by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-safety

May 16 2016

Bill Marler on what is and is not working in the food safety system

The latest Salmonella outbreak comes courtesy of Pacific Coast Fruit Company, which produces Taylor Farms Organic Power Greens Kale Medley.

OrganicKaleMedley-1web

Alas, Salmonella do not care whether or not vegetables are USDA Certified Organic—even kale.

Coral Beach discusses the details of the investigation into this outbreak at Food Safety News this morning.

And food safety lawyer Bill Marler has some pointed questions about this outbreak.

  •  Why no announcement of the Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak?
  •  Why no recall of the product?
  •  Given that the product was distributed nationwide, are we seeing a spike in Salmonella Enteritis cases in states other than Minnesota?
  • Why was the announcement removed from Pacific Coast Fruit Website?

He also has plenty to say about what another recent outbreak (this one due to frozen vegetables contaminated with Listeria) tells us about what is and what is not working in our current food safety system.

His essay makes the point that foodborne illness outbreaks due to contaminated meat are becoming increasingly rare.  Most current outbreaks are due to contaminated vegetables.

How come?  For meat, the system is working.

  • Regulation: prevention controls on meat and poultry went into effect in the mid-1990s.
  • The CDC’s ability to track outbreaks is good and getting better, thanks to genetic fingerprinting.
  • Government agencies are doing more testing.
  • The US Attorney’s office has shown interest in “finding companies and their CEOs criminally responsible for manufacturing tainted foods.  Lawsuits and jail time have a unique ability to make companies pay attention.”
  • Recalls are “both disruptive and expensive.”
  • Publicity about recalls discourages the public from buying similar products.

In sum, “recall costs, slumping sales, along with civil and criminal liability, are powerful market incentives.   The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) should help once companies start following its regulations.

He ought to know.  When Congress was foot-dragging on passing FSMA, Marler sent every member of Congress a tee shirt with this image:

He better be careful.  If he’s right about market forces cleaning up food safety problems, he may get his wish.

But we still have a long way to go on vegetable safety, apparently.

May 12 2016

Chipotle’s food safety issues: the saga continues

Food Safety News continues to be incredulous at Chipotle’s apparent denial of responsibility for the safety of food served in its outlets.

For sure, what has happened at Chipotle restaurants is unusual—illnesses caused by multiple toxic microbes at multiple locations:

  • Seattle — E. coli O157:H7, July 2015, five sick people, source unknown;
  • Simi Valley, Calif. — Norovirus, August 2015, 234 people, source was sick employee;
  • Minnesota — Salmonella Newport, August and September 2015, 64 sick people, source was tomatoes but it remains unclear  at what point in the field-to-fork chain the pathogen was introduced;
  • Nine states — E. coli O26, began October 2015 and declared over Feb. 1, 55 sick people, source unknown, states involved are California, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington; and
  • Three states — E. coli O26, began December 2015 declared over Feb. 1, five sick people, source unknown, states involved are Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska; and closing out in
  • Boston — Norovirus in December, 151 sickened.

Chipotle did the obvious right thing.  It brought on board the most experienced and highly regarded food safety experts: Mansour Samadpour (he has a food safety consulting company), James Marsden (to head up its food safety initiatives), Dave Theno (formerly of Jack in the Box) and David Acheson (former FDA food safety official).

Perhaps before they had time to weigh in, Chipotle’s counsel wrote a letter to the CDC complaining about the way the agency was conducting its investigation.

The CDC recently responded in no uncertain terms as Food Safety News discussed.

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler says:

My thought:  “In 23 years being involved with every major food illness outbreak in the US, I have never seen a company take on the CDC or public health in this manner.  Frankly, it is bizarre given that Chipotle was involved in multiple Salmonella, Norovirus and E. coli cases in 2015.  As the CDC states in its responsive letter, it has to protect the public health and that is what it did.”

His view of the score: CDC 1, Chipotle Lawyer 0.

Chipotle’s food safety consultants have their work cut out for them.  Let’s hope they figure out the problem and find ways to solve it—soon.

Apr 6 2016

Food Navigator Special Edition: Food Preservation

FoodNavigator-USA provides daily information about issues of interest to the food industry.  It’s useful.  Here, it has a collection of articles on current thinking about how to preserve foods, a problem since antiquity and now even more so over concerns about food additives.

Special Edition: Food preservation

Consumers and retailers are becoming increasingly unwilling to accept products with a shelf life maintained by use of the synthetic preservatives – even if they are safe and legal. But what natural solutions are available to manufacturers, and are they up to the job? Meanwhile, will novel processing techniques ultimately render all preservatives, artificial or otherwise, redundant in certain products?

