Depoliticise food safety
Source : https://www.iol.co.za/business-report/economy/depoliticise-food-safety-19498906
By iol.co.za (Feb 25, 2019)
Experts gathered this week in Addis Ababa for the First International Food Safety Conference have warned that food is an issue that needs to be depoliticised and prioritised to ensure improved health and wellbeing across the planet.
Food-borne diseases in low- and middle-income countries cost at least $100billion (R1.4trillion) a year according to a recent World Bank study.
Ongoing changes in climate, global food production and supply systems affect consumers, industries and the planet itself, and so food safety systems need to keep pace with these changes.
On top of this, the burden of unsafe food affects poor and marginalised people the most and poses sustainability and development challenges.
Despite the growing recognition of the importance of food safety in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the main objectives of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, efforts to strengthen food safety systems remain fragmented and the gains, particularly in many developing countries, have been well below expectations.
Greater international co-operation is needed to prevent unsafe food from causing ill health, world leaders said at the opening session of the First International Food Safety Conference.
The event, held in Addis Ababa, is organised by the African Union, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation.
“The cost of unsafe food goes far beyond human suffering, it overloads health care systems.
"Malnutrition today is the largest cause of health loss in the world,” Director-General of FAO Jose Graziano da Silva said.
Estimates indicate that the global cost of malnutrition is $3.5trln annually, with obesity alone costing $2trln a year.
What Should You Do If Your Child is Diagnosed With Salmonella?
Source : https://foodpoisoningbulletin.com/2019/what-should-you-do-your-child-diagnosed-salmonella/
By Lindsay Lien RInholen (Feb 22, 2019)
If yo0ur child has been diagnosed with a Salmonella infection, you are probably worried and upset. What should you do?
First, and most importantly, make sure your child receives all necessary medical care and rehabilitation. Salmonella infections are more common in children, and they can also be more devastating at a young age. Most kids infected with Salmonella suffer diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, a fever, and headache. Some complications of salmonellosis in children can include: bacteremia, meningitis, and other neurological complications, osteomyelitis, joint pain or arthritis, urinary tract infections, post-infectious IBS, or other gastrointestinal disorders (even into adulthood), and, rarely, death. Even mild cases of salmonellosis can take children weeks to recover. More severe illnesses may require months of rehabilitation or permanent care.
Next, if you are contacted by a public health department, cooperate with their investigation. Salmonellais what is considered a “reportable disease,” meaning your child’s doctor will report the illness to state public health officials. State epidemiologists and microbiologists work to determine whether your child’s strain of Salmonella (known as a serotype) is genetically similar to any other sick individuals. State scientists use a method called Whole Genome Sequencing, or WGS. Whole genome sequencing breaks down bacteria’s DNA and sequences it for comparison to other samples.
If your child’s Salmonella sample is closely related to others’ samples, you may get a call asking for your child’s food history, to see if there is a common source of the illnesses—an epidemiological link.
If you are contacted by a health department and learn your child’s illness is part of an outbreak (usually considered a “confirmed case”), you may be able to bring a legal claim for your child’s medical care and pain and suffering, both in the past and in the future. In cases with severe, permanent injuries, your child may also have a claim for future wage loss or loss of earning capacity.
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Essex County NJ Detention Facility Serving Unsafe Food
Source : https://foodpoisoningbulletin.com/2019/essex-county-nj-detention-unsafe-food/
By News Desk (Feb 21, 2019)
The Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security has found that New Jersey’s Essex County Correctional Facility has “unsanitary and unsafe conditions.” This place holds 800 immigrants. The IG has released a report on conditions at that facility.
nspectors found “foul smelling and unrecognizable” hamburger patties, blood from raw chicken leaking in the refrigerator, and moldy bread set aside to make bread pudding in the kitchen. Lunch meat was “slimy and foul-smelling,” and appeared to be spoiled. Detainees said they have been suffering from food poisoning and stomach infections.
Those problems can cause food poisoning from Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. Cross-contamination from raw chicken juices onto foods eaten uncooked can cause foodborne illness. And mold on bread can make people sick and cause respiratory problems. Any meat that smells foul should not be consumed.
The facility was inspected in July 2018. Media reports had prompted the inspection, which validated those concerns about raw, spoiled, or expired meat. Inspectors observed facility staff serving this meat to detainees. In addition, kitchen staff put all unused bread into large trash bags and trash cans to be used for making bread pudding once every few weeks.
ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, must ensure that the facility “complies with detention standards to establish an environment that protects the safety, rights, and health of detainees.” The report also says that “mitigation and resolution of these issues require ICE’s immediate attention and increased engagement with the facility and its operations.” ICE must comply with their 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards.
