questions how it would impact small farmers

·         Require all facilities to have a HACCP type system in place.  While this gets little notice by the press, I see this as a major benefit.

·         Provide more record access to FDA during food emergencies

·         Improve import food safety

Senate Passes Overhaul of Food Safety Regulations

Published: November 30, 2010
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday passed a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s food-safety system, after recalls of tainted eggs, peanut butter and spinach sickened thousands and led major food makers to join consumer advocates in demanding stronger government oversight.
The legislation, which passed by a vote of 73 to 25, would greatly strengthen the Food and Drug Administration, an agency that in recent decades focused more on policing medical products than ensuring the safety of foods. The bill is intended to get the government to crack down on unsafe foods before they harm people rather than after outbreaks occur.
Despite unusual bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and a strong push from the Obama administration, the bill could still die because there might not be enough time for the usual haggling between the Senate and House of Representatives, which passed its own version last year. Top House Democrats said that they would consider simply passing the Senate version to speed approval.
Both versions of the bill would grant the F.D.A. new powers to recall tainted foods, increase inspections, demand accountability from food companies and oversee farming. But neither version would consolidate overlapping functions at the Department of Agriculture and nearly a dozen other federal agencies that oversee various aspects of food safety, making coordination among the agencies a continuing challenge.
While food-safety advocates and many industry groups preferred the House version because it includes more money for inspections and fewer exceptions from the rules it sets out, most said the Senate bill was far better than nothing.
“This is an historic moment,” said Erik Olson, deputy director of the Pew Health Group, an advocacy group. “For the first time in over 70 years, the Senate has approved an overhaul of F.D.A.’s food safety law that will help ensure that the food we put on our kitchen tables will be safer.”
Among the Senate bill’s last major sticking points was how it would affect small farmers and food producers. Some small-farm and organic food advocates warned that the legislation would destroy their industry under a mountain of paperwork, and Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat of Montana, pushed for a recent addition to the bill that exempts producers with less than $500,000 a year in sales who sell most of their food locally.
That provision led the United Fresh Produce Association, a trade group, to announce recently that it would oppose the legislation since small food operations have been the source of some food recalls in recent years.
But Randy Napier of Medina, Ohio, said the Senate bill was better than nothing. Mr. Napier’s 80-year-old mother, Nellie Napier, died in January 2009 after the nursing home in which she lived continued to feed her contaminated peanut butter even after she got sick.
“I am appalled at what I have found out since my mother’s death about how poorly food is regulated and how these companies cut corners to save money,” Mr. Napier said.
The staunch opposition of Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, forced months of delay and eventually required Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada to call a series of time-consuming procedural votes to end debate. Mr. Coburn offered his own version of the legislation eliminating many of its requirements because he said less regulation was needed, not more, but that version failed.
Despite Mr. Coburn’s opposition, the bill is one of the only major pieces of bipartisan legislation to emerge from this Congress. Some Republican and Democratic Senate staff members — who in previous terms would have seen each other routinely — met for the first time during the food negotiations. The group bonded over snacks: specifically, Starburst candies from a staff member of Senator Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, and jelly beans from a staff member of Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. And in the midst of negotiations, the negotiators — nearly all women — took a field trip to a nearby food market so that a Republican staff member could teach the Democrats how to buy high-quality steaks.
“This legislation means that parents who tell their kids to eat their spinach can be assured that it won’t make them sick,” said Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa who, as chairman of the Senate health committee, shepherded the legislation through months of negotiations.
Health advocates are hoping the legislation will rekindle the progress — now stalled — that the nation once enjoyed in reducing the tens of millions of food contamination illnesses that occur each year. In the case of toxic salmonella, infections may be creeping upward.
Part of the problem is the growing industrialization and globalization of the nation’s food supply. Nearly a fifth of the nation’s food supply and as much as three-quarters of its seafood are imported, but the F.D.A. inspects less than one pound in a million of such imported foods. The bill gives the F.D.A. more control over food imports, including increased inspection of foreign processing plants and the ability to set standards for how fruits and vegetables are grown abroad.
And as food suppliers grow in size, problems at one facility can sicken thousands all over the country. The Peanut Corporation of America’s contaminated paste was included in scores of cookies and snacks made by big and small companies. The legislation would raise standards at such plants by demanding that food companies write plans to manufacture foods safely and conduct routine tests to ensure that the plans are adequate.
The bill would give the F.D.A. the power to demand food recalls. The Bush Administration for years opposed such powers, saying that food manufacturers invariably complied when asked by the government to undertake a recall. But last year, the F.D.A. asked a distributor of pistachios to recall its entire 2008 crop after tests showed salmonella contamination at its processing plant. Days passed before the company complied.
The legislation greatly increases the number of inspections the F.D.A. must conduct of food processing plants, with an emphasis on foods that are considered most high risk — although figuring out which ones are riskiest is an uncertain science. Until recently, peanut butter would not have made the list.
Whether the agency gets the money to conduct such inspections is far from certain. The House version would require food producers to pay a modest annual fee to help fund inspections, but that provision was excluded from the Senate version. The Senate bill also requires grocery stores to post prominently a list of recently recalled foods or alert consumers in other ways, a provision championed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York.
Neither version of the bill applies to slaughterhouses or most meat and poultry processing plants, which are under the jurisdiction of the agriculture department. Both versions would affect about 80 percent of the food supply, including fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, dairy products and processed foods that do not contain meat.
Industry organizations backed the legislative push because of the high costs for many companies of the food scares of recent years. Egg sales fell nationwide after the massive egg recall this summer, even though only two producers were implicated. Several years ago, contaminated spinach from one small producer led the entire industry’s crop to be destroyed.
Judith McGeary, executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, an advocacy group that sees government regulation as a threat to small farms, said she was satisfied with changes made to the bill to reduce paperwork for small farmers and exempt them from some requirements.
“We still have concerns about the scope of the power that F.D.A. has and its tendency to write rules and regulations that favor agribusiness instead of small farmers,” Ms. McGeary said.
Scott Faber, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group that represents most large food processors, said that food sales in the United States and abroad depended on people believing that food is safe.
“Consumer trust is the foundation of everything food companies do, and the industry recognized we needed a stronger partner at F.D.A. if we were going to restore trust in the safety of our food supplies,” Mr. Faber said.
Consumer advocates were jubilant.
“Everyone who eats will benefit,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group. “F.D.A. will have new tools to help ensure that we have a safer food supply that causes fewer outbreaks and illnesses.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Safety reminders, advice offered for field dressing, processing deer

