I found a bug in my food! – Audio Transcript
Co-host (Greg Rogers): Canada has 1 of the safest food safety systems in the world. But even in a modern effective system like ours, unplanned foreign objects, and even insects, can make their way into our food.
Co-host (Michelle Strong): Whether you're at a restaurant or in your own kitchen, finding something unexpected in your food can be gross and unnerving. From hairs, to bugs, to glass: what does that really mean for you? Let's get into it.
Greg: I'm Greg...
Michelle: ...and I'm Michelle, and you're listening to Inspect and Protect.
Greg: A podcast by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Greg: Warning: the following podcast contains information about unexpected, unwanted, and sometimes strange things in our food. If you're listening to this while cooking, eating, or grocery shopping, you may have an adverse reaction.
Michelle: Yeah, we're about to talk about some gross stuff. I feel like almost everyone has a story about finding something in their food, or their drink, or knows someone who did.
Greg: So Michelle, have you ever found an insect or anything else weird in your food?
Michelle: Well, I found a hair while eating popcorn at a movie theatre. And it was a really long hair and it was stuck in my throat. Anyway, safe to say I was off popcorn for a while.
Greg: Mmm hmm.
Michelle: And it wasn't a food safety issue because it was very likely my own hair, I just cringe thinking about it. What about you?
Greg: Just a couple months ago, I was making some macaroons with my oldest son and I found an earwig in the bag of almond flour. And I've got to say, earwigs...not my favourite bug.
Greg: Yeah, but it was probably my fault for not having closed the bag I guess.
Michelle: Today though, we're hanging with Fred Jamieson, food safety investigations and recall specialist, who I'm sure could tell us some more stories, and what to do if we find something unexpected in our food or drinks. Hey Fred.
Guest (Fred Jamieson): Thanks for having me here. I spent a long time doing a lot of work on food safety investigation over the years. I've got investigations on so many different things. There's very little things that probably have not been reported being found in food 1 time or another.
Greg: What would you say is the strangest thing that someone's found in food in your career?
Fred: Wow, the issue here, we will do investigations, we always try to determine what the source is: whether it was at the manufacturer or at the retail store, or even actually at the home sometimes. So some of the interesting ones: we had a set of dentures that was found in a bag of milk, lots of rodents, rats, chipmunks, lot of insects. The 1 that kind of even, a lot of times, even grosses me out was a snake in a can of cranberry sauce.
Fred: So that would have been a very interesting Merry Christmas moment. And insects, they're probably 1 of the most common. 1 thing about the strangest material is that almost, like yourself, everyone has a story of something they found.
Michelle: Yeah, well from the common issues that people find in their food, which ones are actually health risks?
Fred: That's a great question because, you know, a lot of times you can have dead insects.
Michelle: Mmm hmm.
Fred: You can have live insects. In most cases they're not an issue from a health and safety point. They do indicate a failure of good manufacturing practices some place. Well that's where we kind of look at some of the risks. But for most people it's not a big issue. It's more of a yuck factor.
Greg: How do these bugs and materials make their way into our food?
Fred: If you think about the whole food system, there's different ... from the point it's growing, it's harvested, it's processed, cleaned, packaged, shipped, and then in your home, each 1 of those can be a different location for the type of infestation. So where we often see in the news of black widow spiders, or scorpions in some fresh vegetables, that's because they're inherent to that area. And so, when they're very small, when you look at them so they immigrated themselves into like a grouping of grapes.
Michelle: Mmm hmm.
Fred: Then it gets along and it shows up once it gets into a nice warm environment. And I, even at the retail system, depending on storage conditions, you can be infected at a store or in a home. And then finally, where you find sometimes flies, earwigs, and some of these other issues, may have been even handling it, if it's an open container. You know, we all see in the summertime sometimes you find a wasp or a bee, and again that could be just in timing and the product. So the interesting thing depending on the insect, they can show up in almost any 1 of these different levels, throughout the whole system. But everyone's always working on trying to eliminate them, but again it's very hard given the size of insects to eliminate them completely.
Michelle: So when it comes to these bugs, are there any kind of warning signs that can help you spot the issue ahead of times. For example, if we're shopping, or checking the older items in our pantry?
Fred: I found over the years that consumers are becoming much more savvy, much more informed, so often what you're looking at is a damaged or ripped bag which allow entry, so that's 1 of the big issues. You can often look at if the container is damaged, or in some cases, you can take a look at the shelf life. If the product's passed the shelf life or the best before date and it's an older product, sometimes depending on where you're looking at, if there's flour, or dusting on the shelf and you see like little trails, it almost looks like you're a hundred miles up and you're looking at little trails, it may indicate the presence of insects.
