Posting restaurant inspection grades creates a dialogue

Estimates suggest up to 70% of foodborne illnesses are acquired outside of the home. Every week there is at least one restaurant-related outbreak reported in the news media somewhere. Cross-contamination; lack of handwashing; and, improper cooking or holding temperatures are all common themes. These are the same things Peel Region (that’s in Canada) inspectors are looking for, according to the Mississauga News.barf-o-meter_-dec_-12-216x300

There are 50 health inspectors assigned to monitor conditions in the almost 5,700 food establishments operating in Peel Region.

Depending on what public health staff uncovers, those establishments are issued either green pass signs, yellow conditional passes or red closure orders.

Operators are required to post those colour-coded inspection notices at entrances to their businesses for the public to see.

According to Peel director environmental health Paul Callanan, the person in charge of the region’s health inspector corps, the vast majority of establishments in Peel pass regular inspection and are issued green signs.

“There’s about six per cent of food places that are considered that have a conditional pass or closed sign at any point and time,” he estimated.

In 2015, the region issued 9,656 pass signs, 319 conditional passes and closed 16 premises due to unhealthy conditions, while laying 189 food safety charges under public health protection legislation.

The public is free to view the most recent inspection results for food service establishments in Peel on a website portal maintained by the health department.

Surveying that database, it’s clear most restaurants have Peel Public Health’s approval to conduct business.

The health department’s disclosure website gives the public a window into restaurant kitchens, Callanan suggested.

It empowers the public by allowing them to make more informed choices about the establishments they wish to patronize, he said.

“You can log onto whatever your favourite restaurant is and look at the inspection history and if it varies between a green sign and yellow sign, I would wonder about that kind of establishment,” Callanan said.

I’m a fan of posting grades, regardless of the type of food business. While grades represent a snapshot, and don’t correlate well with outbreaks, they create dialogue and can lead to greater public discussion. There are limitations to a grade system because an inspection only reflects conditions at one point in time; the information collected by environmental health folks, no matter how limited, needs to accessible and clear so the public can make informed decisions.

Restaurant inspection grades suppressed in Bermuda

Sam Strangeways of The Royal Gazette writes that environmental health officials have refused to reveal the health and safety “grades” given to every restaurant in Bermuda.

pati-access-info-bermudaThe information was requested by The Royal Gazette under the Public Access to Information Act but the Department of Health’s information officer denied our application after consultation with Susan Hill Davidson, the acting Chief Environmental Health Officer, on four grounds.

This newspaper sought the information in order to publish a list of all restaurants and their most recent grades, similar to the inspection lookup tool offered by NYC Health.

The New York version enables members of the public to search a database and retrieve health inspection results for each of New York City’s 24,000 restaurants before deciding where to eat.

It also mandates disclosure on the entrance, using letter grades (NY.C. and L.A.) or color grades (Toronto) for example.

In Bermuda, it is estimated there are between 150 and 200 food and beverage premises.

The Department of Health said in its refusal letter that to comply with our request would, “by reason of the nature of the records requested, require the retrieval and examination of such records [and] cause a substantial and unreasonable interference with or disruption of the other work of the public authority”.

Information officer Verlina Bishop wrote that complying with the request would require pulling the inspection records of each individual file of food and drink establishments.

“The files are maintained by street address and are not filed according to food and beverage establishments,” she said. “The environmental health section of the Department of Health does not have the manpower to review and compile the records requested.”

Other reasons given for the refusal to disclose information were that the records contained personal, commercial and confidential information, exempt from disclosure.

14 sick: Laksa food poisoning near Darwin

Eoin Blackwell of the Huffington Post reports that Northern Territorians looking for a spicy meal this week received a different kind of kick, with 14 people struck down by food poisoning traced to a laksa vendor.

this-is-a-laksa-restaurantThe NT Department of Health on Wednesday issued a warning about eating laksa purchased at two recent Mindil Beach Markets following a cluster of food poisoning in the Darwin area.

The source of the outbreak has been identified and the stall shut down for rest of the market season.

