Do you really want that holiday potluck?

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Do you really want that holiday potluck?
By Douglas Powell | Dec. 17, 2014

I’ve got a new gig.

I’m the head of food safety for the school tuck shop that is run by volunteers at daughter Sorenne’s school.

The pay is lousy (non-existent) but the discussions are gold, and gets me back into what my friend Tanya deemed reality research – and that’s what my group has always been good at, going out and talking with people.

More practice than preaching.

The tuck shop serves meals for about 200 students, one day a week. It’s run by volunteers, and all profits go to the school.

It used to be run by a school employee, and the meals were purchased and then resold, at a loss. When that person moved on, some parents decided, we can do better that that.

Sorenne said she wanted relief from the drudgery of everyday school lunches, and I said, not until I check it out.

I put my hand up, and now am in charge of food safety.

Things happen that way.

But there were no state resources for volunteers running a tuck shop.

We’ve been making it up as we go.

The questions at my kid’s school can be expanded to the larger community, especially with holiday potlucks.

I avoid the food at potlucks, church dinners and other community meals. I relish the social interaction, but I have no idea of the hand sanitation, the cooking methods, and other food safety factors that can make people barf and sometimes kill them.

Typically, health types will insist on some level of competency for people providing food, and they will get overruled by politicians who say things like, it’s common sense, and, we’ve always done things this way and never made anyone sick.

No one inspects the tuck shop I volunteer at.

But volunteers aren’t magically immune from making people sick.

The outbreaks are happening weekly at this point, tragically resulting in the death of an elderly woman in New Brunswick, Canada.

Over 15 years ago Rob Tauxe described the traditional foodborne illness outbreak as a scenario that ‘often follows a church supper, family picnic, wedding reception, or other social event.’

This scenario involves an acute and highly local outbreak, with a high inoculum dose and a high attack rate. The outbreak is typically immediately apparent to those in the local group, who promptly involve medical and public health authorities. The investigation identifies a food-handling error in a small kitchen that occurs shortly before consumption. The solution is also local.

Community gatherings around food awaken nostalgic feelings of the rural past — times when an entire town would get together on a regular basis, eat, enjoy company, and work together.

Public health regulations for community-based meals are inconsistent at best, and these events may or may not fall under inspection regulations. Additionally, in areas where community-based meals are inspected by public health there is pressure from the community to deregulate these events due to their volunteer nature.

Food handlers at CMEs are usually volunteers preparing food outside of their own home, often in a communal kitchen. They may not be accustomed to preparing food for a large group, the time constraints associated with food service, or even the tools, foods and processes used for the meal. These informal event infrastructures, as well as volunteer food handlers with no formal food safety training and a lack of commercial food preparation skills, provide a climate for potential food safety problems.

Foods prepared at home and then brought to CMEs also pose a hazard, as research has shown that poor food handling practices in the home often contribute to foodborne illness.

The tuck shop at Sorenne’s school has been running for six months, and we’re now on summer break, did a deep clean, and planning how best to go forward, in a way we can recruit future volunteers.

We also just ended the (ice) hockey season this past weekend and Sorenne told her teacher she wants to be a professional hockey player when she gets older.

There’s no money in that, or food safety, but it’s great to be part of a community.

I needed 40 hours of training to coach a rep girls hockey team in Canada, and 16 hours to coach in Australia.

I don’t need nothing to make people sick.

 

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University.

Texas A&M Center for Food Safety receives new pathogen detection instrumentation from Crystal Diagnostics

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Texas A&M Center for Food Safety receives new pathogen detection instrumentation from Crystal Diagnostics
Dec. 12, 2014

College Station, TX – The Texas A&M Center for Food Safety announced today that it has received new pathogen detection instrumentation from Crystal Diagnostics, Ltd. of Broomfield, CO.

The Crystal Diagnostics’ XPress Pathogen Detection System (CDx) is a new food safety testing platform that relies on Liquid Crystal Biosensor Technology to detect targeted pathogens.

The CDx is AOAC approved for E. coli O157 testing in beef and spinach, with other food applications and targeted pathogens progressing rapidly.

“The CDx provides new technology in rapid pathogen detection for use in faculty research studies,” said Dr. Gary Acuff, director of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety.

