Should kids be allowed to wash hands at school? Or is sanitizer enough?

Someone wrote me this morning and said at their U.S. elementary school, the 5th graders are not permitted to wash hands after mandatory bathroom times and the teacher stands outside of the bathroom with hand sanitizer squirting it as each child leaves the bathroom. The hand dryers are too loud and the teachers don’t want wet hands because there’s no paper towel.

jon.stewart.handwashing.2002This as UN deputy secretary general, Jan Eliasson, warned the world’s lack of progress in building toilets and ending open defecation is having a “staggering” effect on the health, safety, education, prosperity and dignity of 2.5 billion people.

They may not be related, but proper sanitation requires access to proper tools.

In Denmark, nearly one-quarter of foodborne illness outbreaks from 2005 to 2011 were caused by asymptomatic food handlers, according to researchers from the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen.

“Symptoms compatible with norovirus infection among household members, especially children, of food handlers should be taken into account, as mechanical transfer of virus particles from private homes to industrial kitchens appears to be an important cause of outbreaks,” the researchers wrote in The Journal of Infectious Diseases. “Existing guidelines recommend exclusion of symptomatic and post-symptomatic food handlers and strict hand hygiene, when household members are ill with gastroenteritis.”

handwashing.junk.apr.13A study in Finland concluded Noroviruses are easily transferred to ready-to-eat foods via foodservice workers’ handling.

Researchers at the Finnish Food Safety Authority and the University of Helsinki confirm virus-free food ingredients and good hand hygiene are needed to prevent contamination of prepared foods.

Promote hand hygiene, but the tools have to be there.

Bacterial occurrence in kitchen hand towels

People don’t use dryers much in Brisbane. It hardly rains, so people use clotheslines, and electricity is expensive.

And it’s so natural.

tea.towelMy clothsline can usually be found with an abundance of hand (or tea) towels.

I use them all the time when cooking and am fastidious about washing them.

I also wonder how often those cook aprons are washed.

Gerba et al. report the common occurrence of enteric bacteria in kitchen sponges and dishcloths suggests that they can play a role in the cross-contamination of foods, fomites and hands by foodborne pathogens. This study investigated the occurrence of bacteria in kitchen towels often used to dry dishes, hands and other surfaces in the domestic kitchen. A total of 82 kitchen hand towels were collected from households in five major cities in the United States and Canada and the numbers of heterotrophic bacteria, coliform bacteria, and Escherichia coli in each towel were determined. In addition, identification of the enteric bacteria was performed on selected towels. Coliform bacteria were detected in 89.0% and E. coli in 25.6% of towels. The presence of E. coli was related to the frequency of washing.

Raw and risky: do rewards outweigh risks?

U.S. President Obama may want to think again about those burger outings he does.

five.guys.obamaObama likes Five Brothers Burgers and Fries, where, “kitchen rules include no timers in the kitchen (because good cooks know when food is done).

Maybe use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer?

Misti Crane of The Columbus Dispatch writes that those who run kitchens commonly run afoul of food-safety sticklers when it comes time to eat.

Most chefs will likely tell you that a burger cooked to a safe temperature is a burger they would rather not order. And they probably aren’t pushing themselves away from the bar when an icy tray of fresh-shucked oysters arrives.

Food-safety experts shake their heads at such culinary daredevils, but the risk-takers shake their heads right back. Food is pleasure, they say, and rules can stand in the way.

“I like my meat running around the block,” said Columbus restaurateur Tasi Rigsby. “I eat everything. I ate sushi when I was pregnant.”

Mike Suclescy, who co-owns the Thurman Cafe, said most of the burger lovers who visit his German Village restaurant prefer theirs cooked below 160 degrees, the temperature at which E. coli bacteria are killed, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.

Most people go for medium or medium-rare, he said.

“I don’t think a whole lot of people worry about it here at our place,” he said, adding that a 12-ounce Thurmanator takes a good eight minutes per side to cook to well-done.

Doug Powell, a former food-safety professor and publisher of the website barfblog.com, worries a lot about the safety of children and said he doesn’t take any food-safety risks when it comes to him or his daughters.

barfblog.Stick It InMany people who routinely eat raw shellfish or rare beef are quick to point out that they’ve never been harmed in a lifetime of dining.

“You could play the numbers game, and I hear these arguments all the time,” Powell said. “But if it happens to you, the numbers become irrelevant because the only number is one. These illnesses can cause lifelong damage.”

In the case of oysters, for instance, reported illnesses are relatively rare but can be deadly.

Last year in the United States, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 12 outbreaks linked or possibly linked to oysters — 52 people were sickened, and three were hospitalized. The CDC database does not include individual illnesses or deaths linked to oysters, nor does it include those who are sickened and never seek medical care.

