Today’s guest was Mike Batz, um, Joe Smith, who Skyped in from a hotel room while emptying the mini bar. Ben still hasn’t done his homework from last Season – watching The Wire. And to Mike's disappointment Ben hasn’t even watched The Lego Wire. The discussion then turned to playing with Lego, Ben’s vandalism activities as a teenager, craft paper maze making, Dungeons and Dragons and The Wire characters' D&D alignment.
The guys then got serious about food safety and discussed the Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak that CDC has linked to cantaloupes. At the time of the recording, the FDA hadn’t specifically commented on the potential source, though Chamberlain Farms had begun recalling cantaloupes. The guys thought it was strange that no FDA/CDC update on the situation has been issued for days and the overall lack of communication around this outbreak. However, Don noted that the lawyers are getting their ducks lined up and Bill Marler had already blogged about a lawsuit. Don asked Ben whether there is ever a right time to say nothing in a case like this. Ben didn’t think there was, but suggested that there was a right time to say “we’re uncertain” instead. He recalled the discussion mentioned in FST episode 6 about an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 associated with the North Carolina State Fair, where the North Carolina Division of Public Health updated the information of what was known on a daily basis. Ben thought that this was better than the five-day cone-of-silence.
Mike was bothered by regulators implicating a whole growing region or commodity rather than naming the implicated farm, especially since the farm had already initiated a recall. It reminded him of what happened to Florida tomato growers a few years ago. Mike pointed out that implicating a whole region does not provide any incentive to an individual farmer to follow GAPs and do the right thing – since a neighbor who doesn’t do the right thing could wipe out all that effort.
In contrast, the Burch Farms recall, which was initiated after Listeria was detected on cantaloupes, but without an outbreak having occurred, did not result in the same level of concern. But Ben noted that the Burch Farms recall nevertheless resulted in questions being raised by buyers and cancellations of contracts, and as such the recall still impacted on the whole industry.
Don noted the fundamental differences between Listeria and Salmonella. He reminded the guys that the risk depends on the dose and that the dose-response relationship differs between the two organisms. Ben also noted the problem of applying a zero tolerance standard for ready-to-eat-foods to these agricultural commodity products, and Don highlighted the need for quantification when testing in addition to simple presence/absence testing.
Ben then explained the differences in the post harvest systems between California, where cantaloupes are not washed, compared to North Carolina, where cantaloupes are regularly washed. He noted that the use of water might provide an opportunity for cross contamination, which Don totally agreed with. The discussion then turned to Ben explaining that cantaloupes are washed because that’s what the industry has always done, though his experience indicates that farmers might be open to re-engineering their processes.
Don then produced a smorgasbord of potential topics for discussion and the guys settled on a 2002 blog post by John Gruber about Bagel Tongs on Fedora Review. In the article Gruber worried about bagels and that the “tong-arms are covered with some sort of moist, brown sediment.” Ben agreed with Gruber and would rather use tissue paper to pick up the bagels, though mainly because he feared contracting Norovirus from the tong handles. Don agreed with Ben that it’s not the crap at the end of the tongs, but the crap you can’t see that’s the problem. He also recalled that some cruise liners have a norovirus risk reduction measure, which involves staff serving passengers at the self-serve buffet on the first three days of the cruise.
Ben then reminisced about his high school days, when he wasn’t vandalizing his neighbors’ backyards but when he was working in a bulk food store. He had to clean and sanitize the scoop on a weekly basis, though he actually did this only when the prunes got really gunky. He never sanitized the handles – got to hold on to something while washing the scoop. Mike thought that the epidemiological evidence, that placed Ben at the epicenter of foodborne illness outbreaks, was building.
The show finished by Don telling the guys about wanting to order some Food Safety Talk promotional refrigerator temperature sensing magnets for inclusion in the MaxFunCon EAST show bags.
By now Mike Joe had sobered up somewhat and was eyeing the Arrogant Bastard that he’d been contemplating and this evolved into a broader discussion of alcohol consumption patterns.
In the after dark the guys talked about a range of “stuff” including Mike’s five-day FAO/WHO meeting bender on foodborne parasites in Rome.
Food Safety Talk 24: Bagel tongs for twenty, Bob!