“We are excited to offer the CDx to our Center members and would like to thank Crystal Diagnostics for making it available,” said Dr. Acuff.

 

About the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety

The Texas A&M Center for Food Safety is an interdisciplinary, collaborative effort between Texas A&M University and Texas A&M Agrilife Research and Extension. The CFS works to expand and improve food safety activities across the university’s academic departments and units, and to enhance external visibility and public knowledge of these activities.

About Crystal Diagnostics 

Crystal Diagnostics was born out of a research partnership with Kent State University and Northeast Ohio Medical University. The company’s mission is to bring new technology solutions to pathogen detection using liquid crystal technology.

Foodborne outbreaks: Learning opportunities, regardless of uncertainty, and should not be hidden

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Foodborne outbreaks: Learning opportunities, regardless of uncertainty, and should not be hidden
By Douglas Powell | Nov. 19, 2014

There was this one time, about 32 years ago, I was sitting in the kitchen with the mother of my university girlfriend.

She was peeling potatoes for boiling and mashing, and I smugly asked, why are you wasting so much potato?

“Because I don’t have all bloody day and if you’re so concerned, get off your bloody ass and bloody-well help.”

I’ve cooked ever since.

But what the mom and I didn’t know was that those potato skins could be contaminated with nasties like E. coli O157.

Potatoes, carrots, leeks, they’re grown in soil, and poop has various ways of getting into soil, so peeling potatoes should be like handling raw meat – you never bloody-well know what is contaminated and what isn’t.

Be the bug, follow the bug.

The folks at the U.K. Food Standards Agency, whose idea of science-based verification is to cook meat until it is piping hot, have apparently decided that E. coli O157:H7 – the dangerous kind – found on or in leeks, is the consumers’ responsibility.

Almost two months after revealing 250 people were sickened and one died with E. coli O157:H7 phage-type 8 over the previous eight months in 2011, linked to people handling loose raw leeks and potatoes in their homes, FSA decided to launch a campaign reminding people to wash raw vegetables to help minimize the risk of food poisoning. http://barfblog.com/2011/11/blame-the-consumer-e-coli-o157-sickens-250-kills-1-in-uk-fsa-responds-by-telling-consumers-to-wash-veggies-just-like-cook-your-meat-itll-be-fine/

No information on how those 250 became sick and no information on farming and packing practices that may have led to such a massive contamination that so many people got sick, no information on anything: just advice to wash things thoroughly so that contamination can be spread throughout the kitchen.

This outbreak combines two of the central themes of conflict and public trust in all things food: when to go public, and blaming consumers.

Often during an outbreak of foodborne illness there are health officials who have data indicating that there is a risk, prior to the public (although social media is changing that equation).

During the lag period between the first public health signal and some release of public information there are decision-makers who are weighing evidence with the impacts of going public. Multiple agencies and analysts have lamented that there is not a common playbook or decision tree for how public health agencies determine what information to release and when. Regularly health authorities suggest that how and when public information is released is evaluated on a case-by-case basis without sharing the steps and criteria used to make decisions.

On June 2, 2008, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it was investigating an ongoing multistate outbreak of human Salmonella serotype Saintpaul infections. CDC identified the consumption of raw tomatoes as the likely source of the illnesses in at least two states. By the time the outbreak was officially declared over on August 28, 2008, 1,442 people had been reported infected, at least 286 people had been hospitalized, and the infection may have contributed to two deaths. Despite the early identification of tomatoes as a potential pathogen source, jalapeño peppers were subsequently identified as the major source, with some implication of serrano peppers as well

Was the public advisory to avoid raw tomatoes issued too early in the outbreak investigation, despite its intent as a control measure? Some, including the Florida Tomato Committee may believe so, considering the outcome of the investigation and the substantial impact on the agriculture sector. The estimated economic cost to the tomato industry was more than $100 million in Florida and close to $14 million in Georgia.

In a 1999 news article about a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak , CDC foodborne illness epidemiologist Paul Mead summed up the conundrum that health officials face when reviewing preliminary data during an outbreak investigation: “Food safety recalls are always either too early or too late. If you’re right, it’s always too late. If you’re wrong, it’s always too early.” Go public too early, and make a mistake, and a corporation or industry’s reputation could unduly suffer. Go public too late, and individuals and businesses may be denied critical information they could use to protect public health.

