Food Safety Talk 77: Sous vide is French for under vacuum

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.large_89552732661

Ben and Don start by catching up about technology. Ben is quite excited about Google fiber coming to Raleigh, NC, Don, already subscribed to Verizon fios says that the fiber is great. Ben then leads a discussion about his new obsession, the Wake Forest Community discussion board on Facebook. The page is a forum for pretty much anything from tooth abscesses, to snakes, to local business ratings. The guys delve into the community forum concept and explore the intersection with food safety (sale of goods, transportation from out of state). Don mentions that he has been volunteering with the innovation committee in Freehold borough who also is looking at a community forum.  Ben introduces the concept of lip dubbing and Don provides his favorite, a NFL video about reading of lips incorrectly.

The real food safety portion of the podcast starts by Don talking about Better Process Control School. Don talked about some feedback he was giving to a couple of small companies about aseptic processing, challenge studies and jacketed kettles, and expressed some frustration with FDA because sometimes their interpretation of science isn’t clear.

The discussion goes into regulatory hurdles, retail food safety, variances and HACCP plans. Ben talked about an individual that is interested in food sustainability who is looking to divert food waste from restaurants to pantries, using reduced oxygen packaging for storage and transport. The guys talk about regulating food even that is given away (but not it all states) and the variance process.

NC Senator Thom Tillis garnered headlines for suggesting that restaurants be allowed to opt out of handwashing regulations as long as they post a disclosure or advisory – or  replacing one regulation with another. The podcast ends with a discussion of a possible norovirus outbreak at NC State.

NC State researchers show copper affects norovirus capsid

Matt Shipman, public information officer at NC State University and curator of The Abstract writes, norovirus affects an estimated 20 million Americans every year, and the hardy virus can linger on exposed surfaces for weeks – making it difficult to stop the spread of the disease. But a new finding from NC State researchers shows that an age-old commodity may be a new tool in combating norovirus: copper.pennies-435cs051012-1

The researchers found that viral shells (being used as a stand-in for norovirus) that were in contact with copper alloys for at least ten minutes became effectively neutralized. In other words, the finding means that virus particles that land on a copper doorknob or counter-top would no longer be capable of causing a norovirus infection.

The work holds promise for helping to limit the spread of norovirus infection via “environmental contamination” in places like hospitals or doctor’s offices.

A paper on the finding, “Destruction of the Capsid and Genome of GII.4 Human Norovirus Occurs During Exposure to Metal Alloys Containing Copper,” is published online in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. The paper was authored by NC State researchers Chip Manuel, Matt Moore, and Lee-Ann Jaykus, who are part of the NoroCORE research collaborative. NoroCORE stands for the Norovirus Collaborative for Outreach, Research, and Education, and involves more than 30 research teams from 18 institutions. It is funded through a $25 million grant awarded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

More information on the work is also available on the site of the American Society for Microbiology.

A different kind of mile-high club: 12 ill on a flight to LAX

Illnesses happen on planes, and it’s miserable.

The Los Angeles Times reports that 12 passengers on a flight from Fiji to LAX fell ill with vomiting and nausea. Each of the affected flyers reported staying in the same hotel prior to the flight.

Maybe the best plane-related outbreak was one reported in Clinical Infectious Diseases a couple of years ago. I’d describe my poop and barf-related imagination as pretty good but I couldn’t have dreamt up the scenario that unfolded on a plane leaving Boston bound for Los Angeles in October 2008.F97B1678-9288-4E1F-A6DC-5C807461E2CA

Members of [the] tour group experienced diarrhea and vomiting throughout an airplane flight from Boston, Massachusetts, to Los Angeles, California, resulting in an emergency diversion 3 h after takeoff.

The problematic flight departed Boston on Oct 8, 2008, heading for Los Angeles and carrying among its passengers 35 members of a leaf-peeping tour group. (Four more members of the group had planned other routes home, while two had been hospitalized in the previous 2 days.)

The outbreak included a passenger with “multiple episodes of diarrhea, with at least 1 occurring in the aisle of the first-class section. The soiled aisle was not cleaned until after completion of the flight.”

Norovirus sucks; The Cowfish reopens after 50 illnesses and a deep clean

Last week I talked to a bunch of retail food safety folks at FMI Foundation’s Retail Food Safety Forum about norovirus (and other stuff). Part of my message was that once the perfect human pathogen is in a restaurant, grocery store, or cruise ship, it’s tough to get it out without some illnesses.

