Boil berries: Ireland reiterates advice

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) today reiterated its advice to consumers to boil all imported frozen berries for at least one minute prior to consumption. 

berries.boozeThe advice follows recent outbreaks of norovirus in Sweden and hepatitis A virus in Australia linked to the consumption of imported frozen berries, although there is no indication that batches of berries implicated have been imported into Ireland.

The outbreak in Sweden occurred in a nursing home in the beginning of May, causing 70 people to become ill with norovirus. Three deaths are reported to have been potentially linked to this outbreak. Microbiological analysis confirmed that imported frozen raspberries from Serbia were the source of this outbreak.  Contrary to national food safety advice in Sweden, the frozen imported raspberries were served uncooked in a dessert.  In Australia, imported frozen berries were linked to an outbreak of Hepatitis A virus which caused over 30 people to become ill during February and March of this year.

The advice to boil all imported frozen berries was first issued by the FSAI in 2013 during the investigation of an outbreak of hepatitis A virus in Ireland which was linked to imported frozen berries.  The advice was renewed in 2014 following related outbreaks in Europe.  The Irish outbreak turned out to be part of a multi-State outbreak, with over 1,000 cases reported in 12 EU countries.  Following a European-wide investigation the source of the outbreak was never confirmed, however batches of frozen berries from twelve food operators were linked to cases of illness in five of the countries affected.

Dr Lisa O’Connor, Chief Specialist in Food Science, FSAI states: “There remains an ongoing risk in the global imported frozen berry supply chain.  We therefore continue to recommend that imported frozen berries should be boiled for at least one minute before they are eaten.  This precautionary measure will destroy the virus if it is present and is particularly important when serving these foods to vulnerable people such as nursing home residents. While fresh berries have not been linked to these outbreaks, we remind consumers that – as with all other fruit and vegetables – they should always be washed thoroughly if they are being eaten uncooked.”

Uh-huh: Rules will be strict and strident for frozen berries imported into Australia after hep A outbreak

Australian bureaucrats apparently don’t know hepatitis A is only transmitted amongst humans – it does not go through animals.

FROZEN BERRIES RECALLBut to have the appearance of doing something, importers of frozen berries will have to prove their fruit comes from farms and factories with strict sanitation standards after 34 people were sickened with hep A in Australia this year.

The Federal Agriculture Department enacted new health regulations, with the threat of up to 10 years jail if importers do not comply.

The department will also begin testing berries for E. coli after the rash of food poisoning cases highlighted inadequate screening and lax product labelling rules.

Victoria’s Patties Foods recalled Nanna’s 1kg frozen mixed berries after people were diagnosed with hepatitis A after eating this brand, which was packed in China.

The source of the infection remains unknown but the only common element was all patients ate the same brand of berries. Tests on an unopened pack found traces of the virus.

Thirty companies import frozen berries from China.

The food safety watchdog says correctly handled berries do not pose a medium or high threat to health but the new rules require importers to follow good agricultural and hygienic practices throughout the supply chain.

These include no contact with fecal matter or animals, clean and sanitised equipment, the product stays frozen and clean water is used for growing and washing berries.

Before they can ship berries into Australia, importers will have to review suppliers and keep records of these assessments.

Five per cent of berry consignments will be tested for E.coli, which can be a sign of poor hygiene. Testing for hepatitis A can be difficult because levels of the virus in food may be too low to be detected.