ICE “concurred with the report recommendation and described corrective actions to address the issues identified’ in the report. The report stated that “the Essex Facility has risked the spread of foodborne illness by knowingly serving detainees potentially contaminated meat and bread.”
A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 stated that “food production in correctional facilities should meet minimum safety standards, including sufficient refrigeration facilities, training of food handlers, and exemption of ill food handlers from work.”
FDA lifts suspension, but Working Cow Homemade isn’t making ice cream
Source : https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2019/02/fda-lifts-suspension-but-working-cow-homemade-isnt-making-ice-cream/
By Coral Beach (Feb 21, 2019)
After suspending an ice cream company’s food facility registration in late 2018 during a foodborne illnesses investigation, the FDA is allowing Working Cow Homemade Inc. to reopen, but not as a manufacturer.
The company, in St. Petersburg, FL, is now an ice cream warehouse business, according to a notice from the Food and Drug Administration. The company is allowed to store and distribute products from third-party manufacturers. The FDA notice did not include information about what brands the Working Cow company will be handling.
“The FDA’s decision to suspend the registration of Working Cow Homemade Inc. was prompted by the three cases (of listeriosis) and findings from the FDA’s 2017 and 2018 inspections of Working Cow Homemade Inc., which identified insanitary conditions that could lead to contamination with Listeria monocytogenes (L. mono) in finished products,” according to the agency’s notice.
Inspectors from FDA worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on the investigation.
Prior to the suspending the company’s registration in late 2018, the FDA inspected the Working Cow production facility from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, 2017. During that inspection, inspectors collected environmental samples from the facility, which resulted in a recall and commitments by the firm to implement corrective actions.
“In September 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contacted the Florida Department of Health after finding that the pathogen analyses of three clinical cases — two in 2013 and one in 2018 — of listeriosis were highly related to the pathogen analyses of 2017 environmental samples taken by the FDA at the production facility,” according to the FDA notice.
“Based on this information, the FDA conducted a follow-up inspection of the facility from Sept. 25 through Oct. 15, 2018. Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) conducted by the FDA identified that the L. mono isolates collected from three ill patients were genetically identical to the L. mono isolates taken from environmental samples in the Working Cow facility in 2017 and 2018.”
After the 2018 inspection, the FDA provided Working Cow Homemade Inc. with several inspectional observations on a Form 483 report, noting sanitation and production issues. The FDA reported that Working Cow owners had not provided evidence of implementing corrective actions the firm committed to in response to the 2017 inspection and did not have information or documentation for the firm’s food safety plan including developing written sanitation practices, required by FSMA.
“Based on these observations, ready-to-eat (RTE) ice cream products manufactured, processed, packed, received or held at the Working Cow facility have a reasonable probability of causing serious adverse health consequences or death. The risk of illness and/or death from L. mono is particularly serious for the elderly and immunocompromised, which is concerning because Working Cow sold around 40 percent of its products to nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” the FDA reports.
On Oct. 18, 2018, Working Cow expanded a previous recall to include all ice cream it manufactured from Aug. 29, 2017, through Oct. 11, 2018.
Company owners decided to stop producing ice cream and become a distribution firm instead. They provided business plans to the FDA, requesting that the agency lift its registration suspension.
“Given the proposed changes and commitments by the firm, along with FDA site inspection and verification, the FDA has lifted the suspension, reinstating the facility registration for Working Cow Homemade Inc.,” according to the agency.
A Fatal Public Health Problem In Africa That Flies Under The Radar
Source : https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/02/21/696385246/a-fatal-public-health-problem-in-africa-that-flies-under-the-radar
By npr.org (Feb 21, 2019)
In September, public health officials in South Africa finally declared victory over the world's worst-ever outbreak of listeriosis, a foodborne illness that had sickened more than 1,000 people and killed more than 200 there since January 2017.
The cause? A batch of "polony," a popular processed lunch meat similar to bologna, contaminated with listeria, a bacteria found in animal feces. Government health inspectors traced the outbreak to a factory owned by the South African packaged foods producer Tiger Brands, and ordered the recall of nearly 6,000 tons of affected food.
Even with that particular crisis under control, Africa as a continent continues to suffer from the world's highest per-capita rate of foodborne illnesses. A new report this month from the World Bank's Global Food Safety Partnership points to one reason why: Much of the funding for food safety efforts on the continent come from Western donors — and most of those efforts concentrate on safety standards for foods exported to other countries.
"Trade is important for a lot of [African] economies," says Lystra Antoine, the CEO of the Global Food Safety Partnership and one of the report's authors. But, she says, "that has an unintended consequence."
There hasn't been as much investment in safe food for the domestic consumer, she adds. "There needs to be much more attention on foodborne illness. The burden is unacceptably high."
