Norovirus outbreak hits Florida school

Over the past couple of days I drove the family from sunny and somewhat warm Raleigh, NC to the frigid tundra of Southern Ontario. I knew things would be bad when it started snowing as we passed through Maryland – in mid-April.

One of the consequences of a long cold winter is an extended norovirus season (the virus is more stable in cold weather). Norovirus-at-school

Even in Florida.

According to local10, a Broward County, FL school is dealing with a norovirus outbreak – and some folks seem to think drinking from water fountains is a risk factor.

A contagious stomach flu-like virus is making an unusually high number of students at Boulevard Heights Elementary School in Hollywood sick.

“Been a lot of children in our school that are sick,” said student Taylor Frangesh.

“He was nauseated when he came home,” Bianca Hampton said of her son. “He told me he drank from the water fountain, so he was a little nauseated and he had a little fever.”

With the high number of students getting sick, the virus has made its way into some of their homes.

“He got sick, the brother, the sister and me — the whole family,” said Melissa Prado.

Broward County Public Schools released a statement saying the district is working with the health department over gastric concerns that were being experienced by an unusually high number of students. School officials were cleaning and sanitizing classrooms, common areas and the playground.

“They said that the water was causing it and not to drink from the water fountains and if you didn’t bring your own bottled water you still couldn’t drink from the water fountain,” said Frangesh. “They put garbage bags over the water fountains.” 

Antibacterial soaps can reduce risk of foodborne illness

Friend of the blog Don Schaffner has published some new research that shows  the use of antibacterial soaps can reduce the spread of harmful bacteria – that often leads to foodborne illness – more effectively than using non-antibacterial soaps.

The research, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Food Protection (Vol. 77, No. 4, 2014, pp. 574-582), used new laboratory data, together with simulation techniques, to compare the ability of non-antibacterial and antibacterial products to reduce the risk of the infectious disease shigellosis, which is often spread during food preparation.

antibacterial.soapLead researcher Donald Schaffner of Rutgers University’s Department of Food Science says the data show that the use of three antibacterial wash products result in a statistically significant reduction in the presence of Shigella (the bacterium that causes shigellosis) compared to the use of the non-antibacterial soaps.

“This exciting research blends quantitative microbial risk assessments with an impressive set of laboratory data to show that antibacterial treatments are more effective than non-antibacterial treatments in reducing disease,” said Dr. Schaffner.

In the study, 163 subjects were used to compare two non-antibacterial products and three antibacterial products, with a study design intended to simulate food handling. The participants’ hands were exposed to Shigella and then treated with one of the five products before handling food melon balls. The resulting levels of Shigella on the food were then measured.

The levels of Shigella were then used to predict the outcome from an event in which 100 people would be exposed to Shigella from melon balls that had been handled by food workers with Shigella on their hands.

The data show all three antibacterial treatments significantly lowered the concentration of Shigella compared to the non-antibacterial treatments. Based on this model, the paper predicted that by washing with the antibacterial treatments, the number of illnesses could be reduced tenfold.

“This research provides strong evidence that antibacterial soaps are significantly more effective than non-antibacterial soaps in reducing Shigella on the hands and its subsequent transfer to ready-to-eat foods,” the authors write.

The American Cleaning Institute (www.cleaninginstitute.org) and the Personal Care Products Council (www.personalcarecouncil.org) provided funding for the research as part of the groups’ ongoing commitment to product and scientific stewardship to affirm the safety and benefits of these products.

An abstract summarizing the paper, “Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment of Antibacterial Hand Hygiene Products on Risk of Shigellosis,” can be found online athttp://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iafp/jfp/2014/00000077/00000004/art00006#aff_3

Supermarket madness: shopping for food safety

powell_inside02

From the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety:

Shopping is a competitive sport.

Especially for groceries.

People who would think nothing of laying out $200 for a fancy-pants dinner and atmosphere, will digitally or electronically clip coupons to save $0.10.

I watch people when I go shopping for food, about every second day, and maybe they watch the creepy guy watching them.

My questions may not be the same as other cooks or parents, but I have a lot.

Should that bagged salad be re-washed? Some bags have labels and instructions, some don’t. What about the salad out in bins that came from pre-washed bags? Should it be re-washed?

Is washing strawberries or cantaloupe going to make them safer?

Where did those frozen berries come from? Am I really supposed to cook them and can’t have them in my yogurt because of a hepatitis A risk?

Are raw sprouts risky?

How long is that deli-meat good for? Is it safer at the counter or pre-packaged?

Should I use a thermometer or is piping hot a sufficient standard for cooking meat and frozen potpies? Can I tell if meat is cooked by using my tender fingertips?

Is that steak or roast beef mechanically tenderized and maybe requires a longer cook time or higher temperature?

Are those frozen chicken thingies made from raw or cooked product? Is it labeled? Is labeling an effective communication mechanism?

These are the questions I have as a food safety type and as a parent who has shopped for five daughters for a long time in multiple countries. It has guided much of our research.

I see lots of things wandering through the grocery store, but I don’t see much information about food safety.

When there is an outbreak, retailers rely on a go-to soundbite: “Food safety is our top priority.”