This balancing act was most recently on display in New Zealand, following 170 confirmed cases of Yersinia pseudotuberculosis and a further 59 suspected but not confirmed cases of infection, apparently linked to lettuce.

By early Oct. 2014, enough people were sick that Food Safety Minister Jo Goodhew was compelled to finger Pams Fresh Mesclun Salad Lettuce and Pams Fresh Express Lettuce, while stressing the list was not initially released because it showed no definitive cause for the illness.

This is a disturbing trend, in that people are demanding microbiological proof when none exists – epidemiology remains a powerful and preventative public health tool.

Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey said a draft report from Environmental Science and Research (ESR) made available the previous week identified lettuce and carrots from a particular supermarket chain as the source.

“Everybody involved in this work, including MPI, ESR, all the public health units and the Ministry of Health, have seen the results of the ESR study, which is quite clear. It is unequivocal and it does name the types of food that have led to this problem and it also names one particular product,” Humphrey told Radio New Zealand.

He claimed MPI asked public health officials to keep the name of the supermarket and the products involved a secret, but he decided to name the vegetables to protect the public.

“[MPI] felt they should work with the industry rather than naming the foods but, of course, that leaves the New Zealand public slightly at risk, in my view.”

Bureaucrats are terrified of discussions of risk.

Within days of the public announcement, dozens of N.Z. Herald readers affected by the illness sent in messages describing what they went through, with many saying they were left bedridden, drowsy and debilitated.

But then the backpedaling started, portraying Living Farms, the producers of Pam’s greens, as victims of a zealous media, and by Nov., epidemiology was dumped in favor of “no Yersinia pseudotuberculosis was detected in any samples.”

Yet internal e-mails under the Official Information Act show the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) was mindful of balancing the risk of further illness against the risk of panicking the public and a loss of trust in the food supply chain.

An email from MPI, dated 1 October, said it considered “there will be greater ongoing positive effect and influence, with lesser risk of negative results, by managing the food safety hazard at the most likely source, ie: with industry”.

MPI had been visiting farms and retailers to try and pinpoint the source of the bug.

The documents also showed MPI believed the best it could do was inform the public to wash all fruit and vegetables as a precaution.

But, in an email dated 1 October, MPI said it was likely that the suspected vegetables were contaminated with the bacteria internally, rather than just on the surface: “Meaning that washing of the produce by consumers will not afford protection from illness.” This information was not passed on to consumers.

I don’t envy anyone facing bloody accusations. Growers and others would be better served if there were clear, publicly available guidelines for when to go public about foodborne illness. And don’t bloody-well blame consumers unless it is warranted.

 

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University.

Egg-centric Treats… Not Tricks

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HomePage_Soliloquy_powellsworld_novEgg-centric Treats… Not Tricks
By Douglas Powell | Nov. 5, 2014

The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved introduced the world to Gonzo journalism and Hunter S. Thompson in 1970.

Forty-four years later, they’re still living the decadence at Australia’s Melbourne Cup.

In true Hunter fashion, Australian bars open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov.4, Melbourne Cup day. The entire country shuts down to watch a three-minute horse race. Women wear outrageous hats.

And people get sick.

Last year on silly-hat day, there was an outbreak of Salmonella poisoning at Melbourne Cup functions.

At least 220 people at 40 different Melbourne Cup events catered by the same Brisbane-based company, Piccalilli Catering, got sick with Salmonella. One died.

On Nov. 14, the co-owner of Piccalilli Catering released a statement via Twitter identifying her company as the responsible caterer and saying that they were deeply upset and distressed but denying responsibility, alleging that the infection was due to eggs provided by their supplier to make raw egg mayonnaise. Ms. Grace denied any breakdown in her company’s quality system.

In the ensuing year, there has been no further update from Queensland Health and the initial Nov. 13 update has been erased from the Department’s website.

