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. 

 

Serving Up Food Safety

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Serving Up Food Safety – Consumer’s Faith in Restaurant Food Safety Practices
By Douglas Powell | May 21, 2014

I sleep at weird hours.

There’s a lot of things to be seen in the middle of the night.

Like all the food service trucks arriving at restaurants.

Do consumers know where their food comes from? Do restaurants?

These are the things I look for.

• When I order meat and the server asks, how would you like it done, I always say the appropriate temperature. Only once over the past decade has a server been able to say, we can do that, and pulled out a tip-sensitive digital thermometer she carried around. I returned to that establishment.

• If the restaurant or market advertizes their food as local/natural/sustainable/organic/GE free/wild seafood, etc., I ask, how is that verified? Is there any testing for microbial food safety?

• Inspection reports are only a snapshot in time, but patterns can be detected over time. Recurring problems mean, go somewhere else.

• When diners ask to take leftovers home, does the restaurant take the remains to the kitchen (bad) or bring a clamshell to the table for the diner to take care of her own food (good). And maybe some food safety stickers on that clamshell with date, time and reheating guidelines. It has been done.

• A restaurant that cares about food safety will have its own auditors and secret diners, to ensure that what management says is happening with front-line servers.

• Does management support food safety with rapid, reliable, relevant and repeated food safety information so front-line servers can at least attempt to answer basic food safety questions?

•Do staff have access to the proper tools for proper handwashing – vigorously running water, soap and paper towels?

• Are foods properly stored and thawed (this appears in restaurant inspection reports routinely)?

• Are steps taken to prevent cross-contamination (also shows up repeatedly in restaurant inspection reports)?

• What’s in that dip, has become my standard question at many Australian restaurants. Usually they use raw eggs, and the outbreaks keep piling up. I choose something else.

• Raw produce is problematic. Does that sandwich have raw sprouts? Where did that lettuce or spinach come from? Was it grown with good agricultural practices because washing ain’t going to do much?

• Are employees vaccinated against Hepatitis A. Do employees work when they are sick with norovirus (happens every week somewhere in the U.S.)?

• Does the restaurant welcome questions and support disclosure systems?

That’s a lot of questions when I just want to go out on the town with Amy.

But I ask these routinely and learn a lot. Curiosity has its benefits.

The interested public can handle more, not less, information about food safety. The best restaurants will not wait for government; they will go ahead and make their food safety practices available in a variety of media and brag about them — today.

 

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. 

 

Restaurant Report – April 2014

It's the monthly restaurant inspection report for the Bryan/College Station area.


It's the monthly restaurant inspection report for the Bryan/College Station area.

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 – April 3

Brazos County Restaurant Report – April 8

Brazos County Restaurant Report – April 10

Brazos County Restaurant Report – April 17

Brazos County Restaurant Report – April 24

Brazos County Restaurant Report – April 30

Link to previous month’s reports:
Restaurant Report – January 2014
Restaurant Report – February 2014
Restaurant Report – March 2014

Revised: May 1, 2014 – Added additional April 30th report. 

Supermarket Madness – Shopping for food safety

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Supermarket Madness – Shopping for food safety
By Douglas Powell | April 16, 2014

Shopping is a competitive sport.

Especially for groceries.

People who would think nothing of laying out $200 for a fancy-pants dinner and atmosphere, will digitally or electronically clip coupons to save $0.10.

I watch people when I go shopping for food, about every second day, and maybe they watch the creepy guy watching them.

My questions may not be the same as other cooks or parents, but I have a lot.

Should that bagged salad be re-washed? Some bags have labels and instructions, some don’t. What about the salad out in bins that came from pre-washed bags? Should it be re-washed?

Is washing strawberries or cantaloupe going to make them safer?

Where did those frozen berries come from? Am I really supposed to cook them and can’t have them in my yogurt because of a hepatitis A risk?

Are raw sprouts risky?

How long is that deli-meat good for? Is it safer at the counter or pre-packaged?