Part of the problem with noro (beyond the low mean infectious dose; environmental stability; and, 10^9 virus particles per gram of vomit/poop) is a vomit event can lead to particles floating through the air. And maybe moving 30 feet from the barf splatter. Check out Grace Thompson’s vomit modeling apparatus (below, exactly as shown) for more.

According to WCNC, The Cowfish, a popular sushi and burger joint in Charlotte, is about to reopen following a noro outbreak affecting over 50 staff and patrons. Mecklenburg County Medical Director Dr. Stephen Keener says the working theory, according to is that a patron or food handler had the virus, brought it into the system, and spread it.

The Cowfish voluntarily closed its doors after norovirus is believed to have made about 50 people sick last week.

They original closed the doors to the restaurant as a precaution. The second time they closed, they brought in professionals to clean. Something they didn’t do the first time.

NBC Charlotte pulled up the most recent health inspection report. The restaurant was cited for hands not being clean and properly washed.

The health department still hasn’t found the cause of the illness and released this statement: ‘Cowfish management has been proactive and in constant contact with the Health Department.”

The owner of the restaurant calls this a regrettable situation and says, ‘We also will continue to work with health officials to be sure we are doing everything possible to protect the health and safety of our guests and employees.’

Bringing in some professionals who have compounds that are effective against noro (CDC advises 1000-5000ppm of chlorine for contaminated surfaces).


Don’t be creepy: Singer gave Lionel Richie Norovirus after lips smooch at Glastonbury

Alex Jones gave the Norovirus to Lionel Richie after he planted a kiss on her lips.

lionel.richieThe One Show host joked the singer, who had to cancel two of his gigs after contracting the infection by pecking her at Glastonbury, should have just gone for her cheek to avoid having to cancel two of his gigs as a result.

She told The Sun: “After Lionel and I had just finished our chat on the show, I went to give him a kiss on the cheek and he went in for the lips.

“He caught the Norovirus off me and had to cancel two of his tour dates.”

55 sick: Norovirus linked to NC Cowfish Sushi Bar illness55 sick: Norovirus linked to NC Cowfish Sushi Bar illness

The Mecklenburg County Health Department believes norovirus is what caused customers and employees at Cowfish Sushi Bar and Grill to become sick.

Cowfish Sushi Bar and GrillTwenty-one employees and 34 customers reported flu-like symptoms, prompting the restaurant to close Saturday.

They have since sanitized and are back open.

The Health Department says it could have been passed on any number of ways.

“It could have been some contaminated object or presumably a contaminated food, but somebody had to have it to contaminate it in the first place,” said Dr. Stephen Keener, the medical director for Mecklenburg County.

The virus can live anywhere from days to weeks.

Finland marketing: Please don’t go to the toilet in the water

And you thought Canadians were polite (we’re not, we swear a lot, fornicate and play hockey, what else to do in cold weather; sorta like Finland).

la-et-mn-russell-crowe-career-in-pictures-2015-045Finland’s health authorities have been issuing advice in an attempt to prevent the spread of Norovirus among swimmers this summer, following last year’s outbreak when hundreds of beachgoers caught the contagious vomiting bug.

Authorities are now keen to avoid a repeat of last year’s numerous beach closures.

Senior inspector Jaana Kilponen, from the health and safety executive Valvira, said that changing rooms and toilet facilities at bathing spots were also responsible for the spread.

“When you’ve got ideal swimming conditions, such as warm water and lots of people, then it’s important that authorities make sure the facilities are cleaned more frequently, and kept well stocked with soap and hand towels,” she told Yle.

Kilponen also implored swimmers to avoid being sick or going to the toilet in the water – and not to drink it. Anyone with Norovirus should wait two weeks before going swimming. Kilponen admits that in theory it’s possible that a single infected swimmer could contaminate the water.

‘Food safety is our number one’ 18 sickened as California Norovirus outbreak leads to voluntary four-day restaurant closure

The well-known Sky Room restaurant and bar voluntarily closed for four days last week to implement a full-scale sanitation process in response to a norovirus outbreak, officials at The Sky Room and the Long Beach Environmental Health Bureau confirmed Monday.

sky.roomEnvironmental Health Bureau Manager Nelson Kerr and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) call the virus one of the “most common” outbreaks in the U.S., infecting 19 to 21 million people in the U.S. each year. The CDC states that anyone can be infected, often by touching an “infected person, contaminated food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces.”

“It’s been contained—at this point, it’s over,” Kerr said. “The Sky Room took the opportunity to go above and beyond in its response, according to CDC guidelines.”

Kerr said the restaurant closed from May 22 to May 26  and used the CDC guidelines required of cruise ships in response to a norovirus outbreak, which involve cleaning everything with a specific concentration of bleach and water.

