You’ve probably seen that my tagline is Non-compliance = Death and hopefully the COVID-19 pandemic helps you realise why I have this tagline! Recent research has shown that investing in food safety training and infrastructure helps all farmers and small farmers, while they spend the most relatively, get the most financial benefit in terms of sales. Furthermore, having a food safety plan reduces loss of product due to production errors and selling food that is grown and produced under a good food safety culture benefits consumers. This is a win-win-win situation:
I know that you have a lot of expenses when you are running a small business, especially when it is a small food business. Food safety is only one of many priorities that you must carry along with packaging and buying equipment, let alone making the products you sell.
When you first start out as a food entrepreneur, food safety doesn’t seem that important. You took Serv-safe, Good Food Handlers, or equivalent course and the city or your local health department gave you a licence to produce food. So you’re good to go, right? However, a few months later you get an opportunity to supply your product to a local supermarket and they want to know your food safety practices or perhaps Wholefoods is interested in carrying your product locally and they want a food safety plan. Now what do you do?
If you reach out to a food safety consultant like me, you find that I talk a strange language of prerequisite programs, Good Manufacturing Practices, Critical Control Points, Preventive Controls, Record Keeping, Food Safety Modernization Act, FDA, etc.. Can you learn this language and put this food safety stuff together on your own and run your company and produce all the products you need for your new markets?
Make sure you don’t miss out when a good marketing opportunity comes by. Don’t cut corners now and improve your bottom line by making food safety a priority today by scheduling a free food safety chat NOW!. Don’t wait until you HAVE to have a food safety program in place.
This outbreak started over the weekend of Jun 20-21 when the FDA announced that it was investigating an outbreak of cyclospora probably caused by eating contaminated bagged salad which was at that point affecting consumers in six states.
Salad does seem to be a risky thing to eat at the moment. This makes me glad I have my CSA; otherwise I would probably be buying leafy greens at the local supermarket. While I don’t live in one of the six states currently affected by this outbreak; the outbreak did expand into other states including NJ.
Foodborne illness on top of COVID-19 is not what we need at the moment. As food manufacturers and food entrepreneurs we need to do what we can to increase food safety. Washing those hands is always a good start.
Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal illness caused by the microscopic parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis. People can become infected with Cyclospora by consuming food or water contaminated with the parasite which typically has been contaminated with feces (poo). So for this week’s outbreak it seems likely that contaminated irrigation water was used for growing or cleaning these leafy greens.
The CDC implies that cyclospora mostly comes from people consuming imported fresh produce. No cases related to commercially frozen or canned produce. I have no idea where the salads that caused this week’s outbreak originated. For some reason I always assume that leafy greens are grown in the US. Not a good assumption apparently.
As this outbreak unfolded I was thinking that outbreaks of cyclospora were rare and of more recent origin. This doesn’t seem to be the case as there are outbreaks in the US going back to before 2000. Two big outbreaks in 2014 and 2015 were most likely caused by cilantro imported from Mexico. This is why it is important we know where our food comes from and how it is grown. The global food system is so large, that it is often hard to find out information about the origin of our food.
It is tricky to prevent Cyclospora. Consumers and food retailers are recommended to wash their hands and equipment using hot soapy water and wash their fresh produce under running water before consuming. However, while these standard cleaning and sanitation are important, we must recognize that because C. cayetanensis is a parasite, it is unlikely to be killed as easily by disinfectants and sanitizers as pathogenic bacteria.
Finally at the end of June we got news from the FDA about the recent outbreak with the parasite Cyclospora. This outbreak has been traced back to one facility owned by Fresh Express. On June 27, 2020, Fresh Express recalled products containing either iceberg lettuce, red cabbage or carrots. I cannot bear to think about what the cost of this will be to Fresh Express. Will they have to shutdown? Could this mean an end to their business? This is why every I write about outbreaks and other food safety issues I tell you that you need to make sure you have an strong reliable food safety system. Remember the Food Industry Employment Program LLC can help you put this in place.
While the FDA and CDC are working with Fresh Express at their Streamwood Illinois facility, we still don’t know HOW cyclospora contaminated these salads. I still haven’t read if this was caused by contaminated water or contaminated products. Additionally if it was caused by contaminated products, where were these products harvested and were the farmers following the Produce Safety Rule or Good Agricultural Practices? Where did the supply chain fail in this case?
By the time I am writing this on July 1st, over two hundred people were ill and twenty three required hospitalization. The highest number of cases was in Iowa, with Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota and Wisconsin also reporting cases. The recall covered produce sold in over half of the US states.
