The guys started the show with the usual technobabble. Ben explained the history of barfblog and the reason for the recent server switch. He also mentioned the attack on GoDaddy by Anonymous – possibly because of the elephant shooting and their support of SOPA – which affected 1.5 million websites, including barfblog and Dani’s new mommy-blog. The guys counseled listeners not to piss off the Anonymous or WikiLeaks people.
Don then talked about his recent radio appearance to talk about the Stanford meta-analysis on the safety of organic and conventional foods. Don complained how a Google search on the topic resulted in a large number of media publications, but except for the New York Times article, none provided information to help track down the original publication. Eventually he found the original article, and in his quest to find work on microbial food safety of organic food he then tracked down a couple of papers by Francisco Diez-Gonzalez. But Don’s key message during the radio interview was that people shouldn’t worry about the safety of conventional versus organic, but instead focus on eating fruits and vegetables, because they are healthy.
Ben then talked about the ambiguity in the Stanford press release, such as “there isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health.” Maybe that’s why some people took this paper as evidence that organic foods were better. Nevertheless, Ben liked the conclusion that “this is information that people can use to make their own decisions based on their level of concern about pesticides, their budget and other considerations.” Don thought that for the majority of people it was more beneficial to buy more fruit and vegetables than to buy the expensive ones.
Ben still hasn’t started his homework – watching The Wire. But at least he’s done The Wire personality test – just to find out he’s “Snot Boogie.”
Ben then recalled the discussion from last podcast and how washing cantaloupe increased the probability of pathogen spread. Michelle Danyluk commented to the guys that she believe it was retail stores who required washing. Ben wondered whether the buyers knew about the risk of washing. Don strongly doubted it as people probably thought that not washing is riskier, because they don’t consider cross-contamination and because they use sanitizer. That said, Don did wonder whether producers really understood and had verified the efficacy of their systems. Ben recalled that as part of the T-GAP program in Florida the field packing of tomatoes has been outlawed, and he was concerned that this would likely result in producers to choose to wash tomatoes.
Mike Batz’ tweeted about CDC having made MMWR available online for 1952-1982. Don fondly recalled the only enjoyable bit of his first undergraduate microbiology class where the professor would read them an “MMWR bedtime story.” The guys reminisced about the stories in MMWR 1(1) and how far technology had come – unlike then we can now often find the cause of an outbreak.
Don then followed up a comment on norovirus on cruise ships (last episode) that Andreas had left them in the show notes. Craig Hedburg had previously shared with Don that while people shed norovirus for a long time they only spread it when they have active diarrhea. Don also noted that infection via hands touching infected objects, such as door knobs and railings, was less likely than infection via direct ingestion (as a result of cross contamination at the self serving bar).
Ben then recalled a conversation with Richard Sprenger, who runs the training company Highfield, in Dubai last year. In particular, Richard had said that full implementation of HACCP at retail would require elimination of outside contamination sources as much as possible, but doing so would reduce sales. Hence, any retailer wanting to remain in business had to weigh up the risk and benefits of eliminating all potential contamination sources. This then prompted a short discussion about various risk-benefit tradeoffs that retailers would have to consider all the time – though Don prefers those who err on the side of caution.
The discussion then turned to the large foodborne illness outbreak associated with Mexican mangoes, which has now resulted in various product recalls. Don talked about a hypothetically bitchy email from an unnamed colleague, which sparked a discussion about outbreaks and recalls and how they do and don’t occur together. Don recalled this USDA report about a green onion related hepatitis A outbreak and the associated economic impacts on Mexican producers with various degrees of GAP implementations. In particular, it showed that those doing the right things were less impacted, if at all. Ben then stressed the need for all producers to demonstrate how they were doing the right things, which was, at least partially, in response to a Huffington Post article on the requirements placed on organic producers.
The conversation then turned to the difficulty of good risk communication in the face of an outbreak. In particular, Don recalled his recent ‘deer in the headlights’ moment when he was asked how he would advise Chamberlain Farms to communicate with the associated press after the link between patients and isolates found on Chamberlain Farm fields had been confirmed. Luckily, Doug Powell and Ben managed to save Don by providing some well thought out words.
Ben finished off with some information about a workshop he delivered to producers on how to recover from a recall or outbreak. In particular, he recalled a retail representative comment on how they make decisions about whether they continue to buying from a supplier after an outbreak – they base it on how the supplier reacts and communicates and whether they know what they are doing.