There’s some basic risk analysis questions here that should be answered to provide some level of confidence to Australian consumers, so I wrote the Queensland Minister of Heath to ask:

“• how did the outbreak happen;

  • was this commodity sourced from a food safety accredited supplier;
  • did handling by the caterer contribute to this outbreak;
  • what is Queensland Health’s policy on use of raw eggs in dishes to be consumed raw;
  • is this policy enforced;
  • is the investigation closed and if so, why and when was it closed;
  • will an outbreak investigation report be created and publicized;
  • why was the previous update erased from the Department’s website and on whose authority; and,
  • what is Queensland Health’s policy on providing information to the public.

It is in the best interests of both the public and the food industry that your Department respond promptly to such outbreaks demonstrating timeliness, transparency and critical detail. I have no confidence that your Department will follow through on the release of information should there be any similar outbreaks.”

In the past year, I’ve chatted with folks about the Melbourne Cup outbreak and am usually met with, oh yeah, I heard something about that. One person told me her husband was hospitalized for several days and was pissed off about the lack of public discussion.

Forget the Salmonella, it’s all about hats.

And cute tweets.

Safe Food Queensland on Oct. 16, 2014 wrote that “eggs that are cracked &/or dirty (e.g. feathers, feces) can be a source of microbes like salmonella, which if eaten can make people sick.”

Thanks for that tip.

So how did those 220 people get sick last year?

Or the 160 who got sick from a raw-egg mayonnaise at a Canberra restaurant on Mother’s Day 2014 when they just wanted to go for lunch?

Or the weekly outbreaks involving raw eggs around the world.

As reported by the Des Moines Register, in 2010, a Salmonella outbreak traced to Austin “Jack” DeCoster’s Iowa egg plants. caused the recall of 550 million eggs and led to confirmed illness in nearly 2,000 people, though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimated that tens of thousands of people were sickened.

Plea agreements show the company sold the tainted eggs for about eight months starting in January 2010. Documents in a lawsuit by a California food co-op that sold the eggs indicate that four months elapsed between when a manager was notified by a veterinarian that Salmonella was present in three DeCoster plants and when one of those, Wright County Eggs, began a recall. And that was only after it had been contacted by the FDA about salmonella sickness in three states linked to its eggs.

Given the BS brand names, how is a consumer to know?

The vast majority of farmers can produce eggs with limited or no Salmonella. I want to buy those eggs – not the eggs marketed as cage-free or not (I don’t want chickens eating their own shit).

It can be a scary and deranged world out there. Might as well bet on the ponies.

A table of raw egg related outbreaks in Australia is available at http://barfblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/raw-egg-related-outbreaks-australia-3-3-14.xlsx

 

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University. 

 

Tailgating Food Safety

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Tailgating Food Safety – Texas Aggie style
By Mark Guerrero ’12 | Oct. 10, 2014

A typical fall Saturday in College Station consists of great times with friends and family, Aggie football and plenty of tailgating.

With all the gameday activities, it can be easy to forget proper food safety, but we are here to bring you a quick refresher on everything you need to know before you head out to support your Fightin’ Texas Aggies this weekend.

  • Always wash hands before, during and after food preparation
  • Make sure to wash your produce
  • Have lots of paper plates, napkins, utensils, and clean plates to hold food
  • Never use dishes that were used to hold raw food to hold cooked food
  • Prepare as much food as possible at home, such as side dishes and desserts
  • Properly seal bags and containers so meat and poultry juices do not leak onto fruits, vegetables and cooked foods
  • Store food in separate coolers from drinks in order to avoid spoilage
  • Defrost meats in the refrigerator or microwave, but not at the tailgate
  • Bring a food thermometer to cook food to required temperatures
    • Burgers & Hot Dogs – 160º F
    • Chicken Poultry – 165º F
    • Pork Cuts 160º F
  • Pack food in a well-insulated cooler to keep temperatures below 40º F
  • Throw away perishable food items before entering the game.
  • In Texas weather, food should not be left unrefrigerated for more than one hour.

If you follow all these food safety tips, you will have a great time at your tailgate. Just make sure to save a hamburger for us!

Restaurant Report – Late September 2014

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The Brazos County Health Department conducts weekly inspections of all local restaurants and food service establishments. The Texas A&M Center for Food Safety is proud to bring you all those reports in one convenient location each and every month.