According to the World Health Organization, foodborne hazards are responsible for 137,000 deaths and 91 million acute illnesses in Africa every year — mostly affecting children under the age of 5. The risks include dangerous strains of bacteria like salmonella and E. coli, as well as tapeworm and other parasites, and naturally occuring toxins like cyanide. Public health experts are worried that little is being done to address the problem.
"The numbers are pretty staggering," says Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, who was not involved in the report. "It's a major public health problem, right below tuberculosis, malaria and HIV. But foodborne illness has flown under the radar screen."
The report, which was partially sponsored by Walmart, Cargill and Mars, Inc., analyzed more than 500 donor-sponsored food safety initiatives, from one-day food handling seminars to decade-long scientific research projects like the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control.
Together these initiatives represent nearly $400 million in spending since 2010 by more than two dozen national and multilateral development agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and the European Commission's International Cooperation and Development Directorate.
The report found that more than half of those projects are "overwhelmingly focused on supporting overseas market access" — that is, making sure raw products like Nigerian tomatoes, Ugandan coffee and Ghanaian cocoa are up to the standards of regulators like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
It's an understandable emphasis — food exports from Africa have more than doubled between 1998 to 2013, to nearly $64 billion, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.
But safety hazards that arise as food products move from smallholder farms to local, informal markets don't get the same attention, even though that's how most Africans get most of their food, the report says.
The report also found an imbalance in which food hazards get the most attention. Aflatoxin, which is produced by a fungi that can grow on improperly dried peanuts and cereals, received one-third of that $440 million in funding — in part because it was priority for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (a funder of this blog). Meanwhile, salmonella, which WHO estimates is the top cause of food-related deaths in Africa, received less than five percent of the total funding.
Erastus Kang'ethe, an emeritus professor of public health and food safety at the University of Nairobi, says many African governments lack the resources to effectively regulate food safety risks and have relied on international organizations for training and policy guidance. That approach naturally shifts the conversation toward how African food producers can meet foreign safety standards rather than developing and enforcing their own.
African governments have historically focused on quantity over quality, Kang'ethe says, aiming to accelerate food production to avert hunger in a rapidly growing population, often without developing the infrastructure needed to keep food safe.
"Governments didn't put much importance on safety," he says. "The question was, can our people be fed?"
At the same time, he says, both producers and consumers often lack awareness of food safety risks and may not have access to refrigeration for meat and dairy products during transportation from farm to market or at home after purchase.
People who suffer from a food-related infection or parasite may not make the connection to improperly stored or contaminated food, Kang'ethe says, and clinics often lack the knowledge or resources to diagnose foodborne illnesses, meaning that the true burden is likely far higher than what WHO has reported.
Progress is being made, he says. Over the last few years, the African Union has been organizing the first continent-wide food safety authority, which is set to deliver a report by next year on strategies to improve oversight of food safety on farms, in factories and at markets.
In response to the report, a USAID spokesperson said in an email to NPR that the agency "has been adjusting its food safety investments to target both trade and local food markets in recent years."
As Africa's food system becomes industrialized, the risk of foodborne illness for domestic consumers has increased, the report found. Diets across the continent are diversifying, and meals that once centered on staple grains are now more likely to include meat, vegetables and dairy products that can be vectors for disease.
Foods are traveling longer distances before reaching consumers, offering more opportunities for a break in the cold storage chain or other potential sources of contamination. And as the South Africa example disturbingly illustrated, when something goes awry at a processing plant, a large number of people can be put at risk.
"One of the things the South Africa listeria outbreak did was to really shine a light on how important food safety is," Antoine says. "We were watching people die as a result of this."
"If you're not ensuring the food coming out is safe, now you can infect hundreds or thousands of people more efficiently," Jha says. "The imperative to have a better regulatory system really goes up as you get more development."
One solution, Kang'ethe says, is for African governments and development agencies to tap the expertise that has accumulated around export markets to improve safety for domestic consumers — for example, having farmers, plant managers or market vendors with good safety records train their less-experienced peers.
Improving food safety isn't just important for reducing the risk of illness: It's also essential in confronting the broader issue of hunger. Africa remains the continent with the world's highest rate of undernourishment, according to the U.N., affecting one in every five people, 256 million in total.
"We're not likely to achieve everything we talk about with food security if the food you have is not safe," Antoine says.
Tim McDonnell is a journalist covering the environment, conflict and related issues in sub-Saharan Africa. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
Company recalls chicken salad for Listeria; some went to Whole Foods
Source : https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2019/02/company-recalls-chicken-salad-for-listeria-some-went-to-whole-foods/
By News Desk (Feb 20, 2019)
Lean Culinary Services LLC of Hollywood, FL, is recalling about 220 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken salad because the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service confirmed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in the product. Some of it carries the Whole Foods Market brand logo.
