The preparation of can foods can be dangerous if not properly done. Please keep in mind that the main agent we try to control in can (jar) food is a dangerous bacterium, Clostridium botulinum, which can be quite dangerous. Check out this recent report on botulism associated with improperly prepared jarred pesto



This month, the FDA has released some guidelines for the food industry on how to voluntarily label foods that have been derived from genetically engineered plants. The term GMO, genetically modified organism, can also be applied here. The recommendation for the industry is to include terms such as “not genetically engineered,” “not bioengineered” or “not genetically modified through the use of modern biotechnology.”

The position of FDA has not changed since 1992, when they published their policy statement on foods derived from new plant varieties. Therefore, there is no new information showing that foods derived from genetically engineered plants, as a class, differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way. Consequently, the safety of GMO foods is essentially the same as the safety of foods produced from using traditional plant breeding methods.

So keep watching out for the biological hazards and not for the DNA in the food itself.



There were a couple of articles that were published today, one on Food Safety Magazine EDigest, Understanding the Differences between Hazard Analysis and Risk Assessment, and the other on Food Safety News, Food Safety and the Perception of Risk. The first article is a summary of the difference between HACCP, by taking a closer look at hazard analysis, and the second is a review of the term risk assessment as it is applied to food safety. In this article, provide some examples as clarification of how these terms are used, or misused, sometimes.

The second article is about food safety perception and the fact that we tend to overemphasizes some perceived hazards and tend to ignore some concrete hazards that keep surprising us. These preventable hazards, which are not really prevented in many cases, will continue to bring us quite a bit of headaches.

I was following the news about the E. coli outbreak that occurred in a restaurant in Vermont few weeks ago, the investigations by the Vermont Department of Health and the very few reactions at the national level. In these type of cases people are in a rush to know the origin, where is it coming from, to stop the source. We also know that besides meat, vegetables also can be contaminated with pathogenic E. coli. But this case was a simple case of ignorance by the chef that decided to provide really pink burgers to customers. The simple reality is that any establishment (restaurant, processor, etc.) that handles raw meat will have this type of pathogens, but as long as the meat is cooked to an internal temperature of 155oF for five seconds, or other temperature/time combinations above these figures, the meat will be safe for consumption. The recommended temperature (1 second) for cooking burgers by the U. S. Department of Agriculture is 160oF (71.1oC). There are few other recommendations on how to handle raw ground meat here.

This restaurant has a clear sentence in the menu “Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illnesses, especially if you have certain medical conditions.” I wonder if those sentences prevent any lawsuit by people that have trusted the restaurant is cooking the product to temperatures have been stablished as safe.

It is amazing how many misunderstandings there are related to food safety, even by professional cooks. The Executive Chef at this restaurant blamed a USDA-inspected plant where the cattle were processed: “I believe the beef was OK (at the farm), and when it got to the slaughterhouse, that’s when the infection happened.” Meat does not get “infected,” and although cross contamination occur during processing, pathogens do come with the live animal (cattle in this case). In a cattle processing plant for sure it is not from the veggies!

When I interviewed for this position at UVM, I showed a picture of the little pink burger that my wife and I got few days before that in a farmers market in downtown Burlington. During the interview I asked the audience if some would eat that meat. At least 3 people from a group of 14 raised their hands. That is fine. The public may not know some facts. But I have the impression that if I repeat that exercise with cooks, I may get that same type of response. And that is not good!

So next time you are sitting in a restaurant and the waiter asks how you want the burger cooked, please ask them if the chef uses a thermometer. If the waiter does not know, which is the most probable case, please make sure the chef does!

Here I am reproducing some information developed by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture on Avian Influenza. But first, let’s review the risk of this disease appearing in the USA. The disease is called Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) and it is produce by a strain of avian influenza virus called H5. Years ago we heard of another strain of this virus called H5N1, which was detected first in 1996 in geese in China. But this strain affected primarily Asian countries. The “H” and “N” in the way viruses are classify stand for hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, which are small protein on the surface of the virus. These proteins help viruses invade the host cells. Although some poultry farms in the Midwest had animals affected with HPAI H5, there have been no human cases detected in the USA or in other countries, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk to people from HPAI infection to be low. Domestic poultry are highly susceptible to HPAI H5 virus, but influenza in poultry does not constitute a food safety issue.