By law, these inspection reports are must be posted in the front area of the establishment in plain sight. Typically these forms are yellow and inside a plastic case. Feel free to ask to view the report if you would like.

If you have any questions, please send us an email and we would be glad to help you make sense of it all.

Brazos County Restaurant Report – 9/25
Brazos County Restaurant Report – 9/18


 

DISCLAIMER: The Restaurant Report is brought to you as a public service and are the property of the Brazos County Health Department. These inspections are not conducted by Texas A&M Center for Food Safety, Texas A&M University or Texas A&M Agrilife. 

What is Collaboration?

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What is Collaboration?
By Douglas Powell | Sept. 17, 2014

Me and Chapman have been working together and writing for 15 years.

We ain’t the Beatles but we’ve had our moments. Lots of research, coaching girls’ hockey together, and he once bailed me out of jail.

He would be the calm and steady Paul (although he’d rather be George) to my erratic John.

Me and Amy have been writing and working together for nine years.

She also is the steady Paul. And there’s a couple of others that I repeatedly work with, who balance the yin-and-yang.

But what is it that makes a collaboration?

As Joshua Wolf Shenk wrote in The Atlantic earlier this year, “Paul was the diplomat; John was the agitator. Paul was soft-spoken and almost unfailingly polite; John could be a right loudmouth and quite rude.

“The ancient Greeks gave form to these two sides of human nature in Apollo, who stood for the rational and the self-disciplined, and Dionysus, who represented the spontaneous and the emotional.”

I keep reading how food safety is a collaborative effort, but, as Margaret Mead wrote, “Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All societal movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals.”

Food safety collaboration is over-rated, especially if it’s driven by a top-down organization.

Individuals create and innovate, and bring others to the table.

My first university job was at an Ontario Center of Excellence (that’s in Canada) in 1990, involving four universities big in the information technology biz.

After a couple of years of handing out money – and ridiculous amounts of process – a leading artificial intelligence researcher told me, why don’t you just give
us researchers an extra $10,000 a year, and get rid of the BS.

He had a point.

So much so that I quit my cushy job shortly after that to go get a PhD and throw my own ideas into the world – not some government-mandated spin.

But what I observed in those couple of years was that individuals made connections, and produced great stuff. And that committees generally produced crap.

That continued on into 15 years of academia, where I observed good people trying to contort themselves for funding agencies.

Several department chairs have said I didn’t play well with others, yet my collaborative publication record is strong; I just have a low tolerance for BS.

And when people throw around phrases like global teamwork for a safer food supply, or international regulatory harmonization, I roll my eyes and wonder, what is this money being spent on? What is the real goal?

I love working with the people I work with, and we share ideas, but there’s a lot more people I won’t work with.

Maybe it’s an age thing.

The steady and focused need someone to take them out of their comfort zone, as much as the erratic need a steadying support.

That is the challenge of any collaboration, bringing those elements together, and being better than the individual.

 

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University. 

 

Pay Attention: Be the Goalie

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Pay Attention: Be the goalie
By Douglas Powell | Aug 5, 2014

I have a drill I do weekly with the goalies at hockey practice.

I’ll have three of them, each in front of a net, and I tell them, pay attention, you never know where I’m going to shoot the puck (neither do I, but I’m a goalie). Their job is to know where the puck is and predict where it’s going to be so they can better position themselves. I can look one way but shoot another. The goalie is the last line of defense when others mess up.

Much of food safety is, pay attention – especially to the checks that are supposed to reduce risk.

In 2009, the operator of a yakiniku barbecue restaurant chain linked to four deaths and 70 illnesses from E. coli O111 in raw beef in Japan admitted it had not tested raw meat served at its outlets for bacteria, as required by the health ministry.

“We’d never had a positive result [from a bacteria test], not once. So we assumed our meat would always be bacteria-free.”

That’s like telling goalies, unless the shooter is staring at you, the puck will stay out of the net.

Those who study engineering failures –the BP oil well in the Gulf, the space shuttle Challenger, Bhopal – say the same thing: human behavior can mess things up.

In most cases, an attitude prevails that is, “things didn’t go bad yesterday, so the chances are, things won’t go bad today.”

And those in charge begin to ignore the safety systems.

