Jack DeCoster's Sad Legacy

As a  person ages, one tends to think about how their life's work will be evaluated by future generations. Most people would want to be remembered for some accomplishment and hope that in the future, mistakes they made along the way will be forgotten.

For some, however, whatever they may have accomplished in life will be overshadowed by some spectacular moral failure. This is the unfortunate legacy of Jack DeCoster, self-made multi-billionaire farmer and US egg baron, par excellence .

By most accounts, Mr. DeCoster is the person behind the bulk of the eggs produced in this country. Through his subsidiaries and deals too entangled to entwine, Mr DeCoster and his cohorts control your egg supply, and have for many years.

Monopolies are not a good thing in any industry, but what makes this situation so incredibly bad for consumers is that the egg supply in this country is so seriously contaminated with Salmonella.

One only has to look at recent events and the history of DeCoster's fiasco's,  environmental, occupational, and public health to see that he is personally responsible for what has happened to the egg supply. It appears that most of the contaminated (and non contaminated) eggs in the US pass through him and his assorted businesses.

It didn't have to be this way, but this is the way DeCoster apparently wants it.  So will he be remembered- not as the self-made successful business man- but: "The Notorious Egg Man Who Made America Ill".

For DeCoster's latest assault on America's public health, see:




Del Monte Salmonella Outbreak to Expand

Cantaloupes are again the vehicle for Salmonella. Such instances should be closely investigated to determine the root cause. Typical contamination sources in growing cantaloupes would include irrigation, run off, human waste, animal intrusion and infected workers.

The problem of contamination and potential growth of bacteria on melons is a difficult one. Normally, with a product that can both harbor and grow bacteria we would require that the items containing it be kept under temperature control; the FDA retail food code does require cut melons to be held at 41 degrees until service, for example.

Prior to cutting (processing), there are no current regulations for limiting growth of bacteria on melons. There are no requirements for shipping or storage temperatures for whole intact melon. Food safety efforts with melons, and most raw agricultural products is primarily a matter of contamination control. Melons may or may not be washed in the packinghouse to remove contamination before shipping to retailers. Again, no mandatory provisions exist for any type of post-harvest treatment with melons. Thus, the final processing of the product is the final opportunity for prevention and also the step with the highest risks.

The challenges for the fresh produce industry are in identifying the risks in the growing, harvesting, packing and shipping of these items, and then taking a combination of preventive measures that reduces those risks to the next user to some measurable level. The new research pointed out in Bill Marler's blog found below, is useful, but the industry response will take some time, given the nature of the industry and what it has traditionally seen as risk.

Farmers know that wild animals are a major concern in melon operations; they consume and destroy a significant amount of crops. Deer, pigs, raccoons, as well as birds are attracted to these growing and harvesting areas. While growers may not have absolute control over access to the growing areas, harvesting methods must account for contamination found. Operations under third party standards are required to monitor for these hazards and not harvest areas with obvious signs of animal intrusion. That procedure if rigorously done limits the wide scale fecal contamination problem but does not eliminate it. Handling thereafter must be sanitary. Packers that do not wash melons can do little to remove contamination. Buyers drive this model, and many will accept raw agricultural products that have not had a washing step, leaving the consumer hard pressed to defend themselves.

However, washing in a large packinghouse is itself hazardous. During washing, if antimicrobial quality of wash water is not maintained, water becomes a vehicle to further spread contamination between lots. Diligent control of wash water quality is often a critical control in a food safety program for this reason.

We may not be able to eliminate the pathogens in melons at any one stage of the production system, thus calling for a coordinated effort between growers, handlers, shippers and end users. We need to strengthen the weak links in this chain to the extent we can, and combine that effort with effective microbiological testing, recall procedures and oversight.

The regulation of the supply chain for agricultural products in general is very weak at present, but we expect this situation to change soon. Efforts to properly guide the fresh produce industry and enforce necessary public health controls will improve as the new federal policies and procedures come into effect. An expansion of the regulatory controls and industry led efforts will eventually reduce the risk of contamination in raw agricultural products overall, but don't expect immediate resolution of the fundamental problems of melons, and perhaps, other high risk produce items.

We thank Dr. Doug Powell and attorney Bill Marler for keeping us informed about safe handling, as the produce industry continues to make progress in reducing risks to end users.

See Marler Blog


Inspecting a Food Safety Reporter's Kitchen


Join me here as I go deep inside a food safety reporter's home and kitchen and uncover the lurking, ever present microbes. Wendy Ryan and Tampa Bay's Channel 9 really made this entertaining and educational, tough to do, we can take a few tips from these media/communication masters.

See a former health inspector test Wendy Ryan's kitchen

Tips on food safety



Public Health Should Come First in Hazelnut Outbreak

The hazaelnut outbreak may spur FDA to move in its new powers.

Here we see the packinghouse that packed the hazelnuts refusing to cooperate with officials after nuts it shipped sickend several people with E coli O157:H7. (Note the very soiled hands in this picture this would not be an acceptable level of cleanliness for a harvester).


The Brown Stuff is Manure

A Boston.com site discusses a recent effort to make raw milk more available.

Bad idea. Its not that raw milk sanitation cannot be improved but to make it perfectly safe is probably not possible without pasteurization.

See Why to Pasteurize

www.safefoodsblog.com/uploads/file/Why Pastuerize.pdf

Food Safety in a Nutshell

What we are seeing now in the latest peanut butter recall and the problem with hazelnuts is this continued change in illness patterns from animal derived foods, to plant derived foods.  See Bill Marler's blog on the topic.