University Park, Pa. -- For hunters lucky enough to bag a deer in the upcoming seasons, a food-safety specialist in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences offers some advice to properly field dress and store the carcass, and then process the meat.
"The time from when the deer is downed until it is processed can have the largest impact on the safety and quality of the meat," said Martin Bucknavage, food safety extension associate in the Department of Food Science. He warns that it is important for hunters to follow these guidelines:
1. Eviscerate the animal as soon as possible. This helps the carcass dissipate heat and removes internal organs where spoilage can occur more quickly.
2. Wear a pair of rubber gloves when field dressing the deer. Deer carry pathogenic bacteria, and so precautions are needed to prevent cross contamination. If you get blood on your hands or clothes, be sure to wash thoroughly in soap and water.
3. Be sure to avoid cutting into the internal organs, especially the intestines. There are large numbers of bacteria -- including pathogenic bacteria -- in the intestines. Tie off the anus. This can be done with a string or rubber band.
4. If the outside temperature is greater than 40 F, you can help to chill the carcass by inserting plastic bags of ice or snow into the body cavity. Once out of the field, get the carcass into a cooler or refrigerator as soon as you can. If the temperature is below 40 F, prop open the cavity with sticks to promote cooling. Don't tie the deer to the hood of your car. This will serve only to heat the carcass.
5. Do not age the deer if the temperature is greater than 40 F. While experts don't agree on the need for aging, it is certain that hanging a deer at temperatures greater than 40 F will probably lead to unwanted spoilage. The greater the temperature above 40 F, the quicker spoilage will occur.
6. Remove all visible hair, dirt, feces and bloodshot areas from the internal cavity. Wipe the inside of the body cavity with a dry cloth or paper towel. If you rinse the cavity, be sure to dry thoroughly. Excess moisture will encourage bacterial growth.
7. Clean residues from knives and equipment, and then sanitize with a chlorine bleach solution. It is wise to carry sanitary wipes with you to clean knives in the field.
"Most importantly, if during field dressing, any of the internal organs smell unusually offensive, or if there is a greenish discharge, black blood or blood clots in the muscle, do not consume the meat," Bucknavage warned. "If you kill a deer and question the safety and quality of the meat, immediately contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The agency has policies for authorizing an additional kill."
Processing your meat
After field dressing and transporting the carcass, hunters have to decide what to do with the meat. "While some leave the choices to their local butcher, many are finding that they can save money and increase their personal enjoyment by butchering their own deer," Bucknavage said.
"It certainly is easier to turn your trophy deer into a pile of ground meat, but if the hunter is willing to learn proper butchering and cooking techniques, the possibilities for preparing your venison are endless."
Bucknavage urged hunters to keep a few general rules in mind when planning how to butcher their game.
"When it comes to cooking whole cuts of meat, it is important to remember that as we move away from the hooves and horns, the cuts of meat become more tender," he said. "These tender cuts, such as the tenderloin, should be cooked quickly at a higher temperature. For tougher cuts, use low, moist heat to cook the meat more slowly. This helps break down the connective tissue within those cuts."
Because of the possibility of E. coli O157:H7 contamination of the meat, it is important that the venison cuts reach a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit or higher -- which is a major issue, Bucknavage said, when making the always-popular venison jerky.
"One of the biggest concerns when making jerky is that people don't heat the meat to the proper temperature," he said. "It is important that jerky be heated just until it reaches at least 160 to 165 degrees. This can be accomplished by dipping the slices into a hot marinade for a minute or so before beginning the drying process."
Canning is another option for venison."Preserving venison through canning is a little-used practice that can turn tougher venison cuts into a ready-to-go ingredient for a favorite stew recipe," he said. "It is important to follow standard USDA guidelines to safely preserve your venison."
The USDA guidelines are available online through Penn State's Food Safety website.
Penn State's Department of Food Science offers hunters a wealth of information on the preparation of wild game from the field to the table. The "Field Dressing Deer Pocket Guide" -- a free, 12-panel publication -- explains how to field-dress a deer safely. Extensively illustrated in full color, it explains the process of field dressing and also covers important food-safety information for hunters.
"Proper Field Dressing and Handling of Wild Game and Fish" is for hunters and anglers who handle animals, fish and birds in the field. It details the potential risks involved in contaminating the meat or fish while dressing, handling and transporting it. This free, 12-page, illustrated publication describes the importance of temperature control and gives detailed instructions for safe field dressing and transporting of deer, small animals and game birds.
A companion booklet,"Proper Processing of Wild Game and Fish" is a free, 20-page publication that describes safe processing techniques for wild game and fish. Aging, cutting, curing, smoking, canning, and jerky and sausage making are detailed. The importance of temperature control is discussed, and various types of meat thermometers are identified. A final section includes recipes for game birds, fish and venison.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Grading Policies for Restaurants - Allegheny County