4 strategies for preservative-free food from Grain-Free JK GourmetRetailers and manufacturers that want to meet consumers’ growing demand for food free from preservatives need to rethink their strategies for packing, shipping and stocking products, suggest the husband and wife team behind Grain-Free JK Gourmet. .. Read

‘Artificial’ preservatives are falling out of favor, but what are the alternatives?The percentage of new food and beverage launches (retail) making ‘no additives/preservatives’ claims rose from 12.46% in 2012 to 20.24% in 2015, according to Mintel*, while there has also been a marked rise in the number of companies pledging to ditch ‘artificial’ preservatives from established brands over the past couple of years… Read

Blue LEDs show promise as food preservation methodBlue light emitting diodes (LEDs) have strong antibacterial effects on foodborne pathogens, according to a study from the National University of Singapore (NUS)… Read

True Drinks teams up with Niagara Bottling to make AquaBall preservative-freeTrue Drinks Holdings has struck a deal with Niagara Bottling under which the latter will produce a preservative-free formulation of True Drinks’ flagship sugar- and calorie-free kids’ beverage AquaBall… Read

Kraft to remove artificial colors & preservatives from Original Mac & Cheese in 2016Kraft has unveiled plans to remove artificial preservatives and synthetic colors from its iconic Original Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in the U.S. starting January 2016. Meanwhile, Kraft Dinner Original in Canada will be free from synthetic colors by the end of next year.  .. Read

Americans believe ‘preservatives / chemicals’ are significantly more harmful than added sugar, saturated fat and sodium, says new pollA poll* of more than 4,200 US consumers conducted in April 2015 by CivicScience shows Americans believe that ‘preservatives / chemicals’ are significantly more harmful to their heath than added sugar, saturated fat and sodium… Read

General Mills: Chobani’s ‘wilfully deceptive’ ads assert that safe & legal ingredients in rival products are toxic and unsafeThe legal firestorm prompted by Chobani’s provocative new ad campaign for its Simply 100 Greek yogurt range has intensified this week as General Mills has filed a lawsuit accusing Chobani of false advertising and unfair competition… Read

Fresh-baked cookie pioneer Otis Spunkmeyer will launch retail line in early 2016Well-known fresh cookie-maker Otis Spunkmeyer is expanding its empire beyond food service and into the retail segment for the first time with the launch of a line of sweet baked goods that will hit store shelves nationwide in 2016. .. Read

Plant-based preservatives emerge as consumers hunt for clean-label meatsFrom celery to citrus to vinegar, consumers are glancing over nitrate-containing meat products and going for what they deem a more natural alternative… Read

Feb 5 2016

Chipotle’s food safety woes

Conspiracy theorists cannot believe that Chipotle’s ongoing food safety problems—and its consequent legal woes—can be due to anything other than deliberate sabotage.  Much as I love conspiracy theories—and my favorite is to blame the Center for Consumer Freedom—I suspect the problems are related more to supply-chain issues and the need to establish a stronger internal culture of food safety.  This means getting every employee to follow food safety rules to the letter—but also in spirit.

The company has done the right thing by recruiting help from a top food-safety consulting firm.

In the meantime, here’s what’s happening to its stock prices.Capture

Additions:

Jan 4 2016

Politico Pro Agriculture’s pick of top 2015 food policy stories

Jason Huffman, Helena Bottemiller Evich, and Jenny Hopkinson of Politico Pro Agriculture have published their end-of-year assessment of game-changing events in food and agriculture policy last year.  Here’s their list:

  • Avian flu blew up the U.S. egg industry.
  • The Trans-Pacific Partnership deal got done.
  • The battle over the Dietary Guidelines turned even nastier.
  • The FDA banned most uses of trans fat.
  • The FDA said a genetically engineered fish is safe to eat.
  • The EPA released its final Waters of the U.S. rule, inciting the wrath of multiple industries, states and lawmakers.
  • A federal judge sent peanut company executives to jail for decades for their part in a giant salmonella outbreak.
  • The FDA released major rules to promote the safety of produce and imports.
  • The FDA doubled down on added sugars on food labels, proposing daily values for the listings.

I’ve discussed most of these on this site (all except Waters of the US).

I can’t wait to see what this year brings—more of the same, for sure, but what else?  Stay tuned.

Dec 28 2015

Chipotle’s food safety problems: an update

I’m fascinated by reports of Chipotle’s ongoing problems with foodborne illness.

  • The main interest of the press in these episodes is their effect on Chipotle’s stock prices.
  • The outbreaks have been linked to a bunch of different pathogens: E. coli O157:H7, E. coli STEC O26, Salmonella, norovirus, and, possibly, hepatitis A.  This means they are due to different causes at different outlets.
  • The food, foods, or individuals responsible for these outbreaks are uncertain, making them hard to know how to prevent.
  • Hence: conspiracy theories.

