Research Spotlight Series: Dr. Mary Pia Cuervo

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This past month at the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety, we had a visiting researcher from the Universidad Tecnológica del Centro de Veracruz. Dr. Cuervo sat down with us for a short interview about herself and her life experiences in the food safety field.

Mary Pia Cuervo: My name is Mary Pia Cuervo and I am an Assistant Professor at the Universidad Tecnológica del Centro de Veracruz. I was born in Mexico City and grew up in a smaller city in the State of Veracruz on the east coast of Mexico. This is where I currently live with my husband Luis and my 9-month old son, Sebastian.

CFS: Can you describe your path to this point in your career?

MC: After I received my B.S. in Food Engineering from Monterrey Tech, I moved to College Station to join the Food Science and Technology Master’s program at Texas A&M University, under the supervision of Dr. Alejandro Castillo. During that time, I had the opportunity to teach some Food Microbiology courses as a Teaching Assistant Completing the M.S. program left me more interested about the Food Microbiology world, and for that reason I decided to join the Ph.D. program with Dr. Castillo as my major professor and supported by the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACyT), Mexico. After finishing my Ph.D., I spent a year working at the Mars Petcare Research and Development Center in Kansas City, MO. After that, I joined the Food Engineering faculty at the Universidad Tecnológica del Centro de Veracruz as an Assistant Professor, the position I currently hold.

CFS: What sparked your interest in the food safety field?

MC: I remember being curious about Food Safety even as a teenager, even though I wasn’t aware of Food Safety as a profession. For instance, when I visited NASA at the age of 13, I became amazed when learning about the extended shelf life and rigorous food safety of the astronauts’ food.

Later on in high school, I toured the National Institute of Nuclear Investigations, which has the first gamma irradiation facility in Mexico. During that visit, I learned about this technology and how it is used to treat spices as well as medical supplies. That visit is what triggered my interest in getting involved in the food production field, and helped me decide what to major in.

During my undergraduate education, I attended a HACCP seminar given by Dr. Verónica Navarro from the University of Guadalajara. From there on, I became more and more attracted to the food safety field.

CFS: Please tell us about the work you have done during your time here at the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety. 

MC: During my time at the CFS, I was trilled to have the opportunity to familiarize myself with some of the state-of-the-art equipment that was available, and worked on two co-authored publications with some of the Center’s members. Additionally, I was delighted to become familiar with potential methodologies for some of the projects that I am currently working on at the Universidad Tecnológica del Centro de Veracruz. The opportunity to establish relationships and connections for future collaborative projects was very promising.

CFS: What was it like growing up in your home country?

MC: I grew up in a small city on the east coast of Mexico. Orizaba’s population is about 100,000 and many diverse ethnicities are represented. The city’s surroundings are an important agricultural producing region and the farmers bring their harvest to the city markets every week, where people usually meet and purchase their meat and produce. Orizaba is home to two public universities, which brings a unique college town atmosphere to the area. Overall, it was a great place to grow up.

CFS: Is there anything in particular that you have enjoyed about the Texas culture?

MC: After living in Texas for almost six years and having numerous friends from the area, I find the similarities between our cultures fascinating, specifically in regard to family values.

I enjoyed my visit to the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety from both a professional and personal perspective. Finally, I would like to thank the CFS for allowing me to spend time here. It was a very rewarding experience!


The Texas A&M Center for Food Safety would like to thank Dr. Mary Pia Cuervo for her time spent here. We wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.

Hepatitis A, vaccination, hand washing and all that stuff: we all need someone we can lean on

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Hepatitis A, vaccination, hand washing and all that stuff: we all need someone we can lean on
By Douglas Powell | Feb. 18, 2015

I experimented in university.

Who didn’t?

My experiments in the 1980s involved tomato plants, Verticillium resistance, using a midwife to deliver our children, and saying no to the pertussis vaccine.

My ex-wife and I prided ourselves on our evidence-based approach to things, but as pertussis vaccine safety improved, so has my advice to the two oldest kids who have kids of their own: (or are about to): get vaccinated.

A couple of weeks after U.S. Senator Bozo declared that handwashing in food service places like Starbucks could be voluntary, I’ve contemplated that position and concluded sure: with a couple of conditions.

I co-wrote a paper that declared food safety inspections and audits were not enough.

What I have always said is this: government inspections are a minimal standard but necessary to keep hucksters accountable. The best will always go above and beyond what is expected.

Consumers should seek out those who market microbial food safety and steer clear of hucksterism.

But retailers are reluctant to market food safety.

And it’s the retailers who are the burden in this food safety stuff: they preach but they don’t practice.

In May 1943, Edsel Bryant Ford, the son of auto magnate Henry Ford, died at the age of 49 in Detroit, of what some claimed was a broken heart.

Biology, however, decreed that Ford died of undulant fever, apparently brought on by drinking unpasteurized milk from the Ford dairy herd, at the behest of his father’s mistaken belief that all things natural must be good.

Shortly thereafter, my mother – then a child — developed undulate fever, which my grandfather, with no knowledge of microbiology, attributed to the dairy cows on his farm in Ontario, Canada.

He got rid of the cows and went into potatoes, and then asparagus.

In addition to the personal tragedies, every outbreak raises questions about risk and personal choice.

It’s true that choice is a good thing. People make risk-benefit decisions daily by smoking, drinking, driving, and especially in Brisbane, cycling.

But information is hard to come by.