As a food safety type I sometimes see that, but as a consumer, I don’t.

This sets up a mental incongruity: if food safety is your top priority, shouldn’t you show me?

The other common soundbite is, “We meet all government standards.” This is the Pinto defense – so named for the cars that met government standards but had a tendency to blow up when hit from behind – and is a neon sign to shop elsewhere.

Leaving brand protection to government inspectors or auditors is a bad idea.

For a while I started saying, rather than focus on training, which is never evaluated for effectiveness, change the food safety culture at supermarkets and elsewhere, and here’s how to do that.

But now the phrase, “We have a strong food safety culture,” is routinely rolled out but rarely understood, so I’m going back to my old line: show me what you do to keep people from barfing.

doug.ben.family.Food safety information needs to be rapid, reliable, relevant and repeated. I don’t see that at grocery stores.

The days of assuming that all food at retail is safe are over. Some farmers, some companies, are better at food safety. And they should be rewarded.

Most of us just want to hang out with our kids and get some decent food – food that won’t make us barf.

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

Just wash it doesn’t cut it; new research shows how E. coli O157:H7 binds to fresh vegetables

Research presented today at the Society for General Microbiology’s Annual Meeting in Liverpool shows that the disease-causing E. coli O157:H7 interacts directly with plant cells, allowing it to anchor to the surface of a plant, where it can multiply.

cow.poop.spinachResearchers from the James Hutton Institute in Scotland have identified that E. coli O157:H7 uses whip-link structures on its surface known as flagella – typically used for bacterial motility – to penetrate the plant cell walls. The team showed that purified flagella were able to directly interact with lipid molecules found in the membranes of plant cells. E. coli bacteria lacking flagella were unable to bind to the plant cells.

Once attached, the E. coli are able to grow on, and colonize, the surface of the plant. At this point, they can be removed by washing, although the researchers showed that a small number of bacteria are able to invade inside the plant, where they become protected from washing. The group have shown that E. coli O157:H7 is able to colonise the roots of both spinach and lettuce.

Dr Nicola Holden, who led the research, says: “This work shows the fine detail of how the bacteria bind to plants. We think this mechanism is common to many foodborne bacteria and shows that they can exploit common factors found in both cow.poop2plants and animals to help them grow. Our long term aim is to better understand these interactions so we can reduce the risk of food-borne disease.”

The researchers believe that the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria use the same method of colonizing the surface of plants as they do when colonizing the intestines of animals. The work shows that these bacteria are not simply transported through the food chain in an inert manner, but are actively interacting with both plants and animals.

21 sick, 1 dead from E. coli O157 linked to Gort’s cheese in Canada last year; source not known

Seven months after their world was shaken, the owners of Gort’s Gouda cheese farm are still working to get their business back on solid ground.

“It’s been a tough haul. We’re working hard at rebounding, it’s looking positive. It’s going to be a long haul, but that’s okay,” said Kathy Wikkerink, who owns the farm with her spouse Gary.

gorts.cheese.O157In February, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a report on its food safety investigation at the farm. It was initiated on Sept. 14, 2013 following a cluster of E.coli 0157:H7 illnesses that were believed to be related to consumption of cheese products from Gort’s.

Twenty-one people were eventually reported with E.coli-related illness and recovered, while one woman died.

Pinpointing the contamination couldn’t be done.

“Despite extensive efforts, the CFIA concluded that there was no evidence available to confirm the source of the E. coli O157:H7 contamination,” states the report.

“The CFIA identified areas for improvements at the processing facility and requested Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm to submit a corrective action plan. The company was requested to make enhancements in sanitation practices, equipment design and building maintenance.”

It adds that, “all food safety concerns identified during the investigation have been corrected. Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm corrected other administrative and non-food safety related issues within accepted time frames.”

Kathy says the bulk of the requirements for the business involved paper work, “bigger paper trails.”

Under “root cause analysis,” the report points to raw milk cheese products.

“Overall evidence indicated that there were a number of opportunities for contamination to occur in the earlier stages of the raw milk cheese manufacturing process.

“The potential for contamination during cutting, handling and packaging was also found to be a possible risk factor.”

Cheesecake Factory says ‘seriously’ its food is safe after 2 problematic health inspections

The Cheesecake Factory wants people to know it’s food is safe.

The restaurant is speaking out after two problematic health inspections at its Destiny USA location.

“The Cheesecake Factory takes food safety and sanitation very seriously and is committed to providing a safe dining experience to all of our guests,” Jeff Nemet, Regional Vice President of Operations, told CNYCentral in a statement. “Our 91310634-300x200guests can be assured that our food is safe and of the highest quality, and that we have taken immediate action to correct any deficiencies identified during the recent inspections. We worked closely with the health department and received an all clear following a re-inspection of the restaurant this morning.”

The Onondaga County Health Department says the most recent inspection Tuesday morning was satisfactory. The restaurant will have between 30 and 60 days to repair cracks in the floor of the walk-in freezer and cooler.

The health department found unsatisfactory conditions on two recent visits to the Destiny Cheesecake Factory.