In my opinion this outbreak also shows the risk of centralizing food production systems. There would be a smaller outbreak if food was packaged and sold locally.
If you are a food manufacturer, make sure you only buy food ingredients from approved sources and preferably from farms that follow the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rules and/or Good Agricultural and Handling Practices.
You need to be one hundred percent certain where your ingredients are coming from and you must be keeping records of everything you receive and ship. Remember people’s lives as well as the sustainability of your business depend on it, Otherwise you may cause a foodborne illness such as cyclospora and struggle to carry out a recall. Contact me about putting a supply chain verification program in place to ensure your business is producing and selling safe food.
I shifted my book writing focus two weeks ago from food and climate change to food sovereignty. Somehow reading and writing about food justice felt more appropriate than climate change given the outer political protests following George Floyd’s murder.
We must not forget that social justice affects how people will be affected by climate change as well as being marginalized in their access to land and food.
There isn’t one definition or one approach to food justice, which means we have to individually come up with our own definition! That is hard work! How can we do that while also ensuring the food our companies produce/manufacture is safe? We must consider that food justice is part of making food safe.
As I do my daily antiracism practice, I am uncomfortable at the lack of diversity in food manufacturing. Most of the undergraduates are white which means that there are less minorities in the lab and in management. I am interested in exploring what I can do to change my industry to make it more equitable; to overcome systemic racism. More diversity in food manufacturing will lead to more diversity on my plate which is exciting to me. I love trying new food!
My first step is to revise my mission and vision statements to reflect my desire to assist and support a diverse group of small food businesses. When I look at who I work for and who they sell their products to, I wonder how I can make that more equitable without giving away my services for free.
I am sure we are all wondering what we can do to further social justice. Please share your thoughts in the comments below or if you prefer to have this discussion in private, please reach out for a chat.
I’ve been sharing other peoples’ voices in my attempt to be seen as anti-racist as I was scared to use my own. It is very easy to hide behind Black people’s work and feel like you’ve done the work yourself. I knew that I was taking the easy way out but I didn’t know what I wanted to say.
I want to talk about my Mum. In this picture I am about 2 or 3 – I can tell by the glasses I am wearing and the fact that my hair is short. As a teenager Mum and I battled over my hair because she loved longer hair. Eventually she accepted that shoulder length was better because of my curls.
I need to write about my mum because of her example as someone who worked on her antiracism all her life. The whole time I knew her she was antiracism.
Mum was an intellectual independent woman living in a world of polite white middle class Englishness. A world where emotions were repressed and women were hardly seen. She was a secular Jew who strongly believed in social justice and humanism. She felt deeply in a society that buttoned up emotions so she came across as angry and paranoid because I believe that was the only way she could show how much she cared.
She believed that everybody, every person mattered. I have a memory of her stopping by some young boys who had made a “Guy” for Guy Fawkes night and chatting to them about their creativity before giving them “a penny for the guy”. Generous to a fault; intolerance and injustice hurt her personally.
Mum led by example; her temper aside. She read widely and shared much of that reading. From an early age, I was introduced to authors from India, Africa, Australia, Jamaica, indigenous voices, oppressed voices, political voices. She also shared her fascination with different cultures and ideas. I learnt that my English culture could be improved, be more open, and be more just. That my English culture was built on other cultures such as French, Indian, Chinese, African. She showed me that my culture was not a superior culture but one of many ways to live.
From mum, I heard about social injustices and racism. In her world, antiracism was a given and the work to be anti racist was part of our daily practice. That no one was “other”. When I was racist in any way, I was called out for that behavior and clearly told why I was wrong. I remember one time when I was 5 on public transport when I refused to let an Indian lady sit next to me; today I squirm inside because of my behavior 50 years ago. My parents clearly showed me how wrong my racist behavior was.
I accept my responsibility for stopping my daily antiracism practice as the privilege of being white in America allowed me to do. As I restart a daily practice of antiracism, I will do it in honor of my secular Jewish mother who strongly believed in our responsibility to help those who lacked access to education and privilege.
I hope you will join me with a daily antiracism practice; to learn about different cultures and other people’s lives. Please hold me accountable to remember that I am educated to serve others and to end white supremacy.
This image is a very feeble attempt to show how frustrated I am feeling. The murders of George Floyd and other Black, Indigenous and People of Color and our refusal to recognize that it is their labor and their land and their lives that makes America great makes me complicit in systemic racism.
Without an end to white supremacy, we will never achieve an end to hunger which is my life’s goal. Without recognizing that modern American wealth is built on stolen land, stolen labor, and stolen lives, there will never be food justice.