What follows is the information that the Vermont Agency of Agriculture is trying to disseminate about Avian Influenza:

Poultry Producer, Owner, Enthusiast, or Interested Citizen:

As you may be aware, a disease called the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) affected a number of farms in the mid-West last year. While there have been no human cases of HPAI virus detected in the United States or internationally, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk to people from HPAI infection to be low, domestic poultry are highly susceptible to HPAI H5 virus, which can spread rapidly from bird to bird and typically results in high mortality rates.  The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM) is encouraging poultry owners, producers and enthusiasts to prepare for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), which is expected to impact the East Coast in the fall of this year or spring of 2016.

The disease is most commonly spread to domestic poultry by infected waterfowl, through direct contact or contact with droppings, during migration periods. Therefore, the entire Northeast, including Vermont, is preparing for the possibility that an outbreak of HPAI could affect our region this fall or during the spring of 2016. While the HPAI outbreak has not yet been identified in Vermont, poultry producers and poultry owners should be familiar with the disease, how it is spread, and preparedness efforts that they can engage in now.

All poultry owners, whether they are backyard hobbyists or commercial producers, should evaluate their farms for risk factors that could contribute to avian influenza occurring on their farms. Risk factors include:

  • Poultry housed outside.
  • Ponds or other water fowl attractants on the farm.
  • Piles of debris located close to poultry areas.
  • Introduction of poultry from other farms without a quarantine period.
  • Lack of personal protective equipment such as dedicated coveralls and boots.
  • Sharing of equipment between farms.

Poultry owners should fill out and return to VAAFM the Producer Preparedness: Biosecurity Audit Form which details information that will be required for farms to move poultry and livestock, equipment, and production related conveyances on and off of the property in the event of an HPAI outbreak. The form is attached to this email and can be accessed through the following link and returned to VAAFM via email, mail, or fax:

All poultry owners, regardless of size and business structure, should engage in the following disease preparedness measures:

  • Obtain a federal premises identification number by calling the State Veterinarian’s Office at (802) 828-2421. A unique farm identifier will aid regulatory officials in providing information to owners pre-outbreak and assisting owners with disease control and business continuity during a disease response.
  • Complete the Producer Preparedness: Biosecurity Audit Form and return to VAAFM – when there is an outbreak, this information will be needed in order for farms in a disease control area to be able to continue movement on and off their farm.
  • This form is accessible on the VAAFM website and is attached to this email: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/animal_health
  • Keep poultry away from wild birds, particularly waterfowl and shorebirds, and remove wild bird attractants from poultry housing areas.
  • If poultry are housed indoors, don’t let wild birds (or their fecal material) into barns.
  • Clean and disinfect all equipment prior to entry into a barn or poultry housing area.
  • Use barn-specific boots and coveralls and consider using boot baths/washes.
  • Do not bring disease home with you – if you exhibit your poultry at fairs or swaps, do not share cages or equipment with other poultry owners.
  • Familiarize yourself with signs of illness in your birds and call the State Veterinarian’s Office if you see nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, lethargy, discolored wattles or combs, a drop in egg production, or sudden death.

Commercial poultry producers should take additional proactive steps to increase the likelihood of continued business profitability in the event of a disease outbreak, such as:

  • Evaluating your farm’s carcass disposal options and contacting the Agency of Natural Resources Department of Environmental Conservation Waste Management and Prevention Division for a site evaluation and technical assistance: (802)828-1138.
  • Ensuring easy access to complete farm records that include live poultry and poultry product movement on and off the property and other non-poultry related routine farm traffic such as veterinary visits, feed deliveries, or service technicians.
  • Implement and consistently utilize a visitor’s log.
  • Evaluate and plan for product storage if in the event of an outbreak your farm is not able to move product.
  • Initiate conversations with your markets to determine if they will accept your product during an outbreak.
  • If you are an organic farm, review with your certifying organization the possibility of raising your birds indoors, should such measures become necessary.

All bird owners, whether commercial producers or backyard enthusiasts, are encouraged to practice good biosecurity, prevent contact between their birds and wild birds, and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to State/Federal officials, either through the Vermont Agency of Agriculture at (802)828-2421 or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593.

Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food, has been published

The original regulation was proposed on January 16, 2013 and appeared in the Federal Register, Vol 78, No. 11, page 3646 (plus). This new regulation updates Title 21 CFR (Code of Federal Regulation) Part 110 (Current Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Packing, or Holding Human Food; cGMPs), and will be codified under Title 21 CFR Part 117: Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food.

There have been some reorganization and re-designation of the provisions currently under 21 CFR 110, and the there are two significant ways in which the new regulation affects cGMPs. The new rule:

  • Adds the requirements for hazard analysis and preventive controls plans; thus, implementing the requirement under Section 418 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&CA)
  • Updates, revises and clarifies certain requirements and provisions present in 21 CFR 110

Who is affected by this new regulation?

Basically all facilities that required to register with FDA, under FDA’s current facility registration regulations, are covered by this rule. The facility registration has been addressed under Section 415 of the FD&CA (all domestic or foreign facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold food for human or animal consumption in the US).

Some facilities will be exempt from this rule. The exceptions have been reviewed in the Proposed Rule (78 FR 3648) and the FDA’s Frequently Asked Questions and Answers sheet that was released in March 2013.

Facilities covered by this regulation will have to “establish and implement a food safety system that includes an analysis of hazards and risk-based preventive controls.” The written food safety plan will have to include:

  • Hazard analysis
  • Preventive controls
  • Oversight and management of preventive controls through: monitoring, corrective actions and corrections, and verification procedures.

Several definitions have changed and some have been added. I will review some of these definitions in the upcoming posts.

Last week I wrote an opinion article for Food Safety News on antibiotic resistance, a problem that has been recognized since the moment antibiotics were discovered. Yet, we have let it go too far, with only few countries implementing actions and even fewer ones evaluating the impact of the limitations on antibiotic use. Denmark is one of the few examples of the success stories of implementing a strong monitoring program in 1995 (Danish Integrated Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring and Research Program) coupled with the ban on the use of avoparcin for all purposes in agriculture. The use of virginiamycin was banned in 1998. However, the success of Denmark is limited because products brought into the country from other regions are probably bringing antibiotic resistance organisms too. At least, this is the possible explanation for the dramatic rise in the incidence of Escherichia coli that are resistant to extended extended spectrum β-lactams, like cephalosporins, which has never been used in poultry production in Denmark. The complexity of this topic is such that interventions must be addressed at the global level now.

Ans speaking of complexity, the results from the ban on antibiotics used in animal production for prophylactic use in The Nederland has been somber and reminds us that just withdrawing antibiotics by itself is not enough. Other measures, such as appropriate monitoring and disease control systems in the agricultural sector, must be implemented as well. Without these other measures, bans on prophylactic use is replaced by an increased therapeutic use.


At the end of June, early July, I spend some time working with a large meat processor in China. It was nice going back to China after six years. Many things have changed and the infrastructure built in the central/eastern provinces is just amazing. I had four days of intense food safety training, with more than 300 individuals attending these four days of training.

The pictures below are from those days of training. And yes, I am there, somewhere in the middle or on the left side (classroom).


G-01 G-02

When I was asked for the differences I saw from previous years, it was difficult to summarize them. There are many. But towards the end of the trip I realized that there are many, many less bicycles on city streets and more, much more motorcycles than year before.

And the food, again. The food was such a treat!

Today I was listening to an economist on the radio talking about the current economic situation in China and the weak economic numbers released by China in the last few weeks. But I am confident they will remain an economic powerhouse for years to come. And if they suffer a major economic crisis, I do not want to think what will happen to us!

Thank you to all my existing and new friends from China that made my trip so enjoyable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released the results from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (10 US Sites) for 2006–2014. These results show the preliminary incidence and trends of foodborne disease infections in those sentinel sites. Salmonella and Campylobacter are the most prevalent bacterial foodborne agents.

The final labeling required for mechanically tenderized meat may go into effect on May 2016.


There was a recent FRONTLINE report about the large Salmonella outbreak related to a large poultry processor in the west coast that started in 2009 and has been on and off until 2014. This report has prompted the introduction of new legislation to allow the U. S. Department of Agriculture to have recall authority, something the agency does not currently have.


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