Food Safety Talk 76: Get ‘em really hot

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.1431643647306

This episode starts with a discussion of Ben’s taste in music, and then quickly moves into documentaries. Ben recently watched Jodorowsky’s Dune, on Don’s recommendation.  This documentary has some ‘artful nudity’ that leads to a discussion of perverts on airplanes and the appropriateness of reading material such as Fifty Shades of Grey while crammed into an airplane seat.  The conversation naturally transitioned into a discussion of microphone stands and coffee. Ben notes that owning a Nespresso machine has changed his life; he ranks it among his top 10 life changing things (including his wife and children). The guys then discuss other pop-culture topics including Deflate-Gate and TV shows The Affair,Portlandia (which had an episode satirizing raw milk), and Garfunkel and Oates. Note that Portlandia is required viewing before attending IAFP 2015 in Portland this summer

Ben leads off the actual food safety talk by mentioning sprouts and the number of outbreaks associated with them.  The guys then discuss experiments to validate sprout cooking processes including charred bean sprouts.  Ben then brings up the idea of baking cookies in a car and a visit from Linda Harris (who now downloads and listens).  From there the talk turns to pathogen reduction validations for baking processes spurred by the Wegmans recall of baked fruit dessertslast summer, presumably because they contained peaches recalled for Listeria.

The FDA’s Reportable Food Registry, along with CDC whole genome sequencing of pathogens, is enabling more illnesses to be linked to products, as seen in Salmonella Braenderup linked to nut butter.  Ben predicts more businesses will have to issue recalls because of validation issues, and the investigations that accompany these recalls will isolate pathogens from within facilities that can be linked to other illnesses which have occurred over months and years prior.

The discussion then turns to the very bad blizzard that New Jersey never had.  Don discusses the similarities between the models for weather forecasting and models in food safety.   Both situations have consequences for over or under reacting; both present risk management and risk communication difficulties.

A tweet from The New Yorker made Don mad: Bill Marler may be all that stands between you and Salmonella.  This resulted in Don tweeting back to The New Yorker.  Ben mentioned it was probably just Betteridge’s Law of Headlines.   Bill Marler is probably not all that stands between you and Salmonella; as there are a few more people trying to do the right thing.  The guys then go on to discuss how Marler and Caroline Smith DeWaal, a lawyer with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have become controversial but generally respected food safety personalities over the years.

Don recently was quoted in an article about the safety of various cuts of meat (and Barfblogged here).   Don and Ben were so happy Don was quoted correctly, they were able to ‘ding’ their podcast bell; a auditory high-five.

Pork has a reputation for being dangerous but decreases in the prevalence of Trichinella and Americans tendency to overcook pork have reduced the actual risk, so Ben wanted to discuss a recent MMWR Trichinellosis report.  Don mentions ‘The Batz Report’ which determined the top 10 pathogen-food combinations with the greatest burden in public health.  This led to a discussion of sample size, detection limits, consumption rates, and risk messaging, leading to the conclusion that cultural practices in food preparation adds complexity to the determination of risk.

Thunder Bay restaurant food handler has hepatitis A

There’s a lot of hep A in food handlers making the news. Regardless of whether the staff member is a superstar handwasher, or not so stellar, folks who are exposed will be lining up for shots somewhere. And the stigma associated with the business is hard to shake.

According to the Thunder Bay News Watch (that’s in Canada), Bight Restaurant and Bar is experiencing the hepatitis A rollercoaster.51h4OC-rlZL._SY300_

The Health Unit is investigating a case of hepatitis A in an employee of Bight Restaurant and Bar, located at 2210 Sleeping Giant Parkway, Unit 100, Marina Park.

Anyone who visited this restaurant between March 23 and April 12 may have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus.

Patrons who have previously completed the two-dose hepatitis A vaccine series or the three-dose Twinrix® series would be protected. Staff of the restaurant is being offered immunization. Although the vaccine is most effective if given within 14 days of exposure, the Health Unit will be offering a free vaccination clinic on Saturday, April 18 from 12:00 to 3:00pm at 999 Balmoral Street (corner of Balmoral and William Street) for those that visited the establishment between March 23 and April 12.

Testing is necessary evil not food safety solution: Company ignores epi says tests are clean

Despite 31 people sickened with Hepatitis A linked by epidemiology to frozen berries from China, Australian food manufacturer Patties Foods is bragging that tests on its recalled frozen berries from China  are negative.