Should I use a thermometer or is piping hot a sufficient standard for cooking meat and frozen potpies? Can I tell if meat is cooked by using my tender fingertips?

Is that steak or roast beef mechanically tenderized and maybe requires a longer cook time or higher temperature?

Are those frozen chicken thingies made from raw or cooked product? Is it labeled? Is labeling an effective communication mechanism?

These are the questions I have as a food safety type and as a parent who has shopped for five daughters for a long time in multiple countries. It has guided much of our research.

I see lots of things wandering through the grocery store, but I don’t see much information about food safety.

When there is an outbreak, retailers rely on a go-to soundbite: “Food safety is our top priority.”

As a food safety type I sometimes see that, but as a consumer, I don’t.

This sets up a mental incongruity: if food safety is your top priority, shouldn’t you show me?

The other common soundbite is, “We meet all government standards.” This is the Pinto defense – so named for the cars that met government standards but had a tendency to blow up when hit from behind – and is a neon sign to shop elsewhere.

Leaving brand protection to government inspectors or auditors is a bad idea.

For a while I started saying, rather than focus on training, which is never evaluated for effectiveness, change the food safety culture at supermarkets and elsewhere, and here’s how to do that.

But now the phrase, “We have a strong food safety culture,” is routinely rolled out but rarely understood, so I’m going back to my old line: show me what you do to keep people from barfing.

Food safety information needs to be rapid, reliable, relevant and repeated. I don’t see that at grocery stores.

The days of assuming that all food at retail is safe are over. Some farmers, some companies, are better at food safety. And they should be rewarded.

Most of us just want to hang out with our kids and get some decent food – food that won’t make us barf.

 

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. 

 

Restaurant Report – March 2014

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It's the monthly restaurant inspection report for the Bryan/College Station area.

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 – March 6

Brazos County Restaurant Report – March 13

Brazos County Restaurant Report – March 20

Brazos County Restaurant Report – March 27

Link to previous month’s reports:
Restaurant Report – January 2014
Restaurant Report – February 2014

Research Spotlight: Dr. Julia A. Perez

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Researcher Spotlight: Dr. Julia A Perez

 

This past fall at the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety, we had a visiting researcher from the University of Guadalajara. Dr. Perez sat down with us for a short interview about herself and her life experiences in the food safety field.

Julia Perez: My name is Julia A. Perez  and I am an associate professor at the University of Guadalajara. I was born in Guadalajara, grew up in Octolan, a nearby city, but have lived in Guadalajara most of my life. Some of my former professors include, Dr. Eduardo Fernandez Escartin and Dr. Alejandro Castillo. I did my Ph. D. work under Dr. Elisa Cabrera as well.

CFS: Tell us how you got to where you are and what got you interested in food safety?

JP: I conducted my undergraduate studies in biology and pharmacy, and I was always sure that I liked the food safety field. When I finished my courses, I had to give one year of service back to my university and I decided I would work in the food microlaboratory with Dr. Fernandez Escartin.  It was a highly sought after place of work but I was very tenacious and finally accepted a position with the lab. For the next year, I studied sanitary microbiology, a lab specialty, and it changed my life and my mind. I immediately fell in love with the field. One of the professors at the laboratory was Dr. Castillo and he became very important in my professional formation.

After working in the food industry and with the Ministry of Health, Dr. Castillo invited me to work in his laboratory where I spent the following 16 years. While at the University, I got my master’s degree under Dr. Refugio Torres. Although I liked what I was doing in the lab, I always wanted to do research in food safety and then I had the chance to do just that under Dr. Elisa Cabrera and Dr. Norma Heredia. I obtained my Ph. D. degree at the beginning of 2013 from the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon. I worked for many years before doing Ph. D. studies, and sometimes I thought I would never be a doctor; but this is proof that it is never too late to follow your dream when you have the desire to do so.

CFS: Can you tell us about the work you have done while you have been here at Texas A&M?

