Friday, May 19, 2017

How Safe Is Your Salad?

Pre-washed, ready-to-eat bagged salads certainly offer convenience. But a recent study in Applied and Environmental Microbiology alarmingly reported that they might fuel the growth of potentially harmful bacteria, at least under certain conditions.

British investigators simulated this scenario in lettuce packages by exposing raw salad greens to the liquid released when the leaves are cut or damaged. This “salad juice,” as they called it, had been contaminated with Salmonella. Even at refrigerator temperature, the bacteria increased dramatically over five days—from about 100 to 100,000 cells, a level high enough to cause foodborne illness.

More disconcertingly, the juice not only allowed the bacteria to stick more to the inside of the plastic salad bag, it also created a coating on the leaves that trapped the bacteria so strongly that they couldn’t be washed off.
Bacteria can get into salad greens via contaminated irrigation water, soil, and human hands during harvest, processing, and packaging. Though this happens rarely, when it does occur it can cause severe, even deadly, illness. A number of headline-making outbreaks have been linked in recent years to packaged salads contaminated with Listeria and other bacteria. Spinach may be particularly vulnerable to such contamination. 

So what to do?

It’s really up to growers and packagers to find ways to ensure that salad greens are not contaminated with foodborne pathogens on the way from the field to the bag. In the meantime, the FDA maintains that pre-washed salad greens—the label may say “triple-washed” or “ready-to-eat"—can be eaten without further washing. The rationale is that they have been processed in facilities that are typically more sanitary than the average home kitchen, and home washing may just increase the contamination risk.

But other experts recommend rewashing as an extra layer of safety—as long as you make sure your hands and kitchen surfaces are cleaned well, so as to prevent cross-contamination.

Whether or not you rewash bagged greens, here’s what Berkely Wellness advises:
  • At the store, select packages that are refrigerated, have the latest “use by” dates, and show no signs of damage, spoilage, wetness, or slime on the leaves. The leaves should look dry and crisp. Greens that are minimally cut may be less risky than chopped ones.
  • At home, keep them refrigerated, and eat them as soon as possible. But toss them if you notice any juices or slime developing.
  • Don’t assume packaged organic greens are safer. Several outbreaks of foodborne illness have implicated them specifically.
  • Since pre-washed greens are more expensive, you may be better off buying unpackaged greens if you plan to wash them anyway.
  • If you buy bagged spinach, consider cooking it. This will greatly reduce or eliminate any risk, depending on how long and to what temperature it’s heated.


Friday, May 5, 2017

Disruptive Technologies Present Opportunities for Risk Managers, Study Finds

 The 14th annual Excellence in Risk Management report, was released at the RIMS conference. The study found an apparent lack of awareness among risk professionals of their company’s use of existing and emerging technologies, including the Internet of Things (IoT), telematics, sensors, smart buildings, and robotics and their associated risks. 

When presented with 13 common disruptive technologies, 24% of respondents said their organizations are not currently using or planning to use any of them. This is surprising, as other studies have found that more than 90% of companies are either using or evaluating IoT technology or wearable technologies and that companies in the United States invested $230 billion on IoT in 2016.

Another finding was that despite the impact disruptive technology can have on an organization’s business strategy, model, and risk profile, 60% of respondents said they do not conduct risk assessments around disruptive technologies.

“Today’s disruptive technologies will soon be — and in many cases already are — the norm for doing business,” said Brian Elowe, Marsh’s U.S. client executive leader and co-author of the report said in a statement. “Such lack of understanding and attention being paid to the risks is alarming. Organizations cannot fully realize the rewards of using today’s innovative technology if the risks are not fully understood and managed.” According to the study:
Organizations generally, and risk management professionals in particular, need to adopt a more proactive approach to educate themselves about disruptive technologies — what is already in use, what is on the horizon, and what are the risks and rewards. Forward-leaning executives are able to properly identify, assess, and diagnose disruptive technology risks and their impact on business models and strategies.

“As organizations adapt to innovative technologies, risk professionals have the opportunity to lead the way in developing risk management capabilities and bringing insights to bear on business strategy decisions,” said Carol Fox, vice president of strategic initiatives for RIMS and co-author of the report. “As a first step, risk professionals are advised to proactively educate themselves about disruptive technologies, including what is already in use at their organizations, what technologies may be on the horizon, and the respective risks and rewards of using such technology.”

One thing companies can do to manage risks associated with disruptive technologies is facilitate discussions through cross-functional committees—yet fewer companies, only 48%, said they have one, a drop from 52% last year and 62% five years ago.
Whether discussed in weekly, monthly, or quarterly organization-wide committee meetings, emerging risks — including disruptive technologies — need to be examined regularly to anticipate and manage the acceleration of business model changes. When risk is siloed, too often the tendency can be toward an insurance-focused approach to risk transfer rather than an enterprise approach that may lead to pursuing untapped opportunities.

