Norovirus in UK food outlets to be mapped for first time

The University of Liverpool is leading a £2 million Food Standards Agency (FSA) project to map the occurrence of norovirus in food premises and industry workers.

NorochickNorovirus outbreaks can rapidly affect large numbers of people. In 2012 a batch of frozen strawberries infected 11,000 people in Germany, but there are significant gaps in the authorities’ understanding of which strains cause infection and which foods are the most likely to harbour the bacteria.

Researchers will produce data that will help the FSA to develop plans to reduce the infection by collecting swabs from work surfaces at more than 200 pubs, restaurants and hotels in the North West and South East of England.

It is not clear what proportion of the infections come from food itself and which come from the people and environment involved in bringing it to the plate. The team will also investigate occurrences of the virus in shops in three of the highest risk foodstuffs: oysters, salad and berries.

They will combine the information with the outputs of the other research strands to generate an assessment of the true impact of the virus to infection in the UK.

Epidemiology and population health expert, Professor Sarah O’Brien said: “The FSA has been hampered by a lack of data on the origins of outbreaks in the past, but this research should give it enough information to work on prevention strategies, and insight which allows it to focus its resources most effectively.”

They had one of those, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority; government reinvents wheel

The New Zealand government is to set up an independent food safety advice group to recommend regulatory changes in the wake of last year’s global recall of dairy products over a false botulism scare.

barf.o.meter.dec.12The Food Safety and Assurance Advisory Council was one of 29 recommendations from the Government Inquiry into the Whey Protein Concentrate Contamination Incident released in December last year, Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye said Wednesday.

“At the moment there is no independent group that looks at the whole of New Zealand’s food safety and assurance system and is able to provide high-level independent advice and risk analysis,” Kaye said in a statement.

“This council is being set up to do this and will report to the director-general of the Ministry for Primary Industries. It will provide a valuable sounding board for new ideas and contribute to raising consumer and market confidence in New Zealand’s food,” she said.

She also expected the six-member expert panel to identify current and future trends, risks and issues that may impact on the country’s food safety and assurance system.

Dairy giant Fonterra pleaded guilty in a New Zealand court last month to four food safety-related charges connected to global recall of whey protein concentrate over the false botulism scare, which happened in August last year.

Fonterra is also fighting a civil case brought by French food giant Danone, which is claiming compensation of 350 million euros (483.59 million U.S. dollars) for the scare.

Universities blinded by rankings and scientific gobbledygook

It’s bad enough that public institutions like Kansas State University use public funds to promote crap.

As a parent of four university daughters, I’ve seen the debt they’ve accumulated and the crap they’ve been sold.

Crap1But it’s bigger than public institutions – the foundations of science are for sale, to the highest bidder.

I tend to be the reviewer journal editors go to when they sense crap – I have a ridiculously large rejection rate because I know bullshit when I read it.

Tom Spears of the Ottawa Citizen says he’s just written the world’s worst science research paper: More than incompetent, it’s a mess of plagiarism and meaningless garble.

Now science publishers around the world are clamouring to publish it.

They will distribute it globally and pretend it is real research, for a fee.

It’s untrue? And parts are plagiarized? They’re fine with that.

Welcome to the world of science scams, a fast-growing business that sucks money out of research, undermines genuine scientific knowledge, and provides fake credentials for the desperate.

And even veteran scientists and universities are unaware of how deep the problem runs.

When scientists make discoveries, they publish their results in academic journals. The journals review the discovery with independent experts, and if everything checks out they publish the work. This boosts the reputations, and the job prospects, of the study’s authors.

Many journals now publish only online. And some of these, nicknamed predatory journals, offer fast, cut-rate service to young researchers under pressure to publish who have trouble getting accepted by the big science journals.

In academia, there’s a debate over whether the predators are of a lower-than-desired quality. But the Citizen’s experiment indicates much more: that many are pure con artists on the same level as the Nigerian banker who wants to give you $100 million.

Last year, science writer John Bohannon sent out a paper with subtle scientific errors and showed that predatory journals were often failing to catch them. The Citizen covered his sting, published in Science magazine.

Estimates of their numbers range from hundreds to thousands.

To uncover bottom-feeding publishers, the simplest way was to submit something that absolutely shouldn’t be published by anyone, anywhere.

My short research paper may look normal to outsiders: A lot of big, scientific words with some graphs. Let’s start with the title: “Acidity and aridity: Soil inorganic carbon storage exhibits complex relationship with low-pH soils and myeloablation followed by autologous PBSC infusion.”