FROZEN BERRIES RECALLPatties Foods sent about 360 packs of recalled and non-recalled frozen berries for testing at accredited viral laboratories in Europe, North America and Australia, but neither hepatitis A norE. coli was detected in any sample.

Steven Chaur, Patties Foods CEO, said in a statement, “Extensive microbiological and viral testing conducted by Patties Foods shows no evidence of systemic failure of Patties Foods’ quality assurance programs.”

Bullshit.

Anyone in food safety knows that testing is the last resort and proves nothing.

 

Thank you Subway sandwich artists: Hep A exposure in Arkansas

The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) is warning of a possible Hepatitis A Virus (Hep A) exposure after a Subway employee in Morrilton tested positive for the virus. The Subway is located at 1812 AR-9 Bus, of off I-40 Exit 108, in Morrilton, Arkansas.

hepatitis.AAny individual, who has eaten food from the Morrilton, Ark. Subway between March 25, 2015 and April 5, 2015 and is experiencing symptoms, should contact their primary care provider immediately. Typical symptoms of Hep A include, but are not limited to: fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, or jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes).

Hep A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. A person can transmit the virus to others up to 2 weeks before and one week after symptoms appear.

Organic juice bar employee has hep A in Toronto

I don’t do juice bars.

big.carrotI’ll take my fruit whole.

And I don’t want it organic.

Toronto Public Health is advising anyone who consumed juice at the Big Carrot organic juice bar located at 348 Danforth Avenue in Toronto, Ontario, between March 17, 2015 and April 2, 2015 that they may have been exposed to hepatitis A.  While the risk is low, individuals who consumed fresh organic juice from this food market during these dates should get a hepatitis A vaccination as soon as possible.

An employee of the Big Carrot organic juice bar is a confirmed case of hepatitis A and anyone who consumed fresh juice at the organic juice bar between March 17, 2015 and April 2, 2015 could be at risk of infection.  Toronto Public Health is asking anyone who consumed organic fresh juice at the organic juice bar during these dates to monitor for signs and symptoms, practice thorough hand washing and contact their health care provider if concerned.

 

Market microbial food safety at retail and stop hucksterism: Brisbane campaign to buy local produce

It’s not a new superbug, it’s an outbreak of super stupidity.

A Brisbane TV station finally woke up to Australia’s egg problem, and titled their investigation (bottom), Scientists fear super strain of bacteria behind food poisoning outbreak.

Raw_eggThis refers to the numerous egg-related outbreaks in Queensland and throughout Australia, largely related to a chef snobbery that they have to make their own aioli or mayo using raw eggs.

A table of raw egg related outbreaks in Australia is available at http://barfblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/raw-egg-related-outbreaks-australia-3-12-15-2.pdf or http://barfblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/raw-egg-related-outbreaks-australia-3-12-15.xlsx

And in response to the 32 Australians that have been stricken with Hepatitis A from imported frozen fruit, a new initiative is targeting Brisbane shoppers to support local farmers by buying local produce.

Every time some in Brisbane gets religion about buying local, I point out that’s much easier in a sub-tropical climate than, say, Canada.

The scheme involves 100 independent grocers and is backed by Brisbane’s Produce Markets. 

Greengrocer Joseph Guardala said the “hand picked” message was aimed at family shoppers.

He claims greengrocers have better fruit and vegetables than major supermarkets, because they specialize in it.

“They don’t want imported stuff, they want their local fruit to and veg to be locally grown here,” he said

He visits the Brisbane Markets every morning to source the produce for his store, Indooroopilly Fruit. 

“I’m hand picking everything, I’m tasting everything, I open boxes, I even pick through pallets every day, just to get my 24 grapes that I exactly want,” he said.

Here’s hoping you washed your hands properly before spreading Norovirus on all that fresh fruit and veg you touch.