On February 26, 2014:

Raw shrimp and raw chicken in drawer cooler at cook line noted between 64 degrees-68 degrees (corrected).
Reach-in drawer cooler at cook line noted at 64 degrees, not operating properly to maintain temperatures of potentially hazardous foods at or below 45 degrees (corrected).
Establishment failed to notify the Onondaga County Health Department regarding receipt of a possible food illness complaint.

On March 24, 2014:

Raw beef stored next to cheeses and raw whole shell eggs stored next to butter in walk-in produce cooler (corrected).
Male employee observed slicing bread with bare hands, bare hand contact noted (voluntarily discarded).
Employees observed scooping ice without wearing gloves or using approved gloveless scoop, no bare hand contact noted (corrected). Female employee observed placing fruit on glass with tongs using opposite bare hand to push fruit onto glass, bare hand contact noted (voluntarily discarded).
Buckets of sanitizing solution stored next to take-out boxes at server station (corrected). Container of dairy creamer on ice at server station noted at 49 degrees (corrected).
Individual portions of cooked red chili chicken improperly cooling in drawer cooler noted at 65 degrees-70 degrees (corrected).
Cooked chicken improperly cooling in walk-in cooler noted at 63 degrees (corrected).
Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting stored on counter noted at 60 degrees. Cream marinara sauce in hot holding unit at cook line noted at 110 degrees (corrected).
In use knives improperly stored inside preparation top cooler, not considered a clean sanitized surface. Dishes in dish chiller at end of cook line not clean.
Evidence of employee beverage consumption noted in food preparation area.
Clean sanitized dishes not properly air dried before stacking.
Some shelving, some rolling racks and all step ladders not clean.
Floor in walk-in freezer noted cracked poor repair.
Floor in walk-in produce cooler noted in poor repair.

22 sick in Illinois: food poisoning suspected

The Jefferson County Health Department is investigating a possible outbreak of food poisoning which happened April 6.

Health Department Administrator Mark Stevens declined to give the location where the outbreak occurred. He said the department did not begin receiving reports of people becoming sick until April 9.

Becky Brooks, the director of nursing for the health department, said approximately 22 people are part of the department’s investigation, including the ones that presented no symptoms. Brooks confirmed there have been at least two hospitalizations as a result the incident — one person was still hospitalized Monday.

One of the victims said he and three other members of his group became sick following a Sunday brunch at the Holiday Inn and he is part of the investigation. All food at the hotel is prepared by Krieger’s Sports Grill, which is apparently being investigated.

Homemade goods: most Hawaiian lawmakers not in compliance with food safety regulations

State legislators and their staff have been busy whipping up homemade goods for the annual Hawaii Food Bank fundraiser. The effort to raise cash lasts from January to early May and features a variety of fares, from Filipino food to brownies ala mode.   

“Any legislator good with fundraisers often has baked goods from their constituents, so that’s what we find here,” said Rep. Tom Brower.

Hawaii Food Bank fundraiserHowever, unbeknownst to many of the men and women who craft Hawaii’s laws, almost any food sold outside a restaurant or certified kitchen requires a permit.  
“These are short-term events or sales that are going to distribute food to the general public,” explains State Environmental Health Program Manager Peter Oshiro. “Anybody that has or wants to do those types of sales is required to get a temporary food establishment permit from the Health Department.”

Lawmakers organizing the annual drive for the food bank were caught off guard when approached by KITV4 about the need for a Department of Health permit.
“We make the laws here and it wouldn’t be prudent if we didn’t follow the laws that we make, and so it’s all about compliance,” said Vice-Speaker John Mizuno. “I’ll make sure that whenever we send memos at the kickoff of the Hawaii Food Bank fundraising effort, that we attach forms so that offices will know how to be in compliance.”

About 500 temporary food establishment permits are issued by the Health Department every month. Oshiro says the department just wants to make sure that all food is safe.  

22 sick from staph in Vietnam horse-blood pudding

Twenty-two people in the northern mountainous province of Lao Cai were poisoned after eating horse-blood pudding due to presence of Staphylococci and E. coli.

Test results of horse blood pudding showed that Staphylococci and E.coli were present in the dish which is reported to be popular with Hmong and other ethnic farming people in the mountains.

Tricorder for food safety?

While the original Star Trek television series was heavy on cheese, I enjoyed the more complex morality tales of Star Trek: The Next Generation (as complex as early 1990s TV could get).

And who doesn’t love them some Patrick Stewart.

patrick.stewartIn the fictional Star Trek universe, a tricorder is a multifunction hand-held device used for sensor scanning, data analysis, and recording data.

A UK based company has unveiled PERES, a handheld device and mobile app which provides information about the freshness and quality of meat, poultry, and fish and protects against food poisoning.

According to the promoters, this portable e-nose and its iOS/Android mobile app enables users to determine the quality, freshness of meat, poultry, and fish and whether it has gone bad and could potentially cause food poisoning.

Users point the PERES at meat and click a button. It works by analysing a sample of the gases for volatile organic compounds and ammonia. Within a few seconds, users receive information on their smartphone or tablet about the food’s freshness, whether it’s been left unrefrigerated and whether there may be a risk of food poisoning.