Look more closely. The first half is about soil science. Then halfway through it switches to medical terms, myeloablation and PBSC infusion, which relate to treatment of cancer using stem cells.

The reason: I copied and pasted one phrase from a geology paper online, and the rest from a medical one, on hematology.

I wrote the whole paper that way, copying and pasting from soil, then blood, then soil again, and so on. There are a couple of graphs from a paper about Mars. They had squiggly lines and looked cool, so I threw them in.

Footnotes came largely from a paper on wine chemistry. The finished product is completely meaningless.

The university where I claim to work doesn’t exist. Nor do the Nepean Desert or my co-author. Software that catches plagiarism identified 67 per cent of my paper as stolen (and that’s missing some). And geology and blood work don’t mix, even with my invention of seismic platelets.

I submitted the faux science to 18 journals, and waited.

Predators moved in fast. Acceptances started rolling in within 24 hours of my submission, from journals wishing to publish the work of this young geologist at the University of Ottawa-Carleton.

First came the Merit Research Journal of Agricultural Science and Soil Sciences, which claims it sent me to “peer review” by an independent expert in the field who gave me a glowing review. It laid out my article and was ready to post it online 48 hours after submission — for $500.

That’s cheap. The going rate at genuine journals is $1,000 to $5,000.

I didn’t pay.

There are seven more acceptances from the International Journal of Science and Technology, Science Journal of Agricultural Research and Management, the International Journal of Current Research, Science Park, Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Research (actually based in Jordan), American Journal of Scientific Research, and International Journal of Latest Research in Engineering and Computing. Yes, “Latest.” Makes you wonder what other kind there is.

Several others are still considering and a couple are silent and appear to have shut down.

Only two turned me down, for plagiarism. And one of these will turn a blind eye and publish anyway if I just tweak it a bit.

Emblem of the King Arthus from Monty Python and the Holy Grail 1975 Graham ChapmanThe acceptances came embarrassingly fast. A real journal needs weeks at the very least to ask reviewers — outside experts — to check an author’s work.

I wrote back to one of these publishers explaining that my work was “bilge” and the conclusions don’t stand up.

The journal wrote right back offering to tweak a few passages and publish anyway. And by the way, it asked, where’s the $500?

At the University of Saskatchewan, medical professor Roger Pierson wonders how can scientists trust the journal system to share knowledge.

“Basically you can’t any more,” he said, except for a stable of well-known journals from identifiable professional societies, where members recognize ethical work is in all their best interests.

He had just spent time with the committee that oversees tenure and promotions at his university.

“We had three cases where people had published things in what were obviously predatory journals, and they didn’t think anything was wrong with that.

“The reality though is that these (fake journals) are used for promotion and tenure by people who really shouldn’t be there. The world is changing fast … It’s a big problem.”

And taxpayers wonder if the university system is broken.

I don’t know of a better system than vigorous and brutal peer-review, but universities are rapidly becoming redundant in their quest for meaningless metrics.

And for any university to claim they are global, geography shouldn’t be a factor.

China establishes food safety risk communication branch

I’ll always go content over style by about 60-40, but getting the facts right is only one part of effective food safety risk communication.

communicationTell that to the Chinese.

Chen Junshi, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering at the China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment, told an international seminar Monday that “a branch specialized in food safety risk communication with the public has been formed as well under (an) expert committee.”

Chen added that it is very important to deliver the right message on food safety to the public.

Uh-huh.

Decision makers, as shown by the establishment of the communications branch, have begun to recognize the significance of helping the public form a rational perception of food safety issues, Chen said.

Doomed to fail.

Mushroom safety

It’s a question many home and food service cooks deal with: what’s up with mushrooms? Should they be washed, what with that crud on them, and does washing turn fresh mushrooms into mush?

mushroom.growingI cook mushrooms.

Kathie T. Hodge, an associate professor of mycology at Cornell who writes the Cornell Mushroom Blog told the N.Y Times, “Even if you don’t clean the mushrooms, it’s probably fine.”

Common grocery store mushrooms, Agaricus bisporus, which include the white button, cremini and portobello varieties, “are grown in what is basically compost,” she said. “It’s usually heat-treated, not entirely sterile, but a lot of organisms have been killed.”

Every producer has its own recipe, including organic things like straw, peat moss, manure if it is obtainable, canola meal or cottonseed meal, and inorganic things like lime or gypsum. Then it is allowed to compost — that is, ferment — and then it is heat-treated, “trying to get rid of most things so the mushrooms will take over,” Dr. Hodge said.