The Excellence survey, Ready or Not, Disruption is Here, is based on more than 700 responses to an online survey and a series of focus groups with leading risk executives in January and February 2017.
Findings from the survey were released today at the RIMS 2017 Annual Conference & Exhibition. Copies of the survey are available on<> and<


Monday, February 27, 2017

Pollution Inside Your Car

In many ways American motorists and their passengers are exposed to less pollution than a generation or two ago. But today there’s more traffic, and many people spend longer hours driving to work and during leisure time. 

Surprisingly, pollutant levels are often higher inside because cars take in emissions from surrounding vehicles and recirculate them. Studies have found that as much as half of the pollutants inside test cars come from the vehicles immediately ahead, especially if those vehicles are highly polluting, such as heavy-duty diesel trucks. Levels of some pollutants and toxic compounds can be as much as 10 times higher inside vehicles than alongside the road. 

How to reduce in-car pollution

  • When driving in traffic, keep a safe distance from vehicles ahead of you, especially diesel trucks or obviously polluting cars. Or pull over to let such vehicles get far ahead. Keep the windows closed when in traffic and the ventilation set to recirculate, especially in tunnels.
  • When stopped at traffic lights, close your car windows, and try to keep some distance from the car in front of you.
  • When driving in light or no traffic, keep windows open or at least cracked to let in fresh air.
  • Properly maintain your car. A poorly maintained car is more likely to pollute the air inside it as well as the air around it.
  • Choose less congested roads with fewer traffic lights, even if they take a little longer. Or try to avoid rush hour. The more traffic, the more pollutants.
  • Drive in the carpool lane. Carpool lanes tend to have less traffic, so there’s less air pollution.
  • Take public transportation. Not only will you avoid pollutants, you’ll also help reduce traffic congestion and emissions. Buses, however, can be very polluting—and the air inside them quite polluted.
  • Don’t count on in-car air filtration systems. Some car dealers offer charcoal (carbon) filters on select new models. These may help reduce allergy symptoms from pollens, for instance, but they are not effective in removing fine particulates, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, or other pollutants.
  • If you have a new car, try to drive on less-busy roads so you can keep the windows open as much as possible for the first few months, when VOC levels are highest. Don’t park it in direct sunlight.
  • Don’t use air fresheners or deodorizers in your car.
  • Keep interiors clean. Pollutants in cars can combine with dust particles, which are then inhaled.
  • On long drives with several people in the car, open the window for a minute or two every 10 minutes so carbon dioxide doesn’t build up.
  • Don’t use chemical cleaners. Instead, use a damp micro-fiber rag to keep the interior clean. (Dust holds onto pollutants, such as VOCs.)
  • Instead of an air freshener, if you want the air to smell fresh, open the windows in an unpolluted area. If that’s not possible, make a sachet of dried flower petals, or keep an open container of baking soda in the car where it won’t tip over. (You can sprinkle the baking soda under floor mats and on the carpet, vacuuming up any residue.)

Friday, February 17, 2017

About 40 million US adults aged 20-69 have hearing damage in one or both ears that may be caused by loud sounds occurring in their everyday activities at home and in their communities. CDC found that more half of those (53%) report no exposure to loud noise at work. 

Noise exposure is the second most common cause of hearing loss. (Aging is first.) The louder a sound is and the more often a person is exposed to it, the more likely it will damage hearing. Common activities in homes and communities—such as using gas-powered lawnmowers or leaf blowers or attending a rock concert or ball game—can cause permanent hearing loss. Once hearing is gone, it’s gone forever.

Noise-induced hearing loss is a concern not only because it makes conversation and other daily activities more difficult, but also because it causes many other health problems. Exposure to noise causes stress, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Even though noise is all around us, much hearing loss from noise is preventable. And the steps to protect the ears and preserve hearing are relatively simple and don’t cost much.
  • Avoid noisy places whenever possible.
  • If you must be in a noisy environment, step away from the sound source, and try to minimize the amount of time spent there.
  • Use earplugs, as a convenient, low-cost form of protection. Or use protective ear muffs or noise-canceling headphones.
  • At home and in the car, keep the volume down. And even though the evidence is mixed about using earbuds or headphones for listening, it’s still smart to keep the volume down and take breaks from listening.
  • People who know they’ve been exposed to loud noise, or who are concerned that they aren’t hearing as well as they used to can ask their doctors for a hearing checkup.

For more information about noise-induced hearing loss at home and in the community, visit