According to Kerr, a total of 18 cases of the virus were reported among employees and patrons, with 15 probable cases and three confirmed. The three confirmed instances of the virus were reported among three employees of The Sky Room.

The Sky Room owner Jonathan Rosenson said, “Food safety is our number one,” Rosenson said, noting that the owners’ grandchildren have visited the restaurant since the outbreak. “We want people to come to our restaurant and have the best time ever.”

California restaurant closes for noro clean up

Norovirus persistence is a problem for the food industry. The virus is hardy and can stick around on surfaces for six weeks or more. Once it’s there, the virus is tough to get out of a kitchen, dining room, restroom or storage area.

Oh, and with a low mean infectious dose, some difficult choices have to be made when there’s an outbreak. In 2014, Mohonk Mountain House in New York State closed for a week while a cleaning and sanitizing crew tried to get rid of the virus after hundreds of guests got sick over a 10-day period.10849902_719581291471357_3442145704847569295_n1-300x300-300x300

According to the Press Telegram, the Sky Room in Long Beach, California shut for three days for a noro clean up last week.

The Sky Room, a Long Beach restaurant known as one of the Southland’s more romantic spots, shut down this week following a report that 18 patrons and three employees fell ill earlier this month.

After a three-day closure in which the restaurant was sanitized top to bottom several times over, inspectors report, the Long Beach Bureau of Environmental Health gave the Sky Room the green light Tuesday to re-open. 

 The first reports of a problem came when six people who dined May 1 at two different tables reported falling ill, according to “epidemiological documentation” in a city inspection report.

On May 13, more patrons reported distress after eating at the Sky Room days before, the report says. The restaurant closed Friday, May 22 and re-opened Tuesday.

“Our reputation is everything,” said owner Bernard Rosenson, adding that not only did he hire a consultant to train the staff, but the consultant will return monthly to make sure best sanitation practices are continued.

Dale Bass of Kamloops This Week (that’s in British Columbia, Canada) writes that when norovirus hit customers at one Greek restaurant in the city, there were headlines with the name of the Victoria Street eatery — and it was shut down for days.

medzedesWhen norovirus struck another Greek restaurant just 16 months later, there was nothing in media releases identifying the eatery and it was not ordered closed.

Doug Dick was one of several people who became sick with the virus after eating at Minos restaurant on Tranquille Road in North Kamloops earlier this month. He asked KTW why Minos was not closed, since Dorian’s Greek House in downtown Kamloops was closed in December 2013.

Dick wondered if the reaction to Dorian’s situation came as a result of it being Royal Inland Hospital medical staff becoming ill there, something Joyce Michaud, the Interior Health Authority’s environmental-health officer — and the person who oversees inspections of places like restaurants — said is incorrect.

She said when her team is advised of a suspicious health outbreak, it doesn’t consider the occupations of those who are sick unless there is a direct link.

The focus, Michaud said, is identifying the bug, figuring out where it came from and, if possible, where it is, and helping the facility take steps to eradicate it.

Part of that is ensuring people who need to have medical tests get them done and often, which means delivering the test kits to sick people, Michaud said, rather than asking them to leave their homes.

Dick also wondered why IHA didn’t issue a press release warning people about about Minos.

Michaud noted the IHA didn’t issue a press release about Dorian’s, either. Because RIH operating-room staff becoming ill, a release was sent out advising the public surgeries were being cancelled.

Because the medical staff had not eaten at the restaurant — Dorian’s catered an event for them — the first task was to identify where the virus had come from, Michaud said. Soon there were many more people contacting the IHA with norovirus symptoms and, when it became apparent there was a public-health risk linked to Dorian’s, the restaurant was identified.

With Minos, there was one report on May 4 of someone becoming ill after eating there on May 2. An inspector was sent to the restaurant and, in the absence of any leftover food from that date, reviewed food-safety practices with the staff and told them the facility had to be thoroughly cleaned because the virus could linger on surfaces.

“The next day, we got another call and we called the restaurant again,” Michaud said, noting the IHA did not see it as an ongoing risk to the public since the restaurant had undergone a thorough cleaning.

“With Dorian’s, there was an order issued [to close until it was given permission from IHA to reopen] ,but there was no need for an order at Minos,” Michaud said.

Orders like that issued to Dorian are also posted on the authority’s website at

While it did confirm the name of the restaurant to people calling the authority to report illness, Michaud said a decision to release a name “is typically done on the basis of ongoing risk to the community and/or where it would aid ongoing investigation by having those at risk contact IH.

“The situation at Minos was not one where it appeared the restaurant was contributing to ongoing illness,” she said.