JP: Last August, Dr. Cabrera informed me about the possibility of working at the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety, but at the time I did not believe her. After a few weeks Dr. Gary Acuff invited me to come to Texas and work in the lab. It sounded like a great opportunity to learn and get more research experience. It was something I could not miss and it really has been a great experience!

I am very happy with my visit to the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety. Before coming to College Station, I had never been in a BL2 food microbiology laboratory with as much new instrumentation as this one. It was a very exciting experience for me to be involved in a research project, to help run samples and learn different methodologies for detection and identification of pathogens.

I have learned how to use different types of equipment like Roka Atlas, GDS and Vitek, and how they work. I have also had the opportunity to work with samples and other bio-hazardous aerosols in the bioBUBBLE biocontainment enclosure. Working together with Dr. Acuff and Lisa Lucia has been a very valuable experience. I’ve learned so much from both of them. Finally, I had to opportunity to talk with professors from other departments to learn about their research experiences. I am very grateful to Dr. Acuff for inviting me to work at the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety.

CFS: What was it like growing up in Mexico?

JP: I grew up in a town close to Guadalajara. It was very quiet and life was nice, but at the same time it was especially hard growing up in a large family. I agree with Dr. Elisa Cabrera, growing up in Mexico is harder than [in the US], but it is also an opportunity to develop your creativity and an appreciation for what you have.

CFS: What did you enjoy most about experiencing the Texas culture?

JP: I came [to Texas] many years ago and visited the Texas A&M campus; but did not have time to be familiar with the Texas culture. This time, I had the opportunity to go to different restaurants and enjoy different types of foods. The Texas BBQ and hamburgers were a few of my favorites. I also got to meet and share time with the students in the laboratory. They were great and I had very pleasant moments with them.

The Texas A&M Center for Food Safety would like to thank Dr. Julia A. Perez for her time spent here during the Fall of 2013. We wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.

Food Safety Types – Practice What You Preach

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Food Safety Types – Practice What You Preach
By Douglas Powell | March 19, 2014

I dream about thermometers.

In the latest combination of fact and fiction, accuracy and amalgamation, I was at a roadhouse-style restaurant and settling the bill with an assistant manger who had seen it all and stopped having fun years ago, when smoke started billowing from the open grill.

A waitress tried to serve the burger — black on the outside, raw on the inside – when my food safety nerd friend went to intervene.

I joined the fray, and insisted a thermometer was necessary to determine if the burger was safe.

The assistant manager said, “I heard you were the biggest loser in town.”

Then the dream ends.

In 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture very publicly began to urge consumers to use an accurate food thermometer when cooking ground beef patties because research demonstrated that the color of meat is not a reliable indicator of safety.

USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety at the time, Catherine Woteki, said, “Consumers need to know that the only way to be sure a ground beef patty is cooked to a high enough temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria that may be present is to use a thermometer.”

At the time, I said, no one uses a meat thermometer to check the doneness of hamburgers. The idea of picking up a hamburger patty with tongs and inserting the thermometer in sideways was too much effort (others insist the best way to use a tip sensitive digital thermometer is to insert into the middle of the patty at a 45 degree angle).

I was wrong.

Shortly thereafter, I started doing it and discovered, not only was using a meat thermometer fairly easy, it made me a better cook. No more extra well-done burgers to ensure the bugs that would make me sick were gone. They tasted better.

By May 2000, USDA launched a national consumer campaign to promote the use of food thermometers in the home. The campaign featured an infantile mascot called Thermy that proclaimed, “It’s Safe to Bite When the Temperature is Right.”

Fourteen years later, the converts are minimal. Canada came to the thermometer table a few years ago, but the laws of physics are apparently different north of the 49th parallel, with a safe temperature for poultry being 180F in Canada, but 165F in the U.S.

The Aussies are slowly warming to the idea of thermometers but the UK is still firmly committed to piping hot (cue Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins).

Science-based depends on whose science is being quoted to whose ends. The fancy folks call it value judgments in risk assessments; Kevin Spacey in the TV series House of Cards would call it personal advancement.

Food safety is losing to food porn with thermometers.