For food justice to take place, I need to work towards the end of white heteropatriarchal supremacy.
This post is written for me in support of the suffering and injustices experienced by Black, Indigenous and People of Color recognizing that I am implicit in those injustices and my work to support social justice starts here.
Thanks to Rachel Ricketts for her work in helping me and other white women recognize our racism and to do the work to become an anti racist. I recommend her Spiritual Activism 101 course if you are interested in joining me on my antiracist journey.
Are you bored yet? Excited to see other parts of the country opening up, yet worried that this will just extend our time stuck at home. I miss you! I see you! I had a melt down last night; I am so lonely, so useless, scared and frustrated. As a scientist, it is hard to watch the news as people completely mess up the science or worse, deliberately and completely ignore the science. I’m better this morning. I feel more confident that we can get through this and build a better future while we are at it.
“Out of every crisis, every tribulation, every disaster, mankind rises with some share of greater knowledge, of higher decency, of purer purpose. Today we shall have come through a period of loose thinking, descending morals, an era of selfishness, among individual men and women and among Nations. “
I was intrigued enough to read the rest of his speech. I found it very interesting as to how relevant to what we are going through today. How can we use his ideas to make the future that we want to see?
“On the farms, in the large metropolitan areas, in the smaller cities and in the villages, millions of our citizens cherish the hope that their old standards of living and of thought have not gone forever. Those millions cannot and shall not hope in vain.”
This echoes the idea that we want our lives to “return to normal” which is unlikely to happen for a while, if ever. We need to make the future brighter than the world before COVID-19; we need to make the world we want. A world to dream for, a world for our children to live in and grow in and a world we cherish. We don’t have that world yet, so I hope we can use this time sitting on our sofas to change and build a greater and better society. Let’s not return to the unequal society that we had in January 2020 and before. I am particularly concerned about building a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable food system. I am very concerned how damaged our food system has been shown to be by the pandemic.
It is very daunting to contemplate change and being part of a big change is scary. We have to recognize that changes are necessary if we want to provide people the two things that FDR said we most need:
“What do the people of America want more than anything else? To my mind, they want two things: work, with all the moral and spiritual values that go with it; and with work, a reasonable measure of security–security for themselves and for their wives and children. Work and security–these are more than words. They are more than facts. They are the spiritual values, the true goal toward which our efforts of reconstruction should lead. These are the values that this program is intended to gain; these are the values we have failed to achieve by the leadership we now have.”
Today perhaps we wouldn’t say it in quite this way but really all anybody wants is work and security. Essentially what we wanted nearly 90 years ago is the same as what we want now: LOVE AND PURPOSE. We want to receive and give love and we feel love by providing for our families and friends and we find purpose by being of service to others through our work.
We need to make the food system more resilient and that means supporting local food systems and small food businesses. Additionally we need to find purposeful work that people can do from home. I am able to work from home, so why not other people.
Is it now time to talk about a basic income? We know that the $1200 didn’t go far for many of us. One month’s rent and utilities in my case. Do we want a COVID-19 New Deal? If small businesses are truly supported, what services could they provide that we are currently lacking? What work would be appropriate for people during a pandemic? We could pay people to:
Garden to grow food and flowers for us
Create beautiful websites
Make masks and other clothes we might need
In the meantime, while we wait for government action; not forgetting how long it took to get the New Deal; what can we do while sitting on our sofas and Zooming with our colleagues and friends? While, TBH, sitting on our sofas is about the most important thing we are doing right now even if it is boring and being social animals means we want to be sociable, we can also make decisions that influence the future we want to see. We can:
Start a garden, if we have space
Support a local community garden
Buy vegetable seedlings (also known as starts) from a local garden center
Visit a farmers market to support local farmers and food businesses
Sign up for a CSA for a local farm
Purchase meals from local restaurants or buy gift cards for use in the future
Find and support local organizations who are providing local food to those in need
The exact cause of COVID-19 is still unclear. Most likely it reached us from bats and pangolins, escaping from wild animals into semi-wild animals and then to domestic animals such as us. By finding us, the virus (so hard not to write that in capitals THE VIRUS and does everyone else hear it in their heads with a reverberation of doom?) found a host in which it could replicate freely and therefore infect more people and replicate even more. Replication = success for viruses and we don’t know, yet, of anybody who has natural immunity to COVID-19.
The pandemic caused by COVID-19 has not been linked to the continuing crisis of climate change. Yet. Yet, we might want to get used to our current living conditions as climate change will increase the number of pandemics and regional epidemics.
More worryingly still, is that food safety will get more challenging as the climate changes. As temperatures increase and there are more extreme climate events leading to more droughts in some areas and more flooding in others, research into pathogens has shown that there will be more foodborne illness.