The situation is fueled by increased consumption, scrutiny, better detection methods and more industry testing. Small outbreaks and recalls ( small-if numbers remain low) remind us that the pathogens are poised to contaminate foods wherever they can. We seem to be catching the problem earlier but the reservoirs of infection persist.

Of  chief concern to me is whether our preventive techniques are working and how well.

De Franco was certified, I would be surprised if the Skippy plant was not licensed and inspected.

So where does this leave us in prevention, what do we have to do to reduce the potential for outbreaks further so that intermittent sporadic episodes like this do not occur, or occur so infrequently that we can consider it acceptable? We are far from there, but I would like to be sure we are going in the right direction and so am interested in what further issues might be revealed by these incidents.


Creating a Monster Agency

I do not agree that one food safety agency is better. Such a behemoth will be bound by a morass of red tape. The agencies have evolved over the last 100 years, They have their own culture and hierarchy. The turbulence caused by any drastic change will hurt the public health mission of all the agencies involved and will take 20 years to sort out, This is a dangerous move and must not happen.

What is needed is better funding, more focus on the consumer and enlisting the private sector in a true partnership with public health.

GAO report supports single food safety agency

By Tom Karst Published on 03/04/2011 03:03PM


Consolidating food safety oversight into one agency could save the federal government money and improve performance, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reports.

The report, called “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue,” concludes the current oversight of food safety is inconsistent, inefficient and ineffective.

Although reducing fragmentation in federal food safety oversight may not result in significant cost savings, new costs may be avoided by preventing further fragmentation, the report said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Food and Drug Administration are the primary food safety agencies, but the report said 15 agencies have some degree of oversight on 30 food-related laws.

The increasing popularity of raw foods, rising imports and the vulnerability of some of the population to foodborne illness make efficient federal oversight of food safety more important than ever, the GAO said.

The FDA is the agency for federal oversight of produce safety so consolidation is not a huge industry priority, said Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public relations for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.

She said the recently passed Food Safety Modernization Act made some improvements in how the FDA approaches risk-based oversight.

“There are ways to gain efficiency without monster reform,” she said.

Even if consolidation does occur, it would take several years and require existing agencies to operate well in the meantime, she said.

While not agreeing with all of the GAO report recommendations, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in a statement that the study provides additional evidence for the need to consolidate food safety oversight into one independent agency.

“I have introduced legislation that would establish such an agency since 1999 and believe that this is a critical step toward preventing foodborne illnesses and protecting public health,” DeLauro said in a statement.

Schools Skip Out on HACCP

Schools are skipping out on thier responsibility to prepare food safety plans.

Under the Richard B. Russell School Lunch Act of 2004, all schools were to have HACCP plans in place years ago.


Here below is a perfect example of why. Schools that do not have a monitoring system in place are in default of federal guidelines. Whether the temperature abuse problem that led to this outbreak was wholly caused or partially caused by the school, the lack of temperature controls for 4 hours and failure to test incoming product temperature is what HACCP was meant to correct.

While retailers demand food safety management systems for suppliers, the food service, institutions and retail firms at the vulnerable end of the supply chain have resisted developing food safety systems.

The Richard B Russell act was supposed to fix this in schools, but there are few if any schools who have heeded this requirement. The political protection that schools enjoy (being part of the county, just like the health departments) is partially to blame, as is lack of funding for health departments at the county level. It’s a Federal Program! An “unfunded mandate”, or so say the health departments. The insulation that retailers and food service firms enjoy from the political action campaigns of the National Restaurant Association is also wrong.

Here we see the convergence of hazards from the retail level and the school coming together to make pedople ill. All of them should thank God it was not E coli O157:H7. In any event this outbreak was easily preventable.

When will the consumer become the focus of food safety?

Well it seems only when the restaurants and schools who cause these outbreaks are sued, and so let the lawsuits fly.

Wake up people!

ILLINOIS: Merle's owner decries 'reckless' health report
Evanston Review
Karen Berkowitz

Thanks to http://barfblog.foodsafety.ksu.edu/barfblog

The owner of Merle's BBQ Restaurant in Evanston Friday decried the Evanston Health Department's "rush to judgment" in blaming the restaurant for the outbreak of foodborne illness after an event Feb. 16 at Haven Middle School.

Merle's owner Larry Huber said the restaurant had no control over how the food was served after it dropped off the food order.

"The event was not a fully catered event, but a drop-and-go delivery," said Huber. "If it had been a fully catered event, we would have had the appropriate staff and equipment to maintain the presentation and quality."

One of the 30 people who reportedly became ill after eating the food, served "buffet style" during parent-teacher conference night, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the eatery.

The lawsuit quoted the findings of the Evanston Health Department, as summarized in a Feb. 24 press release that was posted on the city's website and reported on in the media.


(This is an excellent study on Clostridium perfringens and worth reading)

The Health Department identified unsafe food handling and temperature storage at both Merle's and Haven Middle School as possible causes and concluded "that it's unlikely the exact cause of the outbreak will be determined."

The food was prepared at Merle's, 1727 Benson Ave., and delivered to Haven Middle School, 2417 Prairie Ave., where it was served without a heating source between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., according to the Health Department.

Huber said he was told by a Health Department manager that none of the samples taken from Merle's tested positive for “Clostridium perfringens”, which was determined to be the cause of the outbreak.

Huber was informed the restaurant did not take hourly time and temperature logs, but he contends the practice is not required by the health codes of either the state of Illinois or the city of Evanston.

According to Huber, the restaurant was in full compliance of the requirement that foods prepared and then cooled for later serving be labeled with the time and date they are made.

Eric Palmer, communications director for the city of Evanston, said Friday the city has no comment and stands behind the statement issued last week.