And again, even sometimes the environment: maybe signs of lack of proper pest control in the store could be an indication. So there's, you know, but in many cases it's not seen and the insect...and the consumer, basically unaware, purchases the product.
Greg: So what should you do if you find something unusual, like a bug or foreign material, in your food?
Fred: It's amazing. Over the years, we've had a lot of different people do different things. They may continue to consume it. In many cases I would...I personally wouldn't do that because, you know, the yuck factor, but in many cases I would isolate it right away, put it in a sealable container, you know, a Ziploc bag or whatever, so that it doesn't infest anything else.
Then you have a lot of different options. If it's a product that you purchased, you know, in a box or whatever, there's often the 1-800 number or a web link that they can contact the company. Because it's important that if they find something...so we try to... they investigate it.
If it's another issue, they can turn around and they contact a CFIA. There's a link that they can go online and they can report that as well. Because it's important to turn, like what we do is we try to determine whether this is an isolated issue, the root cause, has it affected more people. And so this is where the agency is able to track when we get complaints to determine whether or not, if it's a one-off, and if the root cause was at the manufacturer, then if some form of risk mitigation action needs to be taken.
So I would. the nice thing today with social media, the ability to videotape, take photographs, very easy, clearly indicates what the product is, and a lot of times what we do is we tell people to take a picture of the issue. Often we will tell them either if they don't have a ruler, just put something down like a penny or a nickel, it allows us to put in context the size of it, and if they want to describe it. So years ago, we used to have to go visit the consumers, but nowadays with cameras, everyone has 1 in their phone, it's made our job a lot easier to actually identify the product.
Michelle: Right. But if I'm at a restaurant.
Michelle: And I find a bug in my soup, is that a role that the government has to take on, the CFIA?
Fred: Not normally, and again it's, that's a great question. It fits into kind of the jurisdiction issue. Someone will look at it, and this is where you can report it to the restaurant, because in many cases I've always seen that the behaviour of the retailers and the manufacturers and restaurants is that they want repeat customers, they want to serve quality and safe food. So you report it to them. The other issue is that in the case of restaurants, you could give a call to your local public health unit.
Fred: And then they can also go in and do an investigation. If they find that the source is at the restaurant it's 1 thing, but again if the public health does an investigation and finds it's something that may have been integrated into 1 of the ingredients that came into the restaurant, then we'll look at it and see whether or not we would follow-up with them.
Michelle: So if I live in Quebec or in Ontario, New Brunswick, or British Columbia, am I always reporting it to the CFIA, or I hear that MAPAQ is where we should be reporting it if we live in Quebec.
Fred: Absolutely, you're right. In Quebec, MAPAQ is the provincial authority, and if they find that it's an issue that has to be then sent on to the CFIA for follow-up, they will. So you're right, in many cases to try to find a CFIA contact in the particular area, this is where again we have strived to have relationship with the provinces and inform, and in turn they have relationships with their public health units so that nowadays with...and once somebody gets into, it's not like they have to play phone tag. The information will be passed along until it gets to the right person in the right organization to actively engage with the consumer.
Greg: So Fred, if your health hasn't been compromised—I think of my own personal situation, I found a little pebble in a can of chickpeas—you know, I just threw it out. Should Canadians still be reporting issues that they find?
Fred: I would say yes, and the reason is that it's a...you found some gravel or stone in some chickpeas. Say the next person comes along and they turn around and bite on it and damage, you know, because a lot of these, called injurious, extraneous material can cause like a broken tooth, or can cause some kind of laceration, and again depending on if it's an adult or a child. So for us, 1 of the things is that reporting it allows us to actually then accumulate all that data, and then if enough people in different provinces report the same type of issue, now we know that it's much more, not just isolated, but it could be a systematic problem with a manufacturing practice.
And then what we can do is identify that and hopefully then fix it then, so it doesn't continue in the future. So reporting it allows...it's kind of like the insect version, or an extraneous, you know, see something, say something. And again, even if it doesn't come to us, report it back to the company, because in the case of investigations, 1 of the questions we always ask to the company: have you had reported complaints? So this is where that pool of knowledge helps us, and if people report codes and products, then what we can do is focus in and maybe it's just 1 particular code of 1 particular product that's an issue.
Recall is 1of the risk mitigation tools that we use. It means that we actually have the product removed from the market. But given the nature of some of these issues, the agency does have other alternatives. So for example, we have consumer advisories, we have food safety warnings, we can do postings.
So a few years ago we had an issue with the Iron Cross Blister Beetle, and so this is where again, if enough people report it, then in many cases the agency can make determinations and then they can have a posting for the consumers can be aware of it. So with them being proactive, they can actually assist us in determining there's a problem, and then in many cases allow the consumers to be informed to make decisions.