Many celebrity chefs actively denigrate the use of a thermometer when cooking. Some claim to know meat is safe using the finger method, which is akin to a shaman curing a sick child, or dowsing to find water (chance figures heavily –even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while).

Gordon Ramsey says, “A thermometer? The day we need that to cook a breast of chicken — you, get out.”

Seamus Mullen, the chef and an owner of the Boqueria restaurants in the Flatiron district and SoHo in New York City uses a wire cake tester, or any thin, straight piece of metal.
“We stick it in the middle through the side. If it’s barely warm to the lips, it’s rare. If it’s like bath water, it’s medium rare. The temperature will never lie. It takes the guesswork out of everything.”

Why not stick in a thermometer — a thin piece of metal?

I can no longer cook without a meat thermometer; I feel naked, like in a dream.

Yet almost everyone else in the U.S. can, where only 7 per cent of the population report using a thermometer on a regular basis — and some of those are surely lying.

We’ve known the basics for increasing thermometer use for over a decade: people care more about being better cooks than serving safe food, and lead by example.

Tip-sensitive digital thermometers need to be widely available, and food safety types need to use them properly. Not just at home, but at school events with the kids, at potlucks, at any gathering that involves food.

Stop dreaming, start doing.

 

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 Announces New Monthly Column by Doug Powell of Barfblog.com

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas – March 12, 2014 – The Texas A&M Center for Food Safety is proud to announce a new monthly column by Doug Powell of Barfblog.com, starting March 19. This new feature will be available on the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety’s website, CFS.TAMU.EDU, along with other original content currently in production.

“Dr. Powell offers a unique and sometimes irreverent view of food safety issues – he always ‘hits the nail on the head’ and will challenge your comfort zone,” said Texas A&M Center for Food Safety director, Gary Acuff. “I am thrilled that we convinced him to write a monthly column for us and I know he will be a favorite feature on our website.”

This column kicks off a new initiative of original content designed for academics, industry members and consumers. Look for videos, infographics and additional columns coming very soon.

Join us Wednesday, March 19th as we launch the first piece in our special feature series and keep checking back for more fresh new content from the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety.

 

Restaurant Report – February 2014

AgriLife Logo

It's the monthly restaurant inspection report for the Bryan/College Station area.

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.

For 2014, we are switching to a monthly compilation format for our reports. Let us know what you think!

Brazos County Restaurant Report – February 6

Brazos County Restaurant Report – February 12

Brazos County Restaurant Report – February 20

Brazos County Restaurant Report – February 27

Link to previous month’s reports:
Restaurant Report – January 2014

CFS Director, Dr. Gary Acuff, named 2014 AAM Fellow

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Congratulations to CFS Director, Dr. Gary Acuff, for being named a 2014 AAM Fellow

Congratulations to CFS Director, Dr. Gary Acuff, for being named a 2014 AAM Fellow

Congratulations to CFS Director & Executive Committee member, Dr. Gary Acuff, for being named a 2014 American Academy of Microbiology Fellow.

The American Academy of Microbiology Fellow designation is an honor bestowed upon eminent leaders in the field of microbiology, who are relied upon for authoritative advice and information on critical issues in microbiology.

From the AAM Fellows website: 
Over the last 50 years, 2,700 distinguished scientists have been elected to the Academy. Fellows are elected through a highly selective, annual, peer review process, based on their records of scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced microbiology. A Committee on Elections, consisting of Fellows of the Academy who are elected by the membership, reviews all nominations for Fellowship and recommends to the Board of Governors what action should be taken.

Each elected Fellow has built an exemplary career in basic and applied research, teaching, clinical and public health, industry or government service. Election to Fellowship indicates recognition of distinction in microbiology by one’s peers. Over 200 Academy Fellows have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, while many have also been honored with Nobel Prizes, Lasker Awards, and the National Medal of Science.

Dr. Acuff will be honored at the 114th ASM General Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts on Tuesday, May 20, 2014.

For more information, please visit: the American Academy of Microbiology website.