I went to a supermarket in Brisbane, after taking my daughter to school, and was shocked to find Nanna’s berries – those linked to a growing hepatitis A outbreak — on the frozen shelves.

I asked the woman at checkout, weren’t those berries recalled?

She said, only the mixed ones.

I said, the raspberries and blueberries you’re selling are coming from the same source.

She shrugged and said, not in the recall.

They were recalled the next day.

With at least 13 Australians now confirmed ill with hepatitis A from frozen berries apparently grown in China, the case presents a microcosm of intersecting interests of global food, vaccination fears, poor handwashing and xenophobia (which Australians are particularly good at; as John Oliver said, “Australia is one of the most comfortably racist places I’ve ever been in. They’ve really settled into their intolerance like an old resentful slipper”).

The complacency of Australian regulators is astounding when compared to other Western-style food safety agencies.

There was limited notice of the recall from state and federal food safety agencies until they all turned up for work on Monday: people eat seven days a week.

The company involved, Patties Foods in Bairnsdale in regional Victoria, repacks frozen berries grown who knows where (China and Chile in this case, apparently).

For those worried about Hepatitis A:

  • Get vaccinated. It’s been mandatory in Canada and several U.S. states for five years. It was mandatory for us to emigrate to Australia four years ago. It should be mandatory for locals. If I ran a restaurant, I’d want everyone to be vaccinated.
  • Wash your hands. Hepatitis A is one of the few foodborne diseases that is only spread human-to-human. And, like most foodborne illness, it’s fecal-oral. The typical U.S. scenario is a 20-something goes to Mexico or the Dominican for a friends wedding (and where hep A is endemic), comes back and is serving salad to a few thousand people at their part-time job. But it’s not just the person is positive: The same person also failed to adequately wash their hands after having a poop, and ended up making your lunch. And was not vaccinated.
  • Know your suppliers. I’ve talked with a lot of parents at my daughter’s school in the past few days and they are all concerned. But usually for the wrong reasons. It is incumbent on the supplier – and the retailers who market this crap – to provide safe food. They’re the ones who make money.

Food porn is everywhere, but microbiology involves some basics: that’s why there’s vaccines, that’s why milk is pasteurized; that’s why we don’t eat poop (and if we do, make sure it’s cooked).

That’s why I have a bunch of tip-sensitive digital thermometers for my daughter’s school.

If someone wants to promote public disclosure of handwashing compliance and is able to prove it, great.

Otherwise, you’re just a talker, not a doerer.

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.


Shopping for safety: What is consumer food safety education?

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Shopping for safety: What is consumer food safety education?
By Douglas Powell | Jan. 28, 2015


Now that the annual orgy of food safety advice has subsided until the next holiday, it’s time to ask: are any of these messages effective?

Do they actually reduce the number of people who get sick? Does anyone test these messages in a scientifically credible way?

Cook-clean-chill-separate has become the mantra of food safety types but there is no evidence — regardless of repetition — these messages work.

Instead, people are picking up sound bites like venereal diseases; I thought we’d gotten past that.

Marty had no reason going to the first food safety educators conference in Washington, D.C. in 1997. He was working as a student life advisor or something but, I had gotten in the habit of taking Marty along on road trips from Guelph – got lost once in some New York mountains in the middle of the night and thought we were going to die – for fun and driving chores.

The 1996 Nissan Quest minivan still had the new car smell, and as a new prof with a carload of students, I decided driving all night was better than dishing out non-existent cash for an extra night of hotel rooms.

We arrived in Georgetown about 7:30 a.m., ate at a dive, and found the on-campus conference room. People looked at us like we had just rolled out of a vehicle and been driving all night.

We had.

Most of us went and changed into fresh clothes, while Marty crashed somewhere until the room was available.

The conference started and we were pumped.

I may have fallen asleep.

There were descriptions of many food safety education programs but the evaluation components were either non-existent or sucked.

I remember going out to a Georgetown bar later that night, watching The Truth About Cats and Dogs in the hotel room while Marty farted, and commenting that student Janis looked like Janeane Garofalo. I remember the drive home.

I don’t remember much about the conference.

Which is why I haven’t gone back.

I’m all for providing food safety information in a compelling, creative and critically sound manner. However education is something people do themselves. Lewis Lapham wrote in Harper’s magazine in the mid-1980s about how individuals can choose to educate themselves about all sorts of interesting things, but the idea of educating someone is doomed to failure. And it’s sorta arrogant to state that shoppers need to be educated; to imply that if only you understood the world as I understand the world, we would agree and dissent would be minimized.

These may be subtle semantics – to communicate with rather than to; to inform rather than educate – but they set an important tone.

With outbreaks in pizza, pot pies, pet food, peanut butter, bagged spinach, lettuce, sprouts, carrot juice, lettuce, tomatoes, canned chili sauce, hot peppers, cookie dough, chia seeds, tuna back scrape, and white pepper, I’m not sure what consumers have to do with it.

This is not to discount the role of consumers in protecting or enhancing the safety of the food they eat. Rather, consumers should be engaged as partners in the management of the farm-to-fork food continuum, and not unduly blamed for failing to recognize and correct errors that other players in this continuum have made.

Forget the blame; focus on shared responsibility; share information. Help people make better decisions. Tell them why what they do is important (if not yourself, try not to make your kids or friends barf).

The World Health Organization recognized this back in 2001 and included a fifth key to safer food: use safe water and raw materials, or, source food from safe sources (

I’m not sure what consumers are supposed to do about Listeria in caramel apples, but that’s another story.

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.


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.

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


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.