• Posted: August 25th, 2012 - 7:27am by Doug Powell

    There’s been a few stories of late asserting that the U.S. feds' delay in passing some new food safety rules is somehow making food more dangerous.

    Maybe for the talking heads in Beltway-land, but there is no evidence any rule would have made a cantaloupe farmer add sanitizer to his wash water and not kill 35 people.

    The animal welfare types figured this out a long time ago: don’t even bother with government, go to retail and consumers’ pocketbooks. That change, even in the absence of evidence, happens much faster.

    Producers, take responsibility for your own food safety. Do you really need a babysitter?

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  • Posted: April 5th, 2012 - 12:31am by Doug Powell

    A new report calls on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to export its regulatory knowhow to improve the safety of imports arriving in the U.S.

    Almost 40 percent of the fruits and nuts and 85 percent of the seafood that Americans purchase come from aboard. More than 80 percent of active pharmaceutical ingredients are imported, and 40 percent of medicines are imported as finished products.

    The report from a committee of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies says many regulatory agencies abroad lack the legal framework, funding, training, and oversight that have helped to transform the FDA into one of the world’s top-notch regulatory agencies.

    Jim Riviere, a professor of pharmacology at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, and chair of the committee said, "Globalization is not going to reverse. … No matter how much inspection we do, we are always going to find flawed products. We're not saying we need to cut back on inspections, but all resources can't be spent on inspection."

    Instead, the IOM says the onus is on the FDA to help the exporting countries improve their own regulatory systems and supply chains, so that everyone can be more confident that what they're producing is safe.

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  • Posted: April 3rd, 2012 - 8:29pm by Doug Powell

    A couple of our Alaskan food safety friends sent along updates on the ban food safety regulation movement in the state legislature that looks more like a Second City improv skit.

    The Mudflats blog reports Alaska State Rep. Tammie Wilson, a Republican from North Pole, who has taken her quest for deregulation to new and unsanitary heights.

    Behold House Bill 202 – Sale of Food by Processors to Consumers. Gone are the days of food inspectors, rules and regulations, requirements for refrigeration, and soap and water. All’s fair at the farmer’s market, no matter what you’re selling.

    Most of Rep. Wilson’s testimony came in the form of a skit where the plot focused only on produce and baked goods. She played a beleaguered farmer, just trying to sell her humble wares at the market, and her aide played an uptight, joyless, and unreasonable inspector from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

    The ensuing skit involved a lot of food props, and the committee members had also been given samples of peeled and sliced fruit, and cookies. “I do have a knife,” Wilson demonstrated to the audience, “and I will not use it on anyone, I promise.” (Cue a weirdly awkward moment as Wilson’s aide let forth with a too-loud cackle, and the rest of the room sat in uncomfortable silence).

    And thus began the dramatic demonstration. Slicing of tomatoes was not allowed, because that was considered “food preparation.” Orange peeling was forbidden for the same reason. Next, she tried “an apple…one that we know daycares like to do. And I’m sure that they’re able, with no permit or anything, to be able to cut an apple for a snack.” No dice, says the inspector, “And as far as a daycare goes, if you have five or less children, you may cut. Any more than that, you’d be permitted.” (Remember this part for later, because it’s not true).
    But we’re not done yet. Next up – a strawberry. Wilson begins to remove the green top.

    “This may have seemed ridiculous, but you know, it is ridiculous! Do I want to poison anybody? It’s not a good thing to be a Representative and poison your constituents. I just want to put that on the record.”

    The TV cameras were rolling, but there was no audio hookup yet. This happens so people don’t embarrass themselves by saying something stupid into a “hot mic” that they weren’t intending to say in public. In this particular case, that didn’t matter. Behold our food-prepping farmer, who beautifully illustrates the hazards of her own bill during the ten minutes before the meeting started:
    Who could object to dirty cutlery, snotty carrots, unrefrigerated egg custard, and the underside of Tammy Wilson’s germy fingernails in their strawberries? Ridiculous. As long as there was no willful attempt to poison, that should be enough.

    Kristin Ryan, Director for the DEC, identified the Food Safety and Sanitation program as “the main target of Rep. Wilson’s bill” and began her testimony by stating what really should be the obvious:

    “The DEC recognizes the interest from small food business owners throughout the state to sell products. Provisions in HB202 could cause significant risks for the general public, and increase foodborne illness outbreaks.

    When you purchase food to eat, you assume it is safe. While no one intends to harm their customers, food-borne illnesses are common, and can easily happen. Precautionary measures are important to make and serve safe food. At a minimum, you need a sanitary environment, employees to wash their hands, and proper temperature control.”

    The Republican bill would eliminate the ability of the DEC to investigate if an outbreak of food-borne illness was occurring. The agency would not be allowed to inspect, test, or stop the sale of a food product that is making people sick.

    Because Republicans love freedom. And food safety inspectors don’t.

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  • Posted: April 3rd, 2012 - 7:54pm by Doug Powell

    Blowfish chefs are upset that Japan, which just threatened to tighten regulations on serving raw meat to control disease, is proposing to loosen regs on potentially deadly blowfish.