Beginning August 2, 1998, over 80 Americans fell ill, 15 were killed, and at least six women miscarried due to listerosis. On Dec. 19, 1998, the outbreak strain was found in an open package of hot dogs partially consumed by a victim. The manufacturer of the hot dogs, Sara Lee subsidiary Bil Mar Foods, Inc., quickly issued a recall of what would become 35 million pounds of hot dogs and other packaged meats produced at the company’s only plant in Michigan. By Christmas, testing of unopened packages of hot dogs from Bil Mar detected the same genetically unique L. monocytegenes bacteria, and production at the plant was halted.

A decade later, the deaths of two Toronto nursing home residents in the summer of 2008 were attributed to listeriosis infections. These illnesses eventually prompted an August 17, 2008 advisory to consumers by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Maple Leaf Foods, Inc. to avoid serving or consuming certain brands of deli meat as the products could be contaminated with L. monocytogenes. When genetic testing determined a match between contaminated meat products and listeriosis patients, all products manufactured at a Toronto Maple Leaf Foods plant were recalled and the facility closed. An investigation by the company determined that organic material trapped deep inside the plant’s meat slicing equipment harbored L. monocytogenes, despite routine sanitization that met specifications of the equipment manufacturer. In total, 57 cases of listeriosis as well as 22 deaths were definitively connected to the consumption of the plant’s contaminated deli meats.

In both Listeria cases, the companies had data that showed an increase in Listeria-positive samples.

Pay attention.

One Canadian academic dean-thingy said the 2008 Listeria outbreak was a real eye-opener.

This person should not be in charge of anything to do with microbial food safety.

Food safety culture has been talked about a lot, but it seems so much talk and not so much data.

Food producers should truthfully market their microbial food safety programs, coupled with behavioral-based food safety systems that foster a positive food safety culture from farm-to-fork. The best producers and processors will go far beyond the lowest common denominator of government and should be rewarded in the marketplace.

They should pay attention.

Kellogg’s was taking Salmonella-contaminated peanut paste based on paperwork? Pay attention.

Nestle did.

Australians are so laid back, or so I’m told, they don’t bother to look both ways when driving. Stop signs seem optional.

So I’m always telling my younger and older kids (when they visit) you have to pay attention, because that car will not stop for you.

I coach hockey in Australia, where 5-year-olds and 10-year-olds are on the ice at the same time, and I say, pay attention. Because that 10-year-old can wipe you out.

Just like some unexpected bug.

 

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University. 

 

Press Releases before Peer Review

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PR Before Peer Review – Incomplete advice, damaging food safety reputation
By Douglas Powell | July 23, 2014

My grade 7 teacher in Canada, Mrs. Patrick, was the grammar police and instilled a strong value in getting things right (write?). My wife has now taken over that role.

I explain to students and my kids that grammar is like traffic signals: maybe it’s not efficient but it’s some rules we can agree on so that I can get to the idea of what you’re trying to express.

Science or evidence-based, has its own rules.

Whether it’s a grasp for headlines, funding or ego, press releases before publication continue, and continue to be a bad idea.

Food safety types can do better.

In Sept. 2000, I called Procter & Gamble to substantiate claims their consumer-oriented Fit Fruit and Vegetable Wash removed 99.9 per cent more residue and dirt than water alone.

The PR-thingies hooked me up with some scientists at P&G in Cincinnati, who verbally told me that sample cucumbers, tomatoes and the like were grown on the same farm in California, sprayed with chemicals that would be used in conventional production, and then harvested immediately and washed with Fit or water. The Fit removed 99.9 per cent more, or so the company claimed.

One problem. Many of the chemicals used had harvest-after dates, such as the one tomato chemical that was supposed to be applied at least 20 days before harvest.

That tidbit wasn’t revealed in the company PR accompanying Fit.

Back in 2000 I asked why the results hadn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the P&G types said it was an important advance that had to be made available to consumers as soon as possible, without the delays and messiness of peer-review.

Things haven’t changed much. What I still don’t quite comprehend is why researchers who do go to the effort of getting published in peer-reviewed journals – which isn’t easy – feel the need to share results publicly before peer review or publication. It lessens their effort.

Maybe it’s a culture thing.