“We are warning the public not to consume any laksa which was purchased at Mindil Beach markets last Thursday or Sunday evenings,” Acting head of the Centre for Disease Control, Dr Peter Markey, said in a statement.

“Any laksa which was purchased from Mindil Beach on those nights and is still in your fridge or freezer should be disposed of immediately.”

Sounds like any other restaurant: Chorizo, comebacks, cocaine and customers barfing as the missing point about Chipotle

Fast Company has a series of articles about the rise and fall and … of Chipotle.

dark-side-moonThe core of the food safety stories seems to be that Chipotle milks its consumers, so has endless money to spend telling those consumers why it’s safe to eat at Chipotle without backing things up.

The protagonists in this opera involving a lot of barf and a dabble of cocaine, are former professor Mansour Samadpour of IEH Laboratories in Seattle, and Jim Marsden, a meat guy and former professor at Kansas State University.

I was a colleague of Marsden, worked for IEH for three months, and can fully agree with this statement regarding the merits of either’s approach to food safety at Chipotle: “If you’re in a courtroom and you listen to both sides of the argument, it’s hard to say that anyone is 100% correct. It’s all wrapped up in a lot of academic infighting and politics.”

Marsden and Mansour both know a lot of science. They know shit about consumers. History is filled with great hockey players who go on to be lousy coaches, or scientists who stray from their base of expertise and make fools of themselves. But that’s for Chipotle to figure out.

For a company that’s supposed to be supplying ethical ingredients (whatever that means) for over-priced shit, they seem to have picked the wrong argument.

What’s it going to take for customers to barf less?

Mark Crumpacker, the chief creative officer and marketing lead at Chipotle, saidIt’s great to be back” upon returning to the restaurant chain after a three-month leave of absence involving foodborne outbreaks, plummeting share value, and cocaine.

Since returning, Crumpacker’s team has launched a new ad campaign, in partnership with Austin-based agency GSD&M, highlighting the “royal treatment” Chipotle gives its ingredients.

gretzky-600That imagery alone is fairly drug-induced, and any notion that Chipotle is nothing but a business squeezing what it can out of suppliers while marketing overpriced shit is delusional.

 “Obviously our marketing is built on this idea of fresh, high-quality ingredients,” Crumpacker says. “So [the food-safety issues were] sort of like the ultimate insult to that position.”

Because there is nothing in fresh, high-quality ingredients that says safe: Adjectives are the language of hucksters (these are the greatest make-you-fat burritos, ever. They’re really great).

Crumpacker was central in helping the Mexican fast-casual chain foster a glossy aura around its brand, which became synonymous with fresh ingredients and an ethical value set.

Like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, I so much enjoyed their work when they were high.

The story also says Chiptole hired Burson-Marsteller, the crisis-management PR firm the bottom-feeders of PR hacks that has supported Chipotle since the outbreaks (for a cost, paid for by all you yuppies).

Anyone who hires B-M is corporate mainstream, not some hippies selling ethical burritos, whatever that means.

keith-richards-nobel-prize-chemistryAustin Carr of Fast Company asks in another story, is it now safe to eat at Chipotle?

Wrong question.

Was it ever safe to eat at Chipotle given their gross negligence of microbial food safety issues and vast embrace of marketing hucksterism.

Co-CEO Steve Ells says, “Justifiably, people really question our trust. You lose that trust. For how long? We’re working really, really hard to get that trust back.”

Multiple industry experts tell me that Chipotle did not take food safety seriously enough or invest sufficient resources into quality assurance (QA). “When this [outbreak] first broke, the leadership at Chipotle, and I include Steve and [co-CEO] Monty [Moran], were completely sideswiped and didn’t know what the hell they were doing,” says one source familiar with Chipotle’s food-safety measures. “They had not really considered food safety at the level that they should have.”