The FSIS reports all of the chicken salad was produced on Feb. 12. Consumers are urged to check their homes for unused portions of the products, which can be identified by the following information:
14.9-ounce plastic tubs of “classic chicken salad Made with Bell & Evans White Meat Chicken” with a best-by date of 2-17-19;
8-pound plastic bags of “classic chicken salad Made with Bell & Evans White Meat Chicken” for use at deli counters with a sell-by date of 2-19-19;
7.8-ounce plastic tubs of “DeliverLean CLASSIC CHICKEN SALAD” with a use-by date of 2/17/19; and
5.5-ounce plastic tubs of “DeliverLean CHICKEN SALAD BENTO BOX” with a use-by date of 2/17/19.
All of the products subject to recall have the establishment number “P-46167” printed inside the USDA mark of inspection. The products were shipped to retail locations in Florida.
The problem was discovered on Feb. 18 when FSIS inspection personnel verified the status of product that had tested positive for the presence of Listeria monocytogenes.
There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.
However, it can take up to 70 days for symptoms of Listeria infection to develop.
Food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes may not look or smell spoiled but can still cause serious and sometimes life-threatening infections. Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled product and developed symptoms of Listeria infection should seek medical treatment and tell their doctors about the possible Listeria exposure.
Also, anyone who has eaten any of the recalled product should monitor themselves for symptoms during the coming weeks for symptoms of listeriosis.
Symptoms of Listeria infection can include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache and neck stiffness. Specific laboratory tests are required to diagnose Listeria infections, which can mimic other illnesses.
Pregnant women, the elderly, young children, and people such as cancer patients who have weakened immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illnesses, life-threatening infections and other complications. Although infected pregnant women may experience only mild, flu-like symptoms, their infections can lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn or even stillbirth.
Rethinking the Future of Food Recalls
Source : https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/magazine-archive1/februarymarch-2019/rethinking-the-future-of-food-recalls/
By William K. Hallman, Ph.D., and Cara L. Cuite, Ph.D.
Food recalls are an important tool that can be used to protect the public from exposures to potentially unsafe products. Yet, carrying out an effective recall presents obvious challenges. There are the logistical difficulties involved with the accurate identification, efficient retrieval, and appropriate disposal of potentially contaminated food products. There are also substantial legal, regulatory, financial, and reputational issues with which to contend.
However, once products have been sold to the public, the most significant challenge involves getting individual consumers to look for, correctly recognize, and discard or return food products that might make them ill. Convincing individuals to act appropriately in response to a food recall often requires food companies, retailers, government agencies, and consumer groups to interact with consumers in unique and consequential ways that are atypical in their normal course of business. Getting recalled foods out of the hands of consumers requires a different set of strategies than those that put them there in the first place. A recall is not food marketing in reverse.
Persuading consumers to act in response to a food recall is not easy. Ten years ago, we conducted a nationally representative survey of American consumers to assess their awareness and knowledge of food recalls and to understand their attitudes and responses to them. We found that more than 90 percent of Americans viewed recalls as essential to protecting public health and saving lives. More than 80 percent said they paid attention to news reports about recalls, and a similar percentage reported that they told others about food recalls when they heard about one. Yet, while most people believe that food recalls are important, only about 6 in 10 reported that they had ever looked for a recalled food in their homes, and only 1 in 10 said that they had ever found one.
Much has changed in the intervening decade, including more rapid and widespread dissemination of information about recalled foods through the internet and social media. Detailed information about recalls, market withdrawals, consumer advisories, and health and safety alerts is now widely available through foodsafety.gov and recalls.gov, and through the individual U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) websites devoted to these issues. The public can also learn about these notices by following these agencies on social media and having these notices automatically emailed to them. Food companies and some retailers are also using their own web pages to share detailed information about recalled products and what consumers should do if they find them.
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 7 in 10 American adults now uses social media to view and share news content, opinions, and other information. Both FDA and USDA share recall information via social media, as do many companies. Food marketers are well aware of the utility of social media, with most major companies actively using it to court customers, to encourage them to follow and share information about the company’s brands, and to influence consumer purchase intentions. They are also cognizant of the rapidity with which social media can significantly damage the reputation of a product, brand, or company when something goes wrong, or is simply rumored to have gone wrong.
Yet, despite the enhanced ability to access information about recalled food products over the last 10 years, consumer responses to food recalls have not kept pace. In our August 2018 survey of American consumers, we found that about 7 in 10 now say they have looked for a recalled food product at some point (up from 6 in 10), while about 2 in 10 report that they believe that they have found a recalled product in their homes (up from 1 in 10). While this represents progress, it is clear that the food industry, government, and consumer groups need to do more to help people respond appropriately to food recalls. So, what can we do?