Disclosing inspection results: Voluntary or mandatory?

My philosophy on disclosing restaurant inspection information hasn’t wavered much in the past 10 years: Make inspection results public and communicate them meaningfully to help patrons make decisions. There’s a patchwork approach to disclosure throughout the world: happy faces, letter grades, number grades or the not-well-used barf-o-meter.

barf.o.meter_.dec_.12-216x300

Whatever the system is, it’s necessary to pull back the curtain on what happens when inspectors are around. The transparency not only builds trust in the system, but also allows folks to choose businesses based on their own risk tolerance.

According to Australia’s Fraser Coast Chronicle, businesses will be provided with a rating score but will not be required to post it. The hope is that businesses receiving a stellar score will see the marketing advantage and will voluntarily post the ratings – while those not posting due to less-than-ideal ratings will raise their level of attention to get the higher rating.

Branded Scores on Doors, the program’s aim is to encourage food safety across the Fraser Coast.

Businesses will not be forced to display their ratings but the thinking is those with better scores will display to gain customer trust and improved trade.

A report showed those with a lower rating would be made to pay more fees, while the businesses that scored better paid less because fewer inspections were needed.

Joep Dekker from Wild Lotus in Hervey Bay said he would proudly display his score.

He said he was confident of a strong rating because he knew his business had high standards when it came to cleanliness.

“It is something to be proud of, a good score,” he said.

According to the Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne-Allen County (Indiana) health department is taking a different path to disclosing inspections: Moving to a risk-based rating and a corresponding smartphone ap.

Ann Applegate, director of the health department’s Food and Consumer Protection Division, said her department is considering programs from across the country to find a good match for the county.

“We have been looking at several different models of these restaurant grading systems and seeing how we can implement those into what we currently have,” Applegate said.

The new grading scale or points system would place more emphasis on risk-based violations, making it easier for the public to understand the severity of the violation.

[Mindy] Waldron said the department is also in the process of developing an app for smartphones that would allow people to view public documents such as food and beverage inspections.

Nosestretcher alert: Kansas State launches global campus

People will say anything with a straight face to keep their jobs, I guess.

Cheerleader-in-chief Kirk Shultz gushed that Kansas State now has a 4th campus! The K-State Global Campus.

hockey.team.apr.14Instead of embracing massive open on-line courses (MOOCs), Kansas State rebranded distance education as the global campus.

It’s the rise of the PR flunkies, and the addiction to distance ed fees at $2,000 a course.

It’s a racket.

Church, mob, university, everyone pays a tax, but this is ridiculous.

Hilarious, except I still pay Kansas taxes that go to support this crap.

I offered to develop MOOCs for food safety, arguing that safety was global, not isolated to some town in Kansas.

I got fired for not being on campus; for being global.

I had a graduate student develop a restaurant inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. I had another graduate student evaluate food training systems in Winnipeg, Manitoba (that’s in Canada).

For now, this is my classroom; far more rewarding (upper right).

Universities can be silly places.

Nosestretcher alert: sous vide safety in the home kitchen

Friend of the blog Don Schaffner of Rutgers University had some food safety concerns about a recent column broadcast by state-sponsored jazz radio station NPR about sous vide – or cooking under vacuum at a specific temperature.

schaffner.facebook.apr.14She (journalist T. Susan Chang) says:

Maybe you’ve heard the stories about city health department officials forcing chefs to pour bleach on their sous vide meats. It’s a story that always makes me want to cry, but for years public health has relied on a firm food safety rule: dangerous germs live at between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Even the pink interior of a medium-rare burger falls above this range, and most cooking techniques take place around or well above the boiling point of water (212 degrees F).

Schaffner says:

Some species of pathogenic bacteria can multiply between 40 and 140°F, and by multiply I mean increase in number. There are several species of pathogenic bacteria that can multiply slowly at temperatures less than 40°F. There are many, many pathogenic bacteria that can survive but not multiply at temperatures less than 40°F. All spore forming pathogenic bacteria can easily survive at temperatures more than 140°F. Some of these spores can survive boiling water, including the spores of Clostridium botulinum, which is of great concern because it can grow in vacuum packaged foods if the temperatures are in that 40 to 140° range for the right amount of time.

She says:

Aiming for that window — above 140 degrees for safety, below 150 degrees for texture — isn’t hard if you’re set up to control temperature within a degree or two. And you can pasteurize your protein by holding it there for long enough.