The question is not how bad Chipotle fucked up and how a chain of such size and profits bamboozle the American public, the question is who will be next? And will anyone pay attention when some voice in the forest says in 2007, these Chipotle types are not focused on food safety?

burson-marsteller-assholeBefore its E. coli incidents, a slew of sources tell me that the food safety and QA team overseeing the company’s entire supply chain included just four people, a low number for a chain of Chipotle’s scale and complexity. The company also split its safety teams, which some suggest created arbitrary divisions of responsibility within the organization. Heidi Wederquist, then Chipotle’s director of QA and food safety, oversaw supply-chain issues, but had little visibility into restaurant operations. Conversely, Tim Spong, who knew Moran in college and served as outside counsel for Chipotle before joining the company, managed safety, security, and risk at the restaurant level. “There is no way a team that small could properly manage all the food coming into that system,” says one former analyst at the company, who now works for a chain much smaller than Chipotle but with a QA team that’s twice its size. Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold disputes the visibility claims but confirms the rest, adding that the team was “strengthened” with additional hires after February 2016 and that the two groups have now been merged under Spong’s leadership. (Additionally, Jason Von Rohr, Chipotle’s executive director of supply chain, who was responsible for sourcing all of Chipotle’s ingredients, departed shortly after the E. coli outbreaks. Multiple sources indicate he had been planning to leave Chipotle and his departure was not a result of the outbreaks. He has since joined Amazon.)

Thanks for the org.chart.

All those people who paid a premium to barf thank you for the org.chart.

Originally, Chipotle followed the guidance of food-safety scientist Mansour Samadpour, who runs the Seattle-based consultancy IEH Laboratories. He’d initially focused the company’s food-safety program on a mix of supply-chain testing and what are called “interventions” or “kill steps,” which work to eliminate pathogens from ingredients. For example, he introduced blanching produce to Chipotle, a kill step whereby Chipotle workers put lemons, limes, onions, avocados, and jalapeños into 185-degree water for five seconds before preparing them for customers.

When Chipotle hired James Marsden in February 2016 to be its director of food safety, he shifted the company to adopt more of these interventions, while winding down Samadpour’s testing system. He expanded the company’s blanching system, for example, to include bell peppers.

One of Marsden’s first acts was to create an ordered list of the riskiest ingredients on the restaurant’s menu. At the top of his list? Chipotle’s beef. Though there likely wasn’t one smoking gun that caused the outbreaks, in terms of particular ingredients, sources indicate Chipotle had narrowed its investigation to a select few items, including onions, cilantro, and beef. Cross-contamination was likely, but because the company’s E. coli outbreaks were limited to around 60 infected people, some food-safety sources suggest it was more than likely Chipotle’s beef was the original culprit that carried the E. coli, since it is a cooked item (unlike, say, cilantro), which may have reduced how widespread the outbreak could have been.

Or, familiarity breeds contempt, and Marsden would be most familiar with beef.

spongebob-oil-colbert-may3-10Likewise, the company, which briefly moved the preparation and sanitation of lettuce to its central kitchens after the outbreaks, has since returned heads of romaine to its stores. How can it do this without risking another outbreak? For the lettuce at least, Chris Arnold, the Chipotle spokesperson, says the company has introduced a new “multi-step washing process” to reduce the risk of pathogens. Marsden boasted to me how Chipotle’s lettuce is safer now because it implemented what’s called “harvest testing,” meaning that it is tested in the field before being shipped to suppliers. But this is a baseline standard in the industry; the company was already doing harvest testing before the crisis.

And those bugs are hard to wash off.

A bunch of us figured out on-farm food safety 20 years ago, to prevent, as much as possible, bugs getting on things like lettuce.

No mention of that.

But lettuce ain’t beef.

Marsden has also unveiled his own testing system, to replace the solution initially implemented by Samadpour, the outside consultant from IEH Laboratories (who has since stopped working with Chipotle). This new system centers on “routinely” verifying the efficacy of Chipotle’s intervention requirements. Rather than having suppliers take and test more frequent samples of raw beef, for example, they can now test at far fewer intervals because the meat is precooked; they’re primarily doing this to ensure that kill steps, such as the sous-vide process of cooking steak, are working properly.

The company has suggested that it is