Ideally, we would eliminate the necessity to recall food products altogether. Food recalls are expensive, disruptive, and are meant to be a public health measure of last resort, not a first line of defense. However, eliminating food recalls in the near term is unlikely. In fact, advances in technology, including whole-genome sequencing, have enabled more rapid and precise characterizations of the pathogens involved in foodborne illness outbreaks, which makes it more likely that outbreaks will be identified and affected foods recalled.
Food companies are also paying greater attention to food safety, instituting tighter controls over the sourcing of their ingredients and manufacturing processes. Many have comprehensive internal testing and quality control systems designed to detect allergens, pathogens, and physical contaminants. Many have also become more aggressive in ordering voluntary recalls and product withdrawals as precautionary measures intended to prevent their customers from coming into contact with potentially adulterated products. They have realized that while a recall may be damaging to a brand or a commodity in the short term, it is far worse to be associated with a foodborne problem that sickens, hospitalizes, or results in customer deaths.
Given that food recalls will remain a critical means to protect consumer health well into the future, we need to improve their efficacy. We can do so by being more strategic in designing recall messages, beginning with an understanding that these are significantly different from other messages that we send to consumers about food. We can also be more effective through a more comprehensive understanding of how consumers react to food recalls and by taking advantage of advances in technology.
Food Recall Communications Are Different
Effective food recalls involve successfully alerting the public about the potential hazards associated with specific food products, ensuring that people are able to recognize which products are involved and which are not, and motivating them to look for, find, and appropriately discard or return the affected products rather than consuming them. The stakes are high, as failure at any point in this process can result in people getting sick, or dying.
Therefore, these messages must be designed to be broad enough to reach everyone who may be affected, including those who already have the food in their homes and those who might purchase a recalled food still in the marketplace. At the same time, these warnings must be specific enough that consumers can recognize when they are personally affected by the recall. They must contain enough details to enable consumers to identify which products have been recalled, allowing consumers to differentiate these from similar products that are unaffected. They must also include specific instructions to consumers about how to properly dispose of or return products that are affected.
Recall warnings must be sufficiently strong to demand consumer attention, motivating people to look for potentially affected products and to take appropriate actions if they find them. They should prompt people to share accurate information about the recall with others, spreading and drawing attention to the news, and should therefore be social media-ready to facilitate this.
At the same time, these alerts must not unnecessarily frighten people or cause them to avoid products that are not part of the recall. In fact, communicating about a food recall requires persuading consumers that only the specific packages of the product they were originally induced to purchase may be unsafe for them to eat. Then, after the underlying cause for the recall has been corrected, those same consumers need to be convinced that the product is safe after it returns to the market.
Understanding Consumer Responses to Recalls
Unfortunately, as our research has shown, even when they achieve the right balance of urgency, specificity, detail, and instruction, simply issuing food recall warnings is not enough to protect public health. Providing information to people is usually necessary, but not sufficient, to motivate them to respond appropriately to a recall.
After more than a dozen years of studying public responses to recalls and advisories, we have found that many consumers do hear about them and that they do pay attention. Some follow the advice given and look for, find, and discard or return products that have been listed as being recalled. Many also share this information with others via social media, drawing additional public attention to the recall. Some also visit the websites of the companies involved in the recall, seeking additional information, which they may also share.
Yet, some consumers remain unaware of recalls that affect them because they never see the warning information, while others are aware of the recall but ignore it because they don’t recognize the products being recalled or believe that they own them. Some hear about the recall, and intend to look for the affected products, but never do so, or they look for the products but cannot identify them.
When they involve a single product, or a small but complete list of products that quickly becomes available and does not change, recalls can be relatively straightforward. In contrast, expanding recalls, especially those which ultimately impact dozens or hundreds of products, are significantly more complicated. In these cases, some consumers learn of the initial recall notice and look for affected products but are unaware of the subsequent notices or ignore them, believing that they have already taken action.
Our research has also shown that some consumers respond to recalls in ways that are particularly imprudent. Some who are fully aware of a recall simply decide to disregard it, consuming the recalled product despite being warned not to do so. Why? Some do it because they believe that the warning is “overblown.” Some are certain that they can make a potentially contaminated product safe to eat by cooking or washing it, while others believe they are immune to foodborne illnesses. Finally, after discovering that they have already partially consumed a recalled product, some people decide that since they didn’t get sick, it is safe to eat whatever remains.
At the other extreme, some consumers are hypercautious. Some adopt a “better safe than sorry” strategy, discarding any product resembling those that have been recalled. This often includes discarding all packages of the products named in the recall, regardless of whether they match the date or lot codes subject to recall. Some avoid or discard products that are not part of a recall but were manufactured by the same company. Others avoid similar products made by other companies that were not recalled. Some report avoiding products or commodities that have been the subject of a recall for months or even years after an outbreak of foodborne illness has ended.