We can all do something about this. Most importantly don’t forget about climate change while sheltering at home. It hasn’t, unfortunately, gone away just because the air is now cleaner and animals are taking over our cities and towns.
The bigger picture is to urge our political leaders to start acting on climate changenow. We can do little picture things at home, like turn out the lights when we are not in a room, change our light fixtures to more energy efficient ones, start a garden.
We can also do something about food safety at home. During the COVID-19 shelter in place, we’ve all learnt to finally wash our damn hands. We’ve learnt about cleaning and sanitizing commonly used equipment and surfaces. Even when we have a vaccine for COVID-19 we should keep practicing those good habits. We should make sure we are cooking our food properly to kill off pathogenic bacteria. Especially if we intend to store the food for any length of time.
Finally, we should look to making our local communities more resilient. What are some of the amazing things you’ve seen happening in your neighborhood? Share ideas of community building in the comments so that we can learn from one another.
I’ve been reading about COVID-19 in food processing plants and getting very frustrated. The main frustration is how little we were prepared for something like this to happen and additionally how slow larger manufacturers are to make changes to protect their employees.
It is hard to stop and reflect and to take a pause especially when the food supply chain is struggling and your values demand that you get food to customers as quickly as possible. Remember that your values were also about getting high quality food to your customers too and that means ensuring that they and your co-workers are safe.
As a small food entrepreneur, what can you do differently from the larger food manufacturers? Being small means that you can pivot and change more easily. You know your employees as co-workers and you work alongside them. There is a good chance, that if they get sick, you will get sick too.
Make sure you are following CDC and OSHA guidelines on social distancing, face coverings, personnel health checks, sanitation of facilities, handwashing, etc. Here are some quick easy steps that you can implement to reduce the risk that you and your co-workers will get ill.
Personnel Health Checks
Do health checks with each co-worker every morning. Ask how everyone is feeling, check off COVID-19 symptoms, assure your co-workers that staying home sick IS NOT going to be punished. Common symptoms of COVID-19 are:
Loss of smell or taste
Repeated shaking with chills
Tiredness or fatigue
Gastrointestinal illness (diarrhea)
Check if your co-workers have been exposed to a person with symptomatic COVID-19 during the last 48 hours. This might not be a laboratory-confirmed disease, so it could be someone showing compatible symptoms as described above.
Provide working hand wash stations with soap, water, and paper towels. The water should be warm-hot, but the soap is the most important. Remember to wash your hands often:
Before entering the production area
When leaving the production area
When changing tasks
After using the toilet
Before and after eating
Touch your face
Blow your nose
Pick up something from the floor
Touch a non food contact surface, like a door handle
These should be worn as a protection while recognizing that they need replacing regularly. They are not an excuse not to wash your hands.
Make sure you and your co-workers understand about how to wear, put on and take off masks. Wash hands before and after putting on your mask. Gloves should go on last. Masks should be replaced at a minimum daily and reusable masks must be washed.
Try to keep co-workers 6 feet apart or use screens between employees. If you put in screens make sure they are added to your master sanitation schedule to be cleaned and sanitized, at a minimum, after every shift.
When hiring new coworkers, adapt your onboarding training to discuss COVID-19
Remind current and new coworkers about handwashing, glove, and mask use
New sanitation practices for the facility should be shared with your co-workers
Don’t forget to update your written Good Manufacturing Practices to reflect your new policies and practices.
I know this is all a bit overwhelming. There is so much information and we know there will be more guidance for food businesses in the coming weeks. You do not need to take this on alone. I am here to help you. Schedule your free food safety call today and we can chat about how I can support you getting through the noise so that you are following recommendations. This way you can concentrate on what you love; making great food.
There was a rather feeble story on the NPR radio news yesterday morning about COVID-19 and meat packing plants. So feeble that it gave the impression that it was just one plant in Colorado rather than many plants all over the country. Beef, pork, and chicken slaughterhouse have been affected; in CO, NE, SD, PA, NC, GA. What gives? What is the real story behind so much mismanagement of food processing?
It is a story of vertical integration and consolidation.
It is a story of an industry whose profit margin is so small that it needs to kill and process animals as quickly and “efficiently” as possible where they cut corners on both worker and food safety all the time. An industry who doesn’t care about either animal or worker welfare. Both, in the eyes of management, are expandable. Senior managers earn large salaries; while farmers and workers are lucky to make minimum wage, living paycheck to paycheck, while working long hours in arduous and challenging conditions.
