Food Safety Talk 26: We’re out of the lag phase!

Added on by Don Schaffner.

Ben and Don started the podcast with a discussion about Lego. Ben has finally started his homework – watching Episode 1 from Season 1 of The Wire. This evolved into a discussion of music, including Tom Waits, Neil and Pegi Young’s Annual Bridge School Benefit Concert and the Kronos Quartet. Then Don had little Skype hiccup, which turned out to be pibcak.

The guys then turned their attention to food safety and Don started it off with a mention of Back to Work, Episode 85: "Schrödinger's Soap Holder", which focused on safely navigating a public restroom with or without hot water, soap and paper towels. After a short sports excursion, including a walk down “No-Hockey Lane” (which apparently had Michele Catalano fired up) the guys found their unique spiritual connection… through peanut butter, but not jelly.  Andreas suggested Aussie Rules in the event there is no hockey.

The discussion then focused on the current peanut butter related illness outbreak and related recalls. Ben wondered allowed how a regulatory agency might determine the period of production that is to be recalled. Don guessed that it was related to the company being able to document the last comprehensive cleanup. A potential difficulty for this relates to the use of rework, as seen with the ever-expanding Hudson beef recall. While knowing how recall decisions are made may not be of interest to everyone, but Ben noted that this information would be useful to other companies who face recall decisions in the future.

Ben then asked about the magnitude of the risk of Salmonella in peanut butter as he hadn’t seen any published risk assessment. Don guessed that it was low (relative to many types of produce) because the Microbiological Data Program 2009 data summary didn’t show any Salmonella detections in 1542 peanut butter samples. Don then raised the issue that the MDP recalls were never or rarely linked to outbreaks. He was particularly interested in this because of an upcoming talk he was preparing, in which he combined prevalence estimates from the MDP 2009 data, under-reporting estimates from the Scallan et al article, and a rough dose-response estimate. Don’s reasoning indicates that it’s not surprising that the MDP program would result in detections (and hence recalls) that aren’t linked to outbreaks.

Using the example of cilantro, which had many detections of Salmonella reported in the 2009 MDP data, Ben noted that he would really like to know more about where and how the hazard is introduced into the product. Don then suggested that a better way of reporting the MDP results would be to report the positive rate, rather than just the number of positives, as clearly the denominator is important.

Ben then mentioned the current large norovirus outbreak in Germany, where more than 8400 children have shown symptoms. Ben hypothesized that it might be related to water in a fresh produce washing and packing plant.  Turns out he might just be right since frozen strawberries have now been implicated. Ben wasn’t sure whether a surveillance program like the MDP would ever detect viruses in fresh produce, and while he accepted the utility of the MDP he was also sure that it could be improved.

Ben then discussed his recent experience of visiting Jeanne Gleeson, Barb Chamberlain and their army of programmers, who produced Ninja Kitchen. He was talking to them about producing stop motion animations to illustrate how and where hazards are introduced into the fresh produce supply chain – from farm to the consumer. Ben is keen on using these for educational presentations to producers as well as consumers shopping at farmers markets. This reminded Don of the norovirus cross-contamination modeling work his student Di Li is working on, and also the excellent videos of Jim Mann from Hand washing for Life.

Then Don offered to send a free fridge magnet/thermometer to listeners who contact him via email or Twitter. He’s also using them for distribution at MaxFunCon East with the aim of increasing listener numbers, which has just exited the equivalent of the bacterial lag phase.

In the After Dark Ben announced that he was going to watch some more of The Wire and then proceeded to assign Don some homework – to watch Canadian TV Series "The Newsroom".

Food Safety Talk 26: We're Out Of The Lag Phase!