Charlotte restaurant owner says cost of vaccinating food handlers against hepatitis A worth it

Risk-based decision making is the mantra in food safety. Picking out an intervention is a starts with a numbers game: calculating the prevalence of an action (like handwashing) and matching that with the likelihood of a pathogen in the system. This is the stuff that gets the math nerds like Schaffner excited (me too).

Businesses are faced with cost/risk/benefit decisions daily.ART_vaccine_032711-copy_1

One that’s been debated in food service for over twenty years is whether or not employers or public health folks should require food handlers to be vaccinated for hepatitis A. Authors of a 2000 Journal of Food Protection arrived at the conclusion that the public health benefit of vaccinating for hep A doesn’t equal the costs – but doesn’t factor in all the bad publicity, hassle and incident management costs.

A Charlotte restaurant owner who dealt with a hep A exposure event says the cost to his business was more than the shots, and is suggesting that all food handlers should be vaccinated.

Charlotte restaurant owner is going on the offensive battling perception and health concern over Hepatitis A.

“The restaurant industry is thriving,” said Jon Dressler, owner of three Charlotte-area restaurants.

Last month, however, he received a call no one wants to get.

“We were contacted by the Mecklenburg Health Department that one of our employees had contacted Hep A while on vacation,” said Dressler. “It’s not a cleanliness issue, it’s not an internal issue. The health department didn’t have to shut us down.”

Rather than being upset, Dressler has another idea.

“It would be wonderful if all of Mecklenburg County restaurant workers were required to have the Hep vaccination,” said Dressler.

The National Restaurant Association reports there are 426,000 restaurant workers in North Carolina. The two-set vaccination is about $150 a person.  Meaning, it would cost close to $64 million to vaccinate all restaurant workers in the state.  No one from the state or Mecklenburg County health departments wanted to comment on camera about the need for the vaccine.  However, the CDC did put out a report.

“Slowly, but surely, all of my employees are being vaccinated,” said Dressler.

The restaurant owner isn’t taking chances, making all of his employees get the vaccine.  He admits it’s expensive, but it’s a cost he’s willing to take.

“You weigh the expense of the vaccination versus the expense of any lost business you might incur,” said Dressler.

Why I don’t eat raw shellfish: Viruses in food

The UK Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) has published its extensive review of viruses in the food chain. The ACMSF set up a group to revisit the issue of foodborne viruses in light of developments in this area. The final report considered the most important viruses associated with foodborne infections – norovirus, hepatitis A, and hepatitis E.

heston_blumenthalThe report makes a number of recommendations for government departments, including the need for more research in certain areas, and for clear advice for consumers, for example on cooking shellfish and pork products and information on washing leafy green vegetables and soft fruit. The government will respond in due course when the recommendations have been considered in detail.

Professor Sarah O’Brien, Chair of the ACMSF, said: ‘Until recently it has been difficult to assess accurately the impact of foodborne viruses on public health. However, significant advances in our ability to detect viruses in food, coupled with up- to-date estimates of the burden of illness, highlighted in the ACMSF’s latest update, show us that viruses are very important, preventable causes of foodborne illness.’

Summary

In 1994, in response to the outcomes of a joint Advisory Committee of Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) and Steering Group on the Microbiological Safety of Food (SGMSF) meeting, a Working Group was set up to investigate the science and epidemiology of Foodborne Viral Infections. The Working Group assessed the risk from viruses that were believed to be the primary cause of foodborne illness. This report provides an update to this information and provides a new focus on the viruses which are currently the major route of foodborne illness.

Since the publication of the 1998 report, with the exception of two minor risk assessments on hepatitis E and avian influenza, no formal review on viruses had been performed by the ACMSF. It was decided that as significant developments had been made not only in the detection of foodborne viruses, but also in the amount of information obtained from the Infectious Intestinal Disease (IID) Study in England (published in 2000), which indicated a significant disease burden from enteric viruses in the community, it was important that an Ad-Hoc Group was convened to revisit these issues and to provide an update to the 1998 risk assessment.

norovirus-2The FVI Group first met to begin their consideration in November 2010. Over 32 months, the Group met thirteen times to discuss all aspects of viruses in the food chain from farm to fork. As a starting point for the report, the Group reviewed the recommendations from the 1998 report and gave consideration as to whether these had been adequately addressed or were still relevant. At the same time the recommendations from the 2008 World Health Organisation (WHO) Viruses in Food: Scientific Advice to Support Risk Management Activities Matrix and CODEX Criteria, and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Scientific Opinion on an update on the present knowledge on the occurrence and control of foodborne viruses were reviewed.