The CDC estimates that there are 3,000 food-related deaths per year in the United States and that 128,000 people are hospitalized.

“It’s up to the consumer, but they just have to be knowledgeable and be educated and understand that they are potentially at risk,” said Carol Zubovich, a specialist in the food-protection program at Columbus Public Health.

Restaurants that serve foods considered risky, including undercooked or raw meats, fish and shellfish, have the highest level of scrutiny by food inspectors, she said.

Rigsby said she’s especially selective about the meat, seafood and eggs she eats, and she and her husband, Kent Rigsby, are discriminating about whom they buy from and how they prepare their food.

The beef is all grass-fed, for instance. And the oysters are shipped in fresh from the East Coast and shucked to order. Neither of those things guarantees safety, experts caution, but it gives many people greater peace of mind.

Powell said he doesn’t buy the safe-sourcing argument.

“I know there’s a lot of food porn out there that says if you source it from the right place, it will be safer, but I don’t have any microbiological evidence of that,” he said. “I will not eat raw sprouts. I will not drink unpasteurized juice; and I generally cook my seafood, meat or protein. I wouldn’t touch raw dairy.”

Columbus Public Health’s Zubovich doesn’t go for potentially risky foods, either, and she mostly dines at home, she said. “Since getting into this line of work, I don’t eat out at a lot of restaurants.”

China arrests six from OSI unit in food scandal

Chinese authorities have formally arrested six employees from a unit of US food supplier OSI Group, the parent company over a scandal involving expired meat sold to fast food giants.

transparency-300x199Authorities have previously announced the detention by police of six officials of Shanghai Husi Food Co, a subsidiary of OSI which operated a factory shut down by the city in July for mixing out-of-date meat with fresh products. OSI’s clients in China previously included McDonald’s and KFC.

“OSI Group confirms that 6 employees of Shanghai Husi have now been arrested following detention by authorities,” the company said in a statement provided to media. “OSI Group will continue to cooperate fully and in good faith with the authorities,” it said, but did not identify the six. 

Fail: Frozen food trucks in Taiwan

The Consumer Protection Committee (CPC) under the Executive Yuan said yesterday that 73 percent of frozen food trucks failed to meet standards based on the result of random inspections of logistics companies.

taiwan-food-11This situation was first discovered in July, when the temperature in one frozen food truck reached 33 degrees Celsius, which is grossly in violation of food safety laws. Therefore, the CPC decided to cooperate with local health and transportation authorities to inspect additional logistics companies.

The CPC inspected 35 companies and 80 vehicles including 48 frozen food trucks. The results revealed 35 out of 48 frozen food trucks did not keep sufficiently low temperatures during transportation.

Naked sushi is happening in Vancouver (that’s in Canada), and, yes, it’s what you think it is

Ever heard of nyotaimori? It’s the Japanese practice of serving sushi on a naked body. It’s real, beyond that one scene from the first “Sex and the City” movie. And, for a price, you can now have your sushi served on a naked model in Vancouver. 

naked-sushi-4-620x936Naked Sushi, a catering and events company that supplies this unique service, just launched in Vancouver, reported VancityBuzz. The company employs models to lie very still, sometimes for hours at a time, while partygoers pluck sushi off of their naked bodies with chopsticks. 

A variety of maki and nigiri is arranged strategically on the model’s body on their stomachs, legs, chest area, etc. You can also order bento boxes and a variety of appetizers. And prices vary based on what kind of sushi you want, and how long you’d like your naked sushi model to stay at your party. 

Food Safety Talk 64: The One With Doug

Food Safety Talk, a bi-weekly podcast for food safety nerds, by food safety nerds. The podcast is hosted by Ben Chapman and barfblog contributor Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor at Rutgers University. Every two weeks or so, Ben and Don get together virtually and talk for about an hour.  They talk about what’s on their minds or in the news regarding food safety, and popular culture. They strive to be relevant, funny and informative — sometimes they succeed. You can download the audio recordings right from the website, or subscribe using iTunes.doug.powell.church

In a special episode recorded back before Ben went on summer hiatus, the guys invite Doug Powell on for a chat.  According to Wikipedia (which is never wrong), Dr. Douglas Powell was raised in Brantford, Ontario (that’s in Canada). Doug describes himself as a former professor of food safety and the publisher of barfblog.com. He is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey.

These days Doug is been thinking a lot about soul, and given the Venn diagram of their intersecting musical tastes this leads to a discussion of Mr. Soul and a place where even Richard Nixon has got soul. Any discussion of music and soul leads to a mention of the classic Soul Man, which Don knows from the Blues Brothers movie, and Doug knows from the original version by Sam and Dave. Doug is thinking about soul because of his monthly writing gig for the Texas A&M Center for food safety. The piece he was ruminating on during the call led to a post called “It’s Gotta Have Soul” where his central thesis is that most people talking about food safety lack relevance; they lack soul, and fail to resonate.