Doing a better job at motivating consumers to act appropriately requires increasing consumer awareness of recalls, increasing their relevance to individual consumers, their ability to identify affected products, and their motivation to properly dispose of them, each of which is discussed in turn below.
Increasing the effectiveness of recalls begins with improving consumer awareness. People cannot take action if they don’t know that they need to do so. Unfortunately, recall announcements must compete with the other information encountered by consumers every day.
Our data suggest that consumers are most likely to be aware of recalls that are covered by the traditional news media. Even if people learn about a recall through social media, the origin of the news is most often a story that was covered in the mainstream news. Unfortunately, national news outlets typically only provide extensive coverage of “newsworthy” recalls. A review of recent headlines suggests that these typically involve a foodborne illness outbreak resulting in a significant number of illnesses or deaths, the recall of a large quantity of food or of multiple products, or of especially popular or well-known products. Other kinds of food recalls rarely receive the same kind of coverage, making it much less likely that consumers will become aware of them. As a result, companies have to work much harder to publicize these smaller, less prominent recalls, which often involve products sold within local or regional markets.
Other challenges exist as well. In addition to notifying retailers of a recall and working with them to remove affected products from their shelves and warehouses, food manufacturers and distributors often work with “brick and mortar” stores to post recall notices at the point of sale. This has often involved posting written notices near the shelves that have been emptied of the affected product and printing recall messages onto customer receipts or on coupon slips. In fact, some participants in our studies have indicated that they don’t pay attention to news about recalls because they implicitly trust their grocery store not to sell recalled food products.
However, consumers increasingly purchase food products online and have them shipped directly to their homes, bypassing local retailers. These sales often involve small online vendors or third-party resellers operating through larger e-commerce sites. Food manufacturers and distributors often have little or no relationship with these retailers, and as a result, they don’t receive direct notices of a recall. Many of these small online retailers also lack the personnel, training, and inventory systems necessary to appropriately identify and withdraw recalled products from sale online. As a result, consumers have reported instances of recalled food products being shipped to them by online retailers.
Consumer awareness of recalls is also hampered by the fact that consumer advisories, warnings, and recall notices are typically written in English. USDA also routinely translates the recall and public health alert information it posts on its website into Spanish; however, FDA (which has responsibility for 80% of the food supply in the U.S.) does not, nor do many companies whose products are recalled.
While Spanish is the second-most-often spoken language in the U.S., there are millions of Americans who speak languages other than English and Spanish, and who (based on self-reported Census data) speak English “not at all” or “not well.” Moreover, there are many Americans who cannot read English or Spanish, making written notices inaccessible to them.
Getting consumers to act appropriately in response to a food recall only begins with making them aware that a problem exists with a product. For consumers to pay attention and to act, they must also believe that the products affected are relevant to them. Yet, in many ways, the greater availability of food recall information through traditional media, on the internet, and through social media has actually made it more difficult for consumers to focus on the products that are pertinent to them.
The primary goal of food recall communications is to broadcast warning information as rapidly and as widely as possible to protect public health. However, the reality is that the majority of recalls simply aren’t applicable to most people. Many involve food products that are produced in small quantities or sold in limited areas. Others involve more widely distributed products but apply only to those packages bearing specific lot numbers or “best by” dates. Others are for products with limited shelf lives that are likely to have already been consumed or discarded by the time a recall notice is issued. In addition, more than half of the recalls of FDA-regulated products in 2018 involved undeclared allergens, which are potentially life threatening to those who are allergic to them. This is critical information that needs to be widely disseminated; however, many who are unaffected by these allergens are likely to view the information as meant for others.
This means that the large majority of food recall notices are not relevant to most of the people who hear about them. Repeated exposure to irrelevant information can be fatiguing and can result in people ignoring recall information altogether. It can also result in a sense that food recalls are something that other people have to worry about. In fact, our research has shown that more than a third of Americans think that, compared with other people like them, they are personally less likely to have purchased a food that had been recalled.
This “optimistic bias” is reinforced by personal experience. Most people who report having looked for a recalled food product say they’ve never found one. This view that recalls apply to others and not to themselves may also be reinforced by the vague language in the press releases that accompany announcements of product recalls. These typically call on unidentified “consumers who may have purchased these products,” urging them to return “those products” to an ambiguous “place of purchase” or to discard them.
Recent efforts by USDA and FDA to publicize the names and locations of retailers (or consignees) known to have received recalled products may reduce the ambiguity of where these products have been sold, helping consumers decide whether a recall is relevant to them. However, the ability of food manufacturers and distributors to quickly and precisely identify the consignees of their products remains a significant challenge.