Michelle: Out of curiosity, Fred, how long does it take to effectively pull a product...for the product to be taken off the shelves from any kind of affected grocery store, or other?
Fred: It can be extremely quick, hence the reason why when we make a determination at the recall, is the best, and most appropriate risk mitigation action, is that by the time the firm has notified their clients, we've seen where many retailers have instituted a system where I've seen it within 30 minutes to an hour, it's off the shelf because they have such a good system. The old days it used to have to be faxes or phone calls. Nowadays with electronic emails, it could go very quickly.
And many of the retailers actually I've seen put a quality assurance program in place that it has to be removed within 24 hours and they actually check to make sure it's done. So I think the systems, the retailers and manufacturers all want to move very quickly to remove violated product. So I've seen nothing but a continual regard for removing as fast as possible.
Michelle: Mmm hmm.
Greg: So have you found anything in your food, Fred?
Fred: The traditional, like hair, and I always worry about the hair cause I always check to make sure that is it human. Because you know, I always ask people, I say: was it human, was it a rat hair, was it a cat hair, a dog hair? Because again, when you're talking about the popcorn, at least it was yours. But if it was a different hair colour, and this is why again when you think about people wearing hair nets. So the question here as an inspector, as an investigator: I always look at what's the source. But nothing overly outrageous or that you would want to write home to mom about.
Greg: Mmm. What about, do you keep track of the stuff you come across on your work?
Fred: I do.
Fred: I'm not saying I'm famous, maybe infamous. Over the years I've taken the opportunity to have kind of a wall of shame. So I have hundreds and hundreds of photographs on my wall, which span probably a hundred and fifty different types of extraneous material from machinery, all types of insects, lizards, a variety of different issues that have been found.
Michelle: Over how many years, yeah?
Fred: Ah, well I've been doing this for 20 years.
Fred: So the pictures do a few benefits. 1, we use in a lot of training. It is very clear, a picture's worth a thousand words. And again, we had new inspectors coming in, what it is to show the possibilities. I know when you first get in, I'm always surprised when you find something. So we use it a lot as an education. Plus, it is a visual depiction of exactly what we do. I mean, it's important. The pictures are quite impressive over time. There's even a few that I kind of go, ick! I wouldn't want to run into it.
Michelle: I feel like you have a variety of elements or bugs on that wall.
Fred: I...go ahead.
Michelle: Are they from all across Canada?
Fred: They're international. We have a lot of pictures, like of grasshoppers, bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, all the beetles, Indian meal moth, earwigs, even like praying mantis.
Fred: Insects are, I think...and because they're all around, and again like if the reason of the call is that most people have probably had some experience with finding some form of an insect associated with food.
Fred: So I think everyone has that in common on the call.
Greg: How common are these instances overall?
Fred: Extraneous material is a portion of the investigations we do but given the population in Canada, the number of meals people have and the number of complaints we get a year, these are not all the time and everyday. So you know for me, dealing with this all the time, I honestly can say that, that we have probably the safest food system in the world and that people should feel very secure in consuming the products.
The system is in place to always produce the safe and wholesome food for the Canadian public, and when an issue comes up we investigate it, deal with it, and in many cases feed that information back into the system just to make it much more safer. So I have no problem having the Canadian public understand that they should feel very secure in consuming the food that has been sold.
Greg: Well Fred, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. I've got to say, chipmunks and snakes are new ones for me. I don't think I've even heard about them before on social media or elsewhere.
Michelle: I want to see that wall.
Greg: Yeah, yeah.
Fred: You're very welcome, always a pleasure. I think it's important that we take the opportunity to talk with the consumers and put issues in the context so that they don't worry about it and they can enjoy the food that they're eating.
Greg: Well thanks again, Fred. So Michelle, I mean we've talked about so many interesting examples, but I think they're probably pretty rare. We have 1 of the safest food safety systems in the world here in Canada. We're super lucky.
Michelle: For sure. But if you do find something in your food and you're not feeling well, what I've learnt is that, you contact your doctor or your local public health department. Don't do like me and Google your symptoms.
Michelle: But if you feel fine, like in most cases, that's when you can report it to the CFIA by using the online form. Or if you live in Quebec, you contact MAPAQ.
Greg: And remember, you can always follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to stay informed of food recalls and food safety issues as well.
Well that's this episode, we'll be back next month. I'm Greg...
Michelle: ...and I'm Michelle. And this is Inspect and Protect, the CFIA's official podcast, all about food safety and plant and animal health.
Greg: Visit us online at inspection.canada.ca/Inspect-Protect-Podcast.
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