    Reuters reports that for more than six decades, dicing blowfish in Tokyo has been the preserve of a small band of strictly regulated and licensed chefs, usually in exclusive restaurants.

    But new laws coming into effect from October are opening the lucrative trade to restaurants without a license, making chefs like Naohito Hashimoto see red.

    "We have spent time and money in order to obtain and use the blowfish license, but with these new rules anybody can handle blowfish even without a license," said Hashimoto, a blowfish chef for some 30 years.

    "They're saying it's now okay to serve blowfish. We licensed chefs feel this way of thinking is a bit strange."

    The poison known as tetrododoxin is found in parts of the blowfish, including the liver, heart, intestines and eyes, and is so intense that a tiny amount will kill.

    Every year there are reports of people dying after preparing blowfish at home.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government says city laws covering the serving of blowfish should be changed to reflect changing times and hope that relaxing the rules will cut prices and bring Tokyo in line with the rest of the nation.

    "Outside of Tokyo, the regulations for blowfish are even more relaxed and yet there are hardly any poison-related accidents," said Hironobu Kondo, an official at the city's Food Control Department.

    "There is the hope that the number of restaurants with unlicensed chefs serving blowfish will rise, and that blowfish as an ingredient will be used not only for traditional Japanese foods but also others such as Chinese and Western foods."

    A full course meal of blowfish, known as fugu in Japanese, features delicacies such as blowfish tempura, slices of raw fish thin enough to see through fanned out across a plate like chrysanthemum petals, and toasted fins in cups of hot sake.

    But the meal is far from cheap, as diners pay for the safety of a licensed chef. At Hashimoto's restaurant, a meal costs at least 10,000 yen a person.

    "I don't want people to forget that you can actually die from eating blowfish," he said. "I feel the government's awareness of this has diminished."

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  • Posted: March 25th, 2012 - 8:57pm by Doug Powell

    The Daily News-Miner reports a bill introduced by North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson would do away with much of the state’s safety regulations for food sold directly to consumers in an attempt to grow Alaska’s local food industry and farmers markets.

    That has health officials worried. House Bill 202, which was heard in the House Labor and Commerce Committee this week, would remove safety regulations not only for the traditional farmers market fare but also for potentially hazardous foods like seafood, shellfish, poultry, meat, dairy and any other processed foods.
    Currently, the Department of Environmental Conservation has no regulations for direct-to-consumer food sales for raw fruits and vegetables, syrup, honey and jam. But the state does have safety regulations on most other processed foods and raw foods where there’s a potential for dangerous bacteria to make it to the consumer.

    But Wilson feels that expenses like permits and equipment are stifling the development of local food. Instead, she said the consumer should take responsibility for the food they eat.

    “We just think that there’s something called responsibility that is here,” she said during the committee hearing. “I don’t think government is there to keep us safe from absolutely everything, you can’t protect everybody from everything.”

    She said, instead, that the state should take an education-based approach to food safety.

    Wilson’s bill would require sellers to provide a card that alerts the consumer that “This product has not been inspected by any governmental agency and may be harmful to your health.”

    Environmental Health Director Kristin Ryan who testified against the bill’s sweeping changes, said, “People buy food under the assumption that it’s safe to eat. Yes, people should have personal responsibility. But when there’s some clear risk, it’s our responsibility to protect against that risk.”

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  • Posted: January 20th, 2012 - 11:25pm by Doug Powell

    NHBR reports that a bill that would exempt foods produced and sold in New Hampshire from federal food safety regulations is running into opposition from some of the very groups the bill says it would help.

    A hearing on House Bill 1650 is scheduled for Friday. Sponsored by Rep. Josh Davenport, R-Newmarket, the measure would establish a "Made in New Hampshire" brand for foods that are grown or produced in the state.

    Under the bill, so long as those foodstuffs were labeled as being "Made in New Hampshire" and sold only within the state, they would be subject only to state regulations and exempt from federal regulations.

    Bill sponsors say it would promote the state's agricultural economy, help small farmers and expand access to fresh, healthy foods.

    But the New Hampshire Farm Bureau Federation, which represents the interests of farmers in the state, has come out in opposition to the bill, which it said "goes too far."

    "There does need to be some oversight, and we recognize that," said Rob Johnson, executive director of the Farm Bureau.

    In writing the bill, he said, "they really haven't talked to the farmers on this."

    "The real concern here is that we have all manner of onerous federal regulations coming down the pike that are making it illegal to do certain types of business in this state," said Rep. Andrew Manuse, R-Derry, who co-sponsored and helped write HB 1650.

    Added Davenport: "The state of New Hampshire is perfectly capable of ensuring the safety of its own small farms and food production businesses."

    Lorraine Merrill, the state's agriculture commissioner said concerns, "relate to food safety and the reputation of New Hampshire food and products."

    Merrill also called into question just how enforceable the bill would be, since it would be difficult to stop farmers along the border from selling their food out of state.

    All it would take is for one of these "Made in New Hampshire"-labeled foods to be contaminated and make someone sick to damage the reputation of all food made in the state, said Johnson of the Farm Bureau.