One way to increase the awareness and relevance of recalls is to provide personalized recall messages to consumers who are known to have purchased potentially affected products. Some retailers already provide this service to their customers, using email, phone, and text messages to alert people when something they have previously purchased is subject to a recall. Although there are costs to the retailers who do this, our research indicates that most consumers value this service and that it may increase customer trust and loyalty to those retailers.
Providing this kind of targeted, personalized recall information obviously requires that retailers be able to accurately track and connect consumers with their purchases. Many do this through information provided by consumers when they register for and use voluntary “loyalty card” programs or through membership cards required by some retailers. However, the idea that retailers are keeping track of their purchases (and quite likely sharing this information with other companies) has raised privacy concerns among consumers who would prefer that some, or all, of their purchases remain anonymous. In addition, consumers don’t always use their loyalty cards or keep the contact information they supply to retailers up to date. Some purposely provide false information, believing that it will help protect their privacy or prevent unwanted solicitations from marketers. This has led some retailers to be concerned about potential liability issues that might arise because of their inability to successfully contact every customer known to have purchased a recalled product. Some also worry that customers will come to rely on personal notifications and will ignore other sources of information about recalls. In addition, some consumers have come to expect that any retailer who has their contact information will alert them when they have purchased a recalled product.
For consumers to take the time to look for recalled products in their homes, they also have to be convinced that the consequences of consuming the product are serious enough to demand action on their part. However, our studies (and those of others) have found that most Americans have a tenuous grasp of the causes and consequences of foodborne illness. We have found that people generally underestimate the incidence of foodborne illness and are unable to identify particularly vulnerable groups. Most Americans also don’t recognize the symptoms of foodborne illness, and most don’t believe that they have personally experienced it.
Two of our national surveys included questions about eating recalled food products. In both surveys, about 1 in 10 Americans reported that they had eaten a food they thought had been recalled, and nearly all reported having done so without adverse consequence. Unfortunately, disregarding warnings and eating a recalled product without perceived ill effects can be self-reinforcing and may lead to an underestimation of the consequences of consuming recalled products in the future.
The notices of recalls, market withdrawals, safety, and public health alerts posted by both FDA and USDA on their websites do include information about the common symptoms and consequences of the illness that may be caused by a pathogen associated with a product. The consistent inclusion of this information in notices, press releases, and other communications can help educate consumers about these pathogens and the consequences of foodborne illnesses, and can reinforce the need to take warning messages about them seriously.
Unfortunately, many of these notices undermine their own messages by including statements that “No illnesses have been reported to date.” While this may be true, it does not preclude illnesses being reported in the future and may unintentionally communicate the idea that despite being recalled, the product is most likely harmless. Similarly, informing consumers that a products is being recalled “out of an abundance of caution” may send the message that there is little likelihood that there are serious problems with the product.
Once consumers become aware of a food recall and are convinced of its personal relevance and that the consequences are worth taking action to avoid, they must also be able to identify the affected products. Both FDA and USDA recall announcements include relevant details such as container sizes, UPC codes, lot/batch numbers, use/best/sell by dates, as well as pictures of the products being recalled. However, product labels are primarily designed to help sell foods, not to facilitate their recall, and the lot numbers, production codes, and dates on products are often printed in nonobvious places and in difficult-to-read typefaces and sizes.
The fundamental problem with food recalls is that they require individual consumers to recognize that they own a recalled product with a food safety problem serious enough to warrant their attention and action. However, the current process is both inefficient and susceptible to failure. It ultimately relies on the right information somehow reaching the right consumers at the right time, who are then able to use that information to identify the right products.
In the current system, information is also designed to flow primarily in one direction: from the company issuing the recall to the consumer. Companies declare to consumers, “This product may be unsafe, you may have it in your home, here is how to identify it, go look for it right now, and throw it out if you find it.”
Unfortunately, the system is not well set up for consumers to ask “Has this particular product been recalled?” To answer the question, it is possible to conduct a keyword search of recall notices through foodsafety.gov and USDA and FDA web pages, although UPC codes can’t be used as search terms.
If the keyword search results in a positive match, it is necessary to click on each individual recall notice to locate the detailed lot, date, or other information necessary to identify whether a specific package of the product has been recalled. As a result, answering the question “Has this been recalled?” for a single product is cumbersome and time-consuming. Screening an entire cabinet full of products is impractical. Evaluating all of the foods donated to a community food pantry is impossible.
What is needed is the ability to directly connect UPC codes or QR (Quick Response) codes to recall information. According to the Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters of Americans now have smartphones, including more than 90 percent of those ages 18–49. Existing smartphone applications can scan product UPC codes and automatically search for price information. UPC information is also routinely supplied to FDA and USDA as part of recall notices and is used by manufacturers to help retailers remove recalled food products from their shelves. Thus, it should be possible to maintain a consumer-searchable database of the UPC codes of recalled food products that could be accessed through a smartphone app.
