On Friday, February 23, FCS Professionals and guests gathered at the Edina Country Club for a professional conference, “Beyond the Basics–Trending Topics in Food Safety”. The conference began with keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Osterholm. Dr. Osterholm is a public health scientist and expert in biosecurity and infectious disease. He is currently the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and is well known in Minnesota as being the former state epidemiologist.
Dr. Osterholm provided attendees with fascinating (and slightly terrifying!) information about the spread of disease. In the 1850s it took one year to travel around the world. With the invention of the jet engine, a person can travel in one day. He said, “What is somewhere, can be anywhere in one day.” He discussed an outbreak of H1N1 (Influenza A) at the Olympics in South Korea and wondered what the effect would be when everyone leaves to go home.
According to Dr. Osterholm the greatest security threat is infectious disease. A large majority of crucial medications come from China. What happens if there is an outbreak of infectious disease in China? It takes nine days to go from Bejing to Long Beach, California. Medication shortages could be a real threat. He gave the example of the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico crippling businesses. Most IV bags are manufactured in Puerto Rico. Medical facilities are still dealing with IV bag shortages months after the hurricane. He also talked about how in Somalia, a two day cease fire was negotiated in order to mass vaccinate for small pox years ago. Dr. Osterholm does not believe in our current world climate, that situation would happen.
He also discussed chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer. For some time it was believed that simply avoiding eating venison from deer that were acting strange or looked sick was enough. But now they are finding deer that have the CWD prion that show no outwardly signs of being sick. There is an inexpensive test that can be run to determine whether the deer has CWD. It is important that all deer are tested. It can be easily spread at processing facilities because it is essentially heat-resistant and very difficult to kill. The key takeaway—hunt deer but test it before consuming or processing.
Dr. Osterholm shared a wealth of information and answered questions following his presentation. He also signed copies of his new book, “Deadliest Enemy–Our War Against Killer Germs”.
Following his presentation, a buffet brunch was served and attendees had time for networking.
The next speaker was Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND, President of Annette Maggi & Associates, Inc. She spoke on “Getting Clear on Clean Labels.” So called “clean eating” is the new rage for those trying to follow a “healthy” lifestyle. But what does “clean” even mean? Ms. Maggi discussed different definitions for “clean” as there is no official definition. Consumers are demanding “clean” yet not always buying what they are demanding. Someone in the audience noted that Trix cereal was recently developed to use no artificial dyes but people were not buying the new less brightly colored cereal.
Instead of focusing on a “clean” label, Annette suggests a “clear” label. When using the term “clean” it suggests all other foods are dirty and suggests that there is a prescribed number of ingredietns that is ideal and no chemical or additives hsoudl be seen in an ingredient listing. Clear labels on the other hand suggest that everything shown in a product’s ingredient list has an essential function in that product. Manufacturers educate consumers on the function of various ingredients.
A short break was taken and the next session was taught by Justo Garcia, Environmental Health Specialist, City of Minneapolis, City of Minneapolis Health Inspector. Mr. Garcia spoke on “Food Adulteration and Economically Motivated Hazards.” The term adulteration refers to anything that bears or contains poisons or substances that render it injurious to health. Examples could include pesticides, larvae, rodent droppings, lead, arsenic, coloring agents, dyes or starches. Garcia spoke of a few cases of intentional hazards. In 2007-09 300,000 infants were effected by tainted milk formula that was contaminated with melamine in China. In China there were two executions of those found responsible. In 2007 melamine was found in pet food which lead to 3500 pet deaths. One well known economically motivated hazard was with the Peanut Corporation of America where a salmonella outbreak killed nine people and 714 became ill. Executives from that company were found guilty and sent to prison. An interesting example was given of an orange juice company that was selling its juice as no added sugar. An investigation found that they were adding sugar to their juice in secret. Deliveries of the sugar were made at night and things were purposely mislabeled to hide the sugar. Justo provided a few websites for reference: FSMA Technical Assistance Network, Horizon Scan USP Food Fraud Mitigation Services
The final speakers were attorneys Alyssa Rebensdorf and Peter Goss. Alyssa spoke on, “Foodborne Illness Basics–Getting down to Business.”