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  • Posted: January 7th, 2012 - 4:53pm by Doug Powell

    “Shifting to outcomes-based and transparent regulations aims to establish clear expectations regarding risk management outcomes to be achieved.”

    That is how government-types captured the mindset of regulators in a discussion paper released in Dec. 2011 in advance of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s most extensive regulatory review in its 14-year history.

    Barry Wilson of The Western Producer reports CFIA is promising more modern, industry-friendly rules, switching the emphasis from setting objectives and policing compliance to emphasizing prevention and allowing industry to reach the objectives without excessive regulatory direction. 

    “Modernized regulatory frameworks will improve consistency and reduce complexity in regulation and will enhance the ability of the CFIA and regulated parties to contribute to the safety of the food supply and the protection of the animal and plant resource bases.”


    Brian Evans, Canada’s chief food safety officer and chief veterinarian, said change is necessary and the review is part of a government-wide demand for smarter regulations.

    The underlying theme of the system will remain, “thou shalt not sell unsafe food.”

    Much better.


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  • Posted: January 7th, 2012 - 3:11pm by Doug Powell

    First the company plays the Pinto defense – we meet all government standards – and now the local paper lashes out at government incompetence.

    What’s missing is any concern for people sickened by salmonella-in-beef sold by Hannaford and the responsibility any retailer has to provide safe food.

    Earlier this week, Department of Agriculture investigators said they were hampered by lousy records and procedures at retailer Hannaford.

    The Portland Press Herald says today the regulatory response to the outbreak, “looks like a horse and buggy operation. … federal authorities have not been able to shed much light on what happened before the meat was sold, with one official blaming the supermarket chain's practice of mixing beef from different sources when it grinds it into hamburger.”

    The editorial rightly says that if the mixing practice is risky, it should be prevented everywhere and that outbreaks require “thorough and transparent investigations and timely communication with the public.” But it also states that because meat is likely to cross state lines multiple times before it is put on a dinner table, regulating it is a federal responsibility.

    Regulating is one aspect of responsibility. But the ultimate responsibility for safe food lies with producers and retailers and whoever is making the profit from the sale of food.

    I look forward to more transparent and public communications from Hannaford.

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  • Posted: October 26th, 2011 - 3:10pm by Doug Powell

    As the number of illnesses and deaths linked to Colorado cantaloupe continues to climb, the state said it will promote stronger oversight of its cantaloupe industry helping farmers create a certified label potentially backed by safety training, auditing and lab testing for pathogens.

    State Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar told the Denver Post the measures — now under discussion with farmers and agriculture experts — could help right the melon business after 28 deaths and one miscarriage from Jensen Farms cantaloupes.

    Salazar acknowledged, though, that the state does not have new resources to fund such a certification program. A new system would rely on budget shifts or payments from the farms themselves, as other industries currently do.

    • A "Colorado Proud" label, or even one specific to the Rocky Ford area, could be used by farmers who meet certain criteria.

    • Standards to earn the label would include undergoing safety training created by Colorado State University, and proof of outside audits of how those safety practices are carried out.

    • CSU extension facilities in southeastern Colorado are capable of lab testing; depending on the response time on results, farms could seek a pathogen-free lab test before harvest and possibly additional lab tests during the short cantaloupe shipping season.

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  • Posted: September 6th, 2010 - 8:11am by Doug Powell

    Government officials have publicly expressed concern that public health has become a minor issue, consequences are meaningless, and the sale of dodgy food is on the rise.

    How refreshing.

    In what country would bureaucrats make such bold statements to potentially upset the ruling food safety oligarchy of industry, auditors and regulators? U.S.? Canada? U.K.? Australia? Anywhere?


    Arba Times reports the Chairman of the Consumer Protection Society Attorney Faisal Al-Sebaie expressed his disappointed over the mediocre measures taken by the relevant authorities to protect public health from greedy traders, who sell spoilt or contaminated food products in the local market.

    Al-Sebaie lamented the public health has become a minor issue for the concerned authorities, especially the ministries of Social Affairs, Labor and Commerce, leading to the spread of contaminated or expired food products in the local market.

    He said no strict measure has so far been taken to prevent the distribution of contaminated or expired food items because the government has opted to remain silent over the unscrupulous activities of greedy traders.

    He wondered why a country as rich as Kuwait cannot establish a modern laboratory to conduct tests on the imported food items.

    Meanwhile, Secretary-General of the society Attorney Khalid Al-Dosri appealed to the government to immediately take strict measures against those proven to have violated the food safety regulations. He thinks the Ministry of Commerce is keen only on arresting the owners of small shops, which sell spoilt food products, while disregarding the violations committed by business tycoons.

    Moreover, Chairman of the Social Committee at the society Khalid Al-Sebaei wondered why the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor dissolved the boards of directors of 13 cooperative societies allegedly for engaging in corruption and manipulating prices without putting them in jail. He urged the ministry to obligate the cooperative societies to submit financial and administrative reports quarterly to prevent, if not eliminate, the violations.

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