Culture encompasses the shared values, morals, customary practices, inherited traditions, and prevailing habits of communities. It’s when one food service or farm or retail employee says to another, dude, wash your hands, without being told by the boss or the inspector.

Or one when PhD tells another PhD, press release before peer-review sorta sucks. And that’s the culture of science.

Or should be.

In July, 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control took some bi-partisan hits for poor tracking of dangerous pathogens, to which director Tom Frieden responded the agency had corrected the specific defects cited in previous investigations, but had not realized there was a deeper problem with the culture of safety at CDC— which he will now address.

For me it’s a hockey-coaching thing: try to do better than last week, have fun, and pay attention – before a 10-year-old runs over the 5-year-old. Keep your stick on the ice and don’t take wooden nickels.

And don’t produce food that makes people barf.

Press release before publication is always a bad idea – cold fusion?

 

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University. 

 

It’s Gotta Have Soul

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It’s Gotta Have Soul – Food Safety Rhetoric 
By Douglas Powell | June 25, 2014

It’s gotta have soul.

Communication, cross-contamination, careful: wise words, but they lack soul.

The songs that move you, the art, the words, it speaks to your soul.

My friend Russ, aged 63, from Manhattan (Kansas) died recently while scuba diving with his wife in the Bahamas. My favorite memory is watching him dance to Sympathy for the Devil during the annual fish fry he hosted every Labor Day weekend in Manhattan, Kansas for about 300 people.

The dude had soul.

Most people talking about food safety lack relevance; they lack soul, and fail to resonate.

Since 1998, American consumers have been told to FightBac, to fight the dangerous bacteria and virus and parasites found in a variety of foods, by cooking, cleaning, chilling and separating their food. Solid advice, but not compelling.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are good for us; we should eat more. Yet fresh fruits and vegetables are one of, if not the most significant source of foodborne illness today in North America. Because fresh produce is just that – fresh, and not cooked — anything that comes into contact is a possible source of contamination. Every mouthful of fresh produce is an act of faith — especially faith in the growers — because once that E. coli O157:H7 or Salmonella gets on, or inside, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts or melons, it is exceedingly difficult to remove.

In 2004, Salmonella-contaminated Roma tomatoes used in prepared sandwiches sold at Sheetz convenience stores throughout Pennsylvania sickened over 400 consumers. The FightBac people told the public that, “In all cases, the first line of defense to reduce risk of contracting foodborne illness is to cook, clean, chill and separate.”
 Consumers were being told that when they stop by a convenience store and grab a ready-made sandwich, they should take it apart, grab the tomato slice, wash it, and reassemble the sandwich. Which would have done nothing to remove the Salmonella inside the tomatoes.

Ten years later, and the FightBac message still lacks soul.

I don’t see gender. I got five daughters, and when we stopped at the McDonald’s on the way home from the beach the other weekend, the server said, do you want a boy toy or a girl toy with that happy meal, I said, I don’t care. It shoudn’t matter.

My girls play hockey.

But according to the FightBac folks, the numbers of men who report shopping and cooking are on the rise.

My father’s been doing the shopping and cooking for decades. So have I. So have a number of my brofriends.

These self-reported surveys mean nothing, are so out of touch with what I see in grocery stores, and are soulless.

The American Meat Institute proclaimed it was going to the grass roots to share the facts about meat and poultry.

“The Communicators Advocating Meat and Poultry or CAMP program is designed to harness the energies of a growing number of individuals within the industry and the field of meat science who are committed to sharing the facts about the products that the industry produces and the measures they take to ensure they are safe, wholesome, nutritious and humane.”

When a band says it’s going back to its roots, they’ve lost it.

A university student that helps with food safety news asked if such groups would be mad if I questioned their integrity.

It’s an indictment of the university system that she even asked that question, so accustomed have they become to Noam-Chomsky-esq self-censorship. Health inspectors e-mail me from around the world on a regular basis, saying they are fearful for their jobs if they speak out about what they see.

Or as Neil Young sang:

I am a lonely visitor.

I came too late to cause a stir,

Though I campaigned all my life

towards that goal.

I hardly slept the night you wept

Our secret’s safe and still well kept

Where even Richard Nixon has got soul.

Even Richard Nixon has got

Food safety requires passion and soul.

 

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University.