I am all for food safety and restaurant inspections, but I am not keen on the application of grade scores to audits.  The goal of an inspection or an audit should be to identify gaps within the establishment’s food safety system and have the establishment correct those gaps.  The auditor or inspector can be somewhat objective in determining which practices are higher risk.  But the degree of risk can be subjective.  And as they apply the score to the entire process, it becomes more subjective.  And then that score is on the books until the next inspection.  Even a clean kitchen can have a momentary food safety lapse by an employee potentially putting a  projected good score in jeopardy and more importantly, affecting that establishment’s ability to do business.

This scoring practice also puts pressure on the inspector.  While the inspector should be working with the owner on how to improve food safety, the scoring component may lead to a more confrontational relationship.  Will the inspector be willing to write an issue down knowing that the establishment’s grade will drop from a B to a C?

Inspections should identify food safety gaps and provide opportunity for the establishment to get them corrected.  While a mandated grading policy might push some operators into proactive improvement, this system can be far too subjective resulting in unfair punishment. 

Controversial Allegheny health grading policy could return
By Adam Brandolph
Monday, November 8, 2010

A controversial health inspection system for restaurants and other food servers could return to Allegheny County in the spring after being scrapped more than 15 years ago.
The county Health Department is drafting food safety guidelines that officials say will include a system to give customers a sense of how clean kitchens are. The rating -- based on "demerit" points accumulated for violations -- could be recorded as a letter grade, a numerical score or both. Restaurants would be required to post their rating for all to see.
"It could be a death blow to a lot of restaurants," said Brian Carey, owner of Cappy's Cafe on Walnut Street in Shadyside. "How do you get your rating changed is a concern. You don't want to have a 'C' rating for a whole year."
The Health Department issued letter grades beginning in the 1970s but changed to a pass/fail system in 1994 because restaurants complained the system was unfair.
"The old system took into account structural deficiencies and didn't measure cleanliness effectively," said Dr. Bruce Dixon, director of the department. "If you had structural issues, you always had a 'B.' One of the better restaurants had a 'B' because they had wooden floors in the kitchen."
The new system would "provide clear and understandable information," said Paul M. King, chairman of the health board. The department's Food Safety Division conducts annual inspections and investigates complaints at about 9,000 food establishments in the county, including street vendors, hospitals and school cafeterias.
The state Department of Agriculture inspects food services and restaurants in counties that don't have local health departments.
The new regulations would be vetted by the department's Food Advisory Committee and open for public comment before they're approved, King said. Last week, an early draft of the rules was sent back to the committee for review. Officials refused to provide that draft to the Tribune-Review.
The revised rules are to be ready in January and could be voted on in March.
Jeff Cohen, owner of the Smallman Street Deli in the Strip District and director of the Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association, said he'd prefer a system based on points rather than a letter grade.
"The way the new system is proposed, a one-point difference between a score of an 89 and a score of a 90 could be the difference between of an A and a B," said Cohen, who sits on the Health Department's subcommittee charged with revising the restaurant inspection program.
"We're meeting in a few weeks to hash out a correct strategy," Cohen said. "I don't think the current system is broke now. I always find they're very fair. I think the Health Department's goal is to make sure everyone's getting a 90 or above."