It is a story of an industry whose story of animal and worker abuses go back to before Upton Sinclair wrote the Jungle in 1906, which led to the passing of the first federal Meat Inspection Act and the first federal Pure Food and Drug Act.
It is the story of a country whose soul is based in eating red meat; whose heart is in the fresh faced cowboy riding the range and whose very breath is in the American dream of [white] immigrants making it big.
It is the story of a country that is much uglier with the American soul being one of stealing land from indigenous people and stealing labor from stolen Africans. The heart is one of exploitation and the breath is one of white supremacy.
The story of the American dream is one of freedom and rugged individualism; of good Christian men telling lesser people how they should live and behave. At the heart of America is conformity. Even the idea of rebelling is stereotyped. The ideal is that everyone should toe the line and not criticize this great and God-given country.
Red meat is at the heart of this story of America. Eating red meat puts hairs on the chests of young men and allows them to grow up to be true Americans. They can be individualistic as long as they go to church on Sundays and hide their emotions every day of the week.
Few of us fit into this American ideal. Many of us are women. Many of us are immigrants. Many of us are not Christian and shudder from the hypocrisy of the many apparently practicing Christians. Many of us struggle to believe in the American dream when it prevents 80% of the population from having a life of their own choosing.
The story of COVID-19 and meat processing hits hard at the soul, heart and breath of the American dream. It shatters the American dream into pieces everytime another food worker is diagnosed with the virus. The American dream is killed when anyone dies of COVID-19 because we as a country cannot sit on our sofas, in our houses, to stop its spread.
How can we change this story?
There are many ways we can change our own stories. At the moment the most challenging is to suck up that fact that everything fun is being cancelled. Be grateful that your state leaders are cancelling memorial day parades, summer concerts, July 4th activities. Big events will cause, at a minimum, the most vulnerable to get very ill and quite possibly die. Find ways that you can celebrate at home; perhaps include friends and neighbors while socially distancing. Look for ways to build a community. Find your local food pantry online; find a mutual aid group to volunteer. You can buy books for children who are off school. Make bread and give it to a neighbor. Start a garden.
Think of the future. Do we want to return to how life was before? It is very tempting, isn’t it, to say yes! I want my good life back. Think about this carefully. Was it that good? Did you love going to work? Were you treated fairly by your bosses? Did you have the kind of life you would choose for yourself? Was it right that so many couldn’t get food to eat and that farmers and food workers struggled to make ends meet. Once the pandemic is over, are you going to forget who the essential workers really were?
We need to rebuild a country that has a resilient, sustainable, and equitable food system. We need a country where all workers have the right to paid sick leave, to decent livable wages, and to time off. We need a country that supports the less well off. Where it isn’t your fault for being poor. That the social safety net helps us to recover from misfortune. Where an illness or accident won’t bankrupt you and your family. Everyone needs to have equal access to a decent education and housing. There needs to be no more school to prison pipeline, no more redlining of housing.
I have been watching Ken Burns’ Country Music. The second episode “Hard Times” opens with the comment “The depression had been going on for four years by this time”. Can you imagine four years of this? Four years of being scared to go outside and being worried about where you are going to get food from. Scared of every ache and pain? I did some research and the depression started in 1929 and the New Deal was not passed into law until 1933 and even then it wasn’t the panacea we were taught it was in school. In fact Roosevelt was so worried about his popularity in 1937, that he cut funding and the depression got worse!
This means our grandparents, and in some cases our parents, who survived the depression and World War 2, essentially lived through 15 years of uncertainty. Think about that as we enter week 7 of Shelter in Place. We should be grateful for the decades we have had of certainty instead of moaning about not being able to buy garlic. [Or is that only me?]
I want to go back to the time before! The time before we were scared of hugging our friends, before we had heard of people suffering horribly due to COVID-19, due to lack of food and financial resources.
But we will never be able to go back. EVER! Like Pandora’s Box, COVID-19 has lifted the lid on how broken our welfare system is. That many people do not have resources they need to survive a severe economic downturn and that essentially our leaders do not care unless they can line their own pockets and those of their friends.
We need to plan for the future and make sure this doesn’t happen again and again and again, like it has in the past. I would love to live in a society where no one goes hungry and there is good support for people who have lost their jobs for whatever reason. Do you have dreams of the future once Shelter-in-Place is over? If you agree with me about reducing hunger, you could reach out to your local food bank to see what support they need or check with a neighbor to see if they need help with grocery shopping or just someone to talk to.
We read about people who are unable to get to the store or unable to buy food. Do you need food or have food to donate? Check out this map from Why Hunger to find the nearest food pantry and food bank.