The outbreaks

The most recent CDC report (December 21) counts 53 cases of E. coli 026 from 9 states, with 20 hospitalizations.

12-18-2015: Epi Cruve: Persons infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O26, by date of illness onset

The FDA reports (December 22) that there are 5 more recent cases of illness caused by a different type of E. coli 026 among people eating at Chipotle.

Food Safety News summarizes the previous Chipotle outbreaks.

  • Seattle: July 2015, 5 people sick from E. coli O157:H7, from unknown food source.
  • Simi Valley, CA: August 2015, more than 230 sick from norovirus (most likely from an ill worker).
  • Minnesota: August and September 2015, 64 people sick from Salmonella Newport (tomatoes?).
  • Boston: December 2015, at least 136 people sick from norovirus.

The consequences

  • Nearly 500 people have become ill after eating in a Chipotle since July this year.
  • Stock prices are down 30 percent from a high of $757.77 in August.

The conspiracy theory

The title says it all: “ANALYSIS: Chipotle is a victim of corporate sabotage… biotech industry food terrorists are planting e.coli in retaliation for restaurant’s anti-GMO menu.”

I don’t think so.

You don’t need conspiracy theories to explain poorly designed and executed food safety procedures.

What is to be done?

The New York Times attributes the inability to identify the food source to Chipotle’s record-keeping:

One of the challenges here has been that we have been able to identify the restaurants where people ate, but because of the way Chipotle does its record-keeping, we have been unable to figure out what food is in common across all those restaurants,” said Dr. Ian Williams, chief of the outbreak response and prevention branch of the C.D.C.

That, at least, should be an easy fix.

For the rest, Chipotle has initiated a new food safety program, and has recruited a leading food safety expert, Mansour Samadpour, to set it up.  I met Samadpour at Earthbound Farms when he was helping that company prevent further problems after the spinach outbreak of 2006.  He knows what he his doing.

Chipotle needs to follow his advice—in letter and in spirit.

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler advises Chipotle to follow a 12-step program to create an effective culture of food safety from top down and bottom up within the company.  For example, he advises the company’s CEO, Steve Ells to say:

  • It is time to have a culture of food safety added to the “integrity” of the food. I have now learned that bacteria and viruses do not care a whit if my food’s ingredients are organic, sustainable, non-GMO and humanely raised.
  • I am going to hire a vice-president of Food Safety. That person will report directly to me and to the Board of Directors. Like Dave Theno being brought in to address the Jack-in-the-Box crisis of 1993, this person will have the resources and access to decision makers to create a culture of food safety from the top down.
  • The company’s new mantra – “Safe Food with Integrity” – will be completely transparent and shared with all – including our competitors.

Will Ells take his advice?  I hope so.

Nov 30 2015

Chipotle’s E. coli outbreak is nearly over, still a mystery

The CDC’s latest update on the food safety problems at Chipotle says whatever food or ingredient caused 45 people to become ill with E. coli is still unknown.

Bill Marler, the food safety attorney who tracks such things, offers a history of previous Chipotle outbreaks from 2008-2015; these involved Norovirus, Salmonella, hepatitis A, campylobacter, and now an STEC (Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli).

Chipotle closed some of its outlets in the Northwest, but then reopened.

Steve Ells, Chipotle’s CEO, placed an ad in the New York Times, promising to do everything possible to prevent this from happening again.

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 9.39.40 AM

This got Bill Marler to ask: Is this Chipotle’s 2-b-4 moment?

We only make dramatic changes when we’ve been hit in the head with a 2-by-4 once or twice. Hopefully for Chipotle, this is their 2-by-4 moment.

The presence of E. coli indicates fecal contamination of some ingredient or food that was not cooked or not cooked sufficiently (cooking kills bacteria).  But from what animal,where, and when?

Chipotle needs to check every ingredient it sources, as well as every process involved in preparing and serving the foods.  If standard safety procedures aren’t already in place, this is a big job.

Let’s hope the CDC finds out what caused this outbreak, and soon.

Oct 21 2015

Canada’s new government’s commitments on food and nutrition

The Washington, DC-based Center for Science in the Public Interest also operates in Canada.  It issued a comment on the recent Canadian election.

Newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has four years to implement his public health nutrition commitments.  He and his party have pledged to:

  • Introduce new restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, similar to those now in place in Quebec
  • Bring in tougher regulations to eliminate trans fats, similar to those in the U.S., and to reduce salt in processed foods
  • Improve food labels to give more information on added sugars and artificial dyes in processed foods
  • Make additional investments of $40 million for Nutrition North and $80 million for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Sounds like a new era indeed.  This will be interesting to watch.

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