Using this information along with data on disease burden in the community and outbreak data (from IID and IID2) the Group agreed the scope of the report and what viruses would be its main focus. It was decided that that due to their potential impact and the paucity of data in this area, norovirus, hepatitis E and hepatitis A would be the main focus of the report, although many of the recommendations would also be applicable to other enteric viruses.

During its consideration, the Group reviewed available data on commodities contaminated at source, i.e. bivalve shellfish, pork products and fresh produce and reviewed data on risks associated with infected food handlers. Environmental contamination was reviewed with consideration given to testing methods such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), person-to-person transmission and food handlers. The Group also considered the engagement with industry and other Government departments (OGDs) regarding environmental conditions of shellfish waters and its impact on norovirus.

A review of data on issues regarding food contact surface contamination, including survivability and persistence was considered along with options for control at all stages of the food chain e.g. thermal processing, storage etc. The thermal stability of hepatitis E was considered with data presented on the increasing occurrence of the disease particularly in older UK males and the recent case control study on the association with processed pork products.

In order to obtain sentinel data the group investigated the important issue of knowledge gathering and surveillance data regarding foodborne viruses. The current limitations of the data were discussed along with what type of data was needed to provide more useful/accurate information on foodborne virus outbreaks. This review included looking at outbreaks from an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) perspective and how they prioritise what they investigate and the data they collect.

Finally, the group reviewed the consumer perspective on risk. This included looking at how risk is presented and information distributed, as this was likely to impact on any future risk assessment.

Within the report the Group has endeavoured to prioritise the recommendations by separating these into those that will inform risk assessments and those that will impact on risk assessments. Full details are provided in the report; however, key recommendations include:

A better understanding of ‘’foodborne viral disease’ (Chapter 3) is required by investigating the correlation between infective dose and genome titre. Molecular diagnostics, typing and quantification should also be used to better understand the burden of virus contamination in foodstuffs. Work is also recommended to develop the methods used to assess norovirus and hepatitis E infectivity in food samples. This would better inform surveys and could potentially be applied to routine monitoring.

Improved ‘routine surveillance and investigation of foodborne viruses’ (Chapter 5) is required with Government agencies developing a single integrated outbreak reporting scheme. A joined up approach that would also involve the annual consolidation of records would reduce the chance of underreporting outbreaks. Further to this, reliable methods for norovirus whole genome sequencing should be developed to enable virus tracking and attribution.

More research on the ‘contamination of food’ (Chapter 6) through sewage contamination is recommended. In particular work should investigate the effectiveness of sewage treatment processes in reducing norovirus concentrations, including the use of depuration on shellfish species and disinfection treatments. Similarly, research is needed to identify the most effective means of decontaminating ‘fresh produce’ post-harvest (Chapter 7).

With the emerging risk of hepatitis E in pigs, the Group recommends work is undertaken to investigate the heat inactivation of hepatitis E in ‘pork products’ (Chapter 8). Research on the effect of curing and fermentation on hepatitis E in pork products is also recommended.

The full list of conclusions and recommendation are presented at the end of each subject area and are consolidated in Chapter 12 for ease of reference.

The assessments made and conclusions reached by the Group reflect evidence oral and written drawn from the scientific community, Government departments and Agencies, EFSA and the scientific literature. The Group’s full conclusions, identified data gaps and recommendations are brought together at the end of this report. The ACMSF accepts full responsibility for the final content of the report.