Schaffner says:

Taking food above 140°F does not make it safe. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service has a document which provides guidance to meat processors regarding safe cooking temperatures. That document is entitled “Appendix A Compliance Guidelines For Meeting Lethality Performance Standards For Certain Meat And Poultry Products”, and is available here: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OPPDE/rdad/FRPubs/95-033F/95-033F_Appendix_A.htm. According to this document a food at 140 °F needs 12 minutes to meet the USDA standards. That same guidance also indicates that a food can meet the standards by heating at 130°F too, just for a much longer time, and even at 150°F more than a minute is needed.

She says:

Salmon is a perfect protein on which to test your newfound control. Allow the salmon to sit in this brine in the refrigerator as you bring the water bath of your sous vide up to your target temperature (115 for rare, 120 for medium-rare).

When the water bath has reached the target temperature, remove any excess air from the zip-top bag by displacement if you’re not using a vacuum-sealed bag. Drop the salmon into the bath. It should take about 1/2 hour to come to temperature.

Schaffner says:

Not likely to result in any significant pathogen reduction.  Hitting the outside with a blowtorch will kill pathogens on the surface, but not any that are internalized.

She says:

Sous Vide Pork Belly, (when) cooked at 144 degrees for two days, the lean meat fibers sandwiched between the layers of fat stay plump and juicy.

Sous VideSchaffner says:

This will give significant pathogen reduction, but I worry about any process that takes two days.  If there is a temperature failure, that is a lot of time for risk to develop.

She says:

Sous Vide Basic Burger, bring the water bath up to 120 for rare, 125 for medium-rare. Drop the bagged frozen patties in the bath (displacing any air pockets first); the meat will take about 1 1/2 hours to get to its target temperature.

Schaffner says:

Quite risky from my perspective. Pathogens will be internalized in these burgers, and even 125°F for 1.5 hours will not give a significant reduction.

She says:

Sous Vide Herbed All-Purpose Chicken Breast, bring the sous vide water bath up to 140 degrees. … You’ll need 1 to 1 1/2 hours to cook the chicken to the target temperature.

Schaffner says:

Probably safe.

Food safety can be complicated.  While I share you passion for empowering people to innovate in the kitchen, I think it is important to get the science right, especially when it comes to food safety.

(Many thanks to Schaffner for continuing to share his infectious enthusiasm for all things microbiological – and getting it right).

Playing the numbers, Salmonella-at-Cuban-resort edition

When barfing endlessly, it’s of little comfort to know you represent only 1.5% of possible barfers.

Yet that is the insensitive numbers game tour operators like Thomas Cook continue to play when they confirm 29 cases of “mild illness” reported by guests staying at the Hotel Playa Pesquero in Cuba in the first two weeks of April.

vomit(7)“This represents just 1.5% of the overall hotel population of 1,800,” the operator said.

The operator disputed allegations made by holiday illness compensation specialists Your Holiday Claims that 80% of holidaymakers had fallen ill due to an outbreak of Salmonella at the hotel.

Your Holiday Claims alleged that many British holidaymakers had been taken to hospital during their stay. Many were believed to be on saline drips for severe dehydration after being violently ill, the law firm said.

Cook responded by saying: “We are aware that a statement was recently issued by a no-win, no-fee lawyer.

“This repeated as yet unsubstantiated allegations and we consider this to be deeply irresponsible.”

Should swimming pools have restaurant-like grades for safety? Toronto thinks so

Operators of pools, spas, hot tubs and wading pools in Toronto could soon be required to post on-site inspection notices, letting the public know if any health and safety violations have taken place.

caddyshack.pool.poop-1In 2011, the Star revealed that pool operators were racking up multiple infractions for everything from dirty water and malfunctioning equipment to missing safety gear, but those inspection results were not revealed to the public.

The news that swimmers, spa-goers and students were being put at potential risk of disease and injury prompted Councillor John Filion, then chair of the Toronto Board of Health, to call for a prominent display of proof as to whether the facilities met city standards.

On April 28, the board will consider a new proposal from the medical officer of health to determine whether the city should draft a bylaw that compelling operators of pools, public spas (hot tubs) and wading pools to post a sign or document showing inspection outcomes. The medical officer will report, with the city solicitor, on the content of the proposed bylaw.

If the board votes to proceed, the proposal will then be considered by city council on May 6. Council will make the final decision. The proposed bylaw would apply to more than 1,600 facilities.