After the guys bid Doug good night, the discussion turns to managing graduate students, task tracking software like OmniFocus, distracting diversions like Flappy Bird, managing references using Sente or Mendeley and a brief look forward to this special events which are coming, or rather were coming, at the IAFP annual meeting.

Foster Farms, forget the soundbites and PR; market food safety at retail so consumers can choose

According to state-sponsored jazz, Foster Farms, California’s biggest chicken producer, has been accused of poisoning people with salmonella bacteria. After an outbreak last fall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture threatened to shut down three of the company’s plants.

foster.farms.salmonelleaSince then, though, the company has reduced its rates of salmonella contamination dramatically. Some food safety experts are now saying that the whole poultry industry should now follow this company’s example

Last summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found evidence that chicken from Foster Farms had caused a wave of Salmonella infections. More than 600 people had gotten sick.

Inspectors from the USDA arrived at Foster Farms plants, and this time, they went much further than the standard safety test. Instead of just testing whole chicken carcasses, they took samples of what most consumers actually buy: the cut-up parts, such as breasts, thighs and wings.

What they found is now shaking up the whole poultry industry. Their tests showed salmonella on about 25 percent of those cut-up chicken parts.

David Acheson, a former associate commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration, says this pattern has been discovered at other poultry companies, too. Whole carcasses are largely free of salmonella, but then the bacteria appear on nearly a quarter of the chicken parts.

It’s a mystery that the poultry industry is now trying to resolve.

“What happened?” says Acheson. “Did this bug come in from the environment? Did something contaminate it during the process – the equipment, the workers, something weird like that? Or were we missing it the first time?”

Probably, we were missing it, Acheson says.

Others, like Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who makes his living suing companies when their food makes people sick, say it’s not good enough. “The standard is, it’s still OK to have a pathogen on your product that can sicken and kill your customers. And as long as that’s the way it is, we’re always going to limp from outbreak to outbreak to outbreak,” he says.

Marler believes that the FDA should take the same stand against salmonella that it did against another dangerous microbe: disease-causing E. coli.

When the FDA declared these E. coli bacteria illegal adulturants in food, the meat industry complained, but it also found new ways to prevent them from poisoning people. “It used to be 90 percent of my law firm’s revenue, and now it’s nearly zero. It’s a success story,” says Marler.

Eliminating salmonella altogether would be difficult — it’s much more common in the environment than disease-causing E. coli.

So for now, the FDA is asking companies to reduce salmonella contamination, but it’s not requiring chicken meat to be completely salmonella-free.

Wales to close only public food safety lab

I’m big on my Welsh heritage as I get older, but not sure I understand this.

hugh.pennigtonUK food safety go-to-person, Groundhog Day’s Hugh Pennington, says the closure of Wales’ only publicly-run food testing laboratory due to cuts mean councils may struggle to respond to another incident like the horsemeat scandal, and that relying on private laboratories could create problems in times of crisis.

Cardiff council said cuts had forced the closure but it would ensure public safety was maintained.

Eight other local authorities also use the laboratory.

It means the councils, like others around Wales, will contract-out the testing to privately-run facilities.

But Prof Pennington, an expert on bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, said: “If you don’t have [a publicly-run lab] you could get into serious difficulties.

Prof Pennington led the investigation into the 2005 E. coli outbreak in south Wales

tipton.slasher.statue“Like horsemeat, where something comes out of the blue and suddenly there’s an enormous issue, the public want it resolved and you have to work out if there’s a public health threat.

“You have to work out what the scale of the problem is and you need some sort of central authority working for the public to do that.

“You can’t do that just by relying on outsourcing all your testing.”

Food safety takes a hit in Danish budget proposal

At a time when a listeria outbreak continues to claim new victims – 13 people have died and a 29th person was confirmed as infected on Thursday – salmonella fears caused an egg recall and a steep increase in MRSA has been recorded, the government’s budget proposal released this week calls for cut in food control funding.

sorenThe government’s budget includes a 139.9 million kroner ($24.8 million) reduction in food safety controls and research. The cuts from a total food security budget of roughly 1.4 billion kroner and would be spread across the next four years. 

The cut was revealed on the same day that a new salmonella scare led to the recall of chilli-flavoured pork chops and just days after the food company Lepo recalled a batch of the popular liver pate spreadleverpostej after the discovery of listeria. 

 According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), measured by capita Denmark has some of the worst food security in the EU. The EFSA ranks Denmark as third worst country when it comes to the number of people infected with listeria, the eighth worst for campylobacter infections and the 11th worst when it comes to salmonella.