Food companies are also increasingly using scannable QR codes to directly connect consumers to discounts, marketing information, social media sites, and other web-based content. Some companies have incorporated QR codes into their blockchain traceability efforts, enabling consumers to track products from “seed to plate.” Companies participating in the SmartLabel™ Transparency Initiative are also using QR codes to connect consumers to product nutrition facts, ingredient, allergen, and other information. Consumers can scan a QR code on a product and be taken directly to its relevant webpage at Smartlabel.org. Connecting QR codes to accessible recall information should be a logical next step.
Recognizing that a recall is not food marketing in reverse is a first step to making recall communications more effective. Designing communications that increase awareness and relevance while conveying consequences and providing enough information for consumers to identify the affected products can increase the likelihood that consumers respond appropriately. Technology has changed how consumers become aware of recalls and how they identify what is relevant. We now have additional technology that can be harnessed to help consumers identify whether their food has been recalled. It may be time to use it.
Scan the QR code or click on the link for free downloads of Rutgers’s research on food recalls.
William K. Hallman, Ph.D., is a professor and Chair of the Department of Human Ecology and is a member of the graduate faculty of the Department of Nutritional Sciences and of the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
Cara L. Cuite, Ph.D., is an Assistant Extension Specialist in the Department of Human Ecology and a member of the graduate faculties of the Department of Nutritional Sciences, the Graduate School of Education, and the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers.
Recommendations made in strawberry tampering report
Source : https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2019/02/recommendations-made-in-strawberry-tampering-report/
By News Desk (Feb 18, 2019)
The government’s response to tampering of Australian strawberries with needles this past year was timely but areas to improve have been identified in a Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) report.
These include centralizing incident coordination to include relevant government agencies such as police, and improving the consistency and messaging associated with such an event. The report made seven recommendations and raised the idea of industry, government and law enforcement doing mock exercises to develop relationships and processes.
The report said all parties should review food incident response protocols and ensure formal links between regulators, health departments and police are in place for incidents involving intentional contamination and a body for the horticulture industry is required to support crisis preparedness and response in the sector.
An investigation found a complex supply chain with a need for strengthened traceability and contingency planning in the strawberry industry and other high-risk horticulture sectors.
Mitigation strategies to protect food against intentional contamination need to be informed by a vulnerability assessment which includes severity and scale of potential impact plus the degree of access to the product at different stages of the supply chain.
Mark Booth, CEO of FSANZ, said recommendations focus on the need for improved communication during incidents.
“The report’s recommendations, once implemented, will help ensure an improved response to any future incidents. These improvements will support our growers and ensure Australians can continue to trust in our effective and responsive food safety system.”
In September 2018, the first reports arose of food tampering involving sewing needles in Australian strawberries. Initially affecting Queensland, it escalated to involve multiple tampering of strawberries and other fruit across the country. Only a few were believed by authorities to be associated with the original incident with most hoax or ‘copycat’ events.
By the end of September, more than 200 food tampering notifications had been made nationally. Credible cases were associated with Berry Licious, Berry Obsession and Donnybrook Berries. Additional strawberry brands were named by police media in two states which complicated the response and affected industry.
“The power and use of social media was acknowledged as having a significant impact in this incident, both negatively potentially exacerbating ongoing tampering incidents and positively gathering consumer support for the strawberry industry,” according to the report.
My Ut Trinh, an ex-farm worker, was charged with six counts of contaminating goods and granted bail in November.
The Australian Government response included removing implicated strawberries from sale, strengthening penalties for food tampering from 10 to 15 years in prison, and imposing stricter conditions for strawberry export as well as industry funding support.
Australian strawberries are grown year round by about 260 growers across six states, predominantly Queensland and Victoria. In the 2016-2017 financial year strawberry production in the country was valued at AUS$560 million (US$397 million).
Risk mitigation measures include use of metal detectors but cost is around AUS$20,000 to $30,000 (US$14,200-$21,300) and tamper proof packaging could accelerate deterioration of product quality and limit shelf life. Deliberate tampering may involve physical contaminants such as glass and plastic, or may be chemical or biological.
Supply chain vulnerabilities are the many touch points from field to pack house, transport, retail and consumer, the seasonal nature of work and labour hiring practices leading to difficulties in monitoring workers and co-mingling as produce from more than one farm or supplier is combined.
Three complaints involving exported Australian strawberries were reported and investigated in New Zealand. Last month, the New Zealand National Party proposed stronger penalties for deliberate food contamination.
FSANZ will hold a joint debrief of the strawberry tampering incident in early 2019 to reflect on the event and confirm what changes may be required before presenting a report to the government.
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