In 2016 there were 764 food recalls. Of those 305 were related to allergens, 196 due to listeria, and 99 due to salmonella. She has worked on listeria litigation most extensively. She walked through the typical process of how litigation may occur after a food safety incident or “food poisoning” episode. A person gets sick and believes it has to do with something they ate. They seek medical attention. Evaluation shows that they are a possible victim of a food borne illness. A genetic analysis of the isolate occurs as well as patient interviews. At this point, only 20 percent of people will consult a lawyer. Surprisingly, Ms. Rebensdorf said that 54% of people who have been affected by a food borne illness will give the company/product another chance. Only 11 percent of people say they will never eat at an establishment/eat a particular food item again. She gave guidelines for businesses when a claim of foodborne illness occurs:
- Remember: A recall is not proof of contamination
- It’s typically not the last thing you ate!
- Learn about the common pathogens (incubation periods, symptoms, typical course of illness)
- Do not give consumers medical advice
- Ask for the right information from the consumer (consider claim forms specific to the pathogen of concern)
- Do not offer to retrieve or test the product
- Coupon programs can be helpful
She also provided tips for mitigating risk as a food handler or manufacturer
- Lead from the top in building a culture of food safety
- Learn what you don’t know about food safety, including sanitation, cooking, packaging, handling and transporting food
- Retain consulting experts (FSMA/food safety, microbiology)
- Train, retrain, and retrain again
- Know your suppliers and require meaningful food safety assurances
- Assess supplier/vendor contracts for indemnity and insurance
- Have sick leave policies and mean it!
- Conduct thorough investigation, trace back and root cause analyses
- Review and update insurance coverage
Our last speaker, attorney Peter Goss spoke about food labeling class action lawsuits. Mr. Goss began by explaining class action lawsuits. Class action lawsuits are intended for claims that are too small for individuals to pursue. All members of the lawsuit have the same claim and sue on behalf of all members. The objective of the lawsuit is to create a fund to pay claims (and lawyers!). Mr. Goss said that almost all class action lawsuits are driven by lawyers. He stated that usually its the lawyer that thinks of the claim and then seeks out members to join the lawsuit. In the realm of food labeling, in 2008 there were 20 active class action lawsuits–in 2016 there were 425! Common food related lawsuits: slack fill (i.e. the air in the potato chip bag); consumer complains that they were tricked into thinking there was more food in the package, terms like “all-natural” “healthy” “hand-made” “craft”; also ingredient disclosure, “no added sugar” and “diet” claims. He said there have been lawsuits around the word “diet” like in Diet Coke. We drank this Diet Coke and we did not lose weight—-> class action lawsuit!
Sometimes courts will defer to regulators–sometimes not. As all of us in the food and consumer science industry know– terms like “all-natural” do not have an agreed upon definition. He gave the examples of Snapple–at one point its label said “all natural” but people scoffed–can it be all natural if it contains high fructose corn syrup? He gave three examples where “common sense prevailed” in lawsuits
- Crunch Berries: “[A] reasonable consumer would not be deceived into believing that the product in the instant case contained a fruit that does not exist.”
- “Handmade” spirits: “In [a] sense all bourbon is handmade; bourbon, unlike coffee or orange juice, cannot be grown in the wild.”
- Soymilk not real milk: “It is simply implausible that a reasonable consumer would mistake a product like soymilk or almond milk with dairy milk from a cow… Under the Plaintiffs’ logic, a reasonable consumer might also believe that veggie bacon contains pork, that flourless chocolate cake contains flour, or that e-books are made out of paper.”
Mr. Goss gave tips for minimizing exposure to class-action lawsuits: 1. Understand what drives class actions 2. Know the FDA regulations 3. Review claims and ingredient labels carefully with counsel 4. Advocate for class action reform.
At the conclusion of the program attendees filled out evaluation forms and gathered their CEU certificates. Thank you to all who worked hard putting this conference together. It was an amazing day of learning and networking!