Roger Kaplan, manager of a McDonald's restaurant on McKnight Road in Ross, didn't think his customers would pay attention to ratings.
"People come to McDonald's because they know they can get good food fast and cheap," he said. "And I think people will be surprised about how well we score."
Rhett Schlegel, a bartender at Rolands in the Strip District, said he doesn't know whether he'd support a change, but he thinks most restaurants would be against it.
"If it becomes law, they're just going to have to watch their Ps and Qs and keep everything perfect," he said.
Dixon said that's exactly the point.
"If a restaurant can't do things the right way and they have a 'C,' I think people are entitled to know that, aren't they? (Restaurants) should aspire to maintain quality standards so people feel comfortable with where they eat."
Rating systems have received "mixed reviews" nationwide, said Vito Palazzolo, manager of program compliance at the National Restaurant Association, an industry lobbying group.
Under laws that went into effect in August, New York City gives restaurants letter grades based on points accrued for violations. Many restaurants opposed the changes, said Andrew Rigie, director of the New York State Restaurant Association.
"A restaurant is either safe and sanitary enough to serve the public or it's not," Rigie said. "We felt an 'A' or 'F' system should be implemented because of the complexities of the health code and because of the subjectivity of the inspectors."
While critics say grading systems are gimmicky and unfair, Charles Campalong, general manager of Benkovitz Seafoods in the Strip District, said he prefers them because they differentiate especially clean kitchens from those that just pass inspection.
"Why should I bust my (butt) when other places are dirty and everybody gets the same thing?" Campalong said.
Kevin McCullogh, general manager of Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville, said new regulations would "get the restaurants that aren't doing a good job to do better."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

USDA's Updated Trichinella Fact Sheet

USDA recently updated its webpage on Trichinella, and this provides a nice reference on the topic.  I thought it would be good to post this as well as an op-ed column in the NY Times on Trichinella in free range pigs (2009). In the 1930s, there were hundreds of cases per year that were reported (although it was not a reportable illness in many states).  An estimate made from autopsies indicated that the level in the US population may have been as high as 12% (ref below).  In the past decade, there have only been a handful of cases, mostly related to wild game, specifically bear.  Much of this is due to industry practices and veterinary inspections. While there are some that refuted the NY Times piece based upon the lack of Trichinella cases related to free range pigs, in theory, it seems that if pigs are allowed to free range, there is potentially a higher risk of these pigs encountering this parasite (through the eating on infected rats or the feces of infected animals.)

While the mortality rate is low, symptoms of trichinosis can range from mild to severe.
Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, fever, and abdominal discomfort are the first symptoms of trichinosis. Headaches, fevers, chills, cough, eye swelling, aching joints and muscle pains, itchy skin, diarrhea, or constipation follow the first symptoms. If the infection is heavy, patients may experience difficulty coordinating movements, and have heart and breathing problems. In severe cases, death can occur.  The acute phase occurs after the mature warm lays eggs in the small intestine and these eggs hatch into larvae which enter the bloodstream and travel to muscle tissue within the body, such as the diaphragm.  There they become encysted.

USDA’s review of Trichinella
A Focus on Trichinella -- Updated Version

A primer on trichinosis from CDC

A 1938 survey of trichinosis in the US

2009 NY Times Op-Ed on free range pigs and Trichinella

Friday, November 5, 2010

Food Safety and Small Companies

by Martin Bucknavage

Three recent food safety issues have been noted in the press (links to related articles below each).

·         FDA, CDC, and Costco warn consumers to avoid Bravo Farms Dutch Style Gouda cheese

FDA, CDC, and Costco warn consumers to avoid Bravo Farms Dutch Style Gouda cheese

·         Baugher's apple cider recalled over potential E. coli

DHMH Issues Consumer Alert Regarding Recall of Baugher's Apple Cider

·         Texas produce supplier, Sanger, and listeriosis

The first is an aged raw milk cheese made by a small company and distributed by Costco linked to E.coli.  The second is a small cider mill making unpasteurized cider linked to E. coli, and lastly, last month’s case of Listeria related illness linked to chopped celery.

What is interesting in these cases is that they are all small, regional companies who have experienced issues, and were then written-up by the press. Two of the companies have nice websites that give you a positive impression of the company. (Bravo Farms, Baugher’s  The third was shut down.

Here are some items to note:

1)     There is much attention  on outbreaks related to large companies, but even small companies can, and will, have issues. (as in the insurance commercial – mayhem can happen – as a result from the smallest distraction or oversight).  Further, small companies no longer fly under the radar of the investigations, or the press.  With enhanced capabilities, local and state health agencies in conjunction with the CDC can track event the smallest outbreaks to the source.  Therefore, companies of all sizes must have necessary food safety policies and procedures in place, records to show they are being completed, and verification procedures, such as testing, to show their success.

2)     Retailers looking to find small niche products must know their potential suppliers capabilities before they begin selling these products.  There is a trend for retailers, looking to enhance their offerings, to find small companies making unique products, similar to Costco selling Bravo Farm products.  Diligence must be taken to ensure these smaller suppliers have robust quality and food safety systems.

3)     Consumers should not assume that local product is free of risk just because it is local.  If a consumer buys unpasteurized apple juice, there is an increased risk over pasteurized product.

4)     There is help available through associations, government agencies (USDA’s Small and Very Small Plant Outreach), and the Universities (Cooperative Extension and PennTAP) to assist with training and development.

Norovirus outbreak at central PA school

A central Pennsylvania school was shut down due to viral gastroenteritis and norovirus is expected.  Norovirus is highly contagious and thus has resulted in large outbreaks in confined populations such as on cruise ships, summer camps, nursing homes, etc.  The school was shut down in order to perform a thorough sanitation.

A few facts about norovirus:

-       Low infectious dose, approximately 10 to 100 viral particles are sufficient to cause disease.  It also has a high attack rate of 50 to 70%.  These, combined with environmental stability, lead to large outbreaks.

-       Resistant to drying, thus can remain on a surface for weeks.  In one case, virus remaining in carpeting caused illness 12 days later.  Also resistant to refrigeration and freezing.

-       Resistant to 3  to 6 mg chlorine/ L (as used in drinking water), but inactivated at 10 mg chlorine/L

-       Symptoms of projectile vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea will appear as soon as 12 hours after exposure and then last 12 to 60 hours.  Dehydration is a always a concern.

-       “Projectile vomiting is a characteristic symptom that can contribute to secondary spread through droplet infection, where droplets containing virus may contaminate surfaces or be swallowed”.

-       People with illness shed large numbers of virus in their feces and continue to shed virus for up to 2 weeks following illness.

-       Because of genetic variability, people can get norovirus infections many times in their lifetime.

-       Ready-to-eat food is a common vector for norovirus, when an infected foodservice employee contaminated the food during handling.  Thus the regulation for gloves when working with RTE foods.  So glove usage, handwashing and good sanitation are keys in control of norovirus.  It is also important that employees with symptoms of illness (vomiting or diarrhea) or who have been diagnosed with the illness, be excluded from food operations.

-       (source Viruses in Foods, 2006)

P-O Junior High to be closed Friday due to student illnesses

By Lauren Boyer Centre Daily Times

November 4, 2010 7:09pm EDT

More than 100 student absences and complaints of upset stomachs Thursday prompted district officials to cancel school Friday at Philipsburg-Osceola Junior High.
At 1 p.m. Thursday, students were dismissed from the building, normally attended by about 300 seventh and eighth graders, said district spokeswoman Dena Cipriano.
The district is communicating with state Department of Health about best practices and symptoms experiences by students. Cipriano said those symptoms correlate with symptoms that are typical of novoviruses.
Highly contagious, noroviruses cause the “stomach flu,” or gastroenteritis, which leads to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and some stomach cramping, according to a state Department of Health fact sheet. The district provided a link to the fact sheet on its website, as part of the announcement of the closing of the junior high.
The Department of Health did not recommend closing the building. That was a precaution taken by the district, Cipriano said.
Before classes resume Monday, the custodial staff will “sanitize the building top to bottom” and replace products like toilet paper and paper towels, Cipriano said.
All other buildings in the district will remain open today, and the MoValley YMCA Youth Theatre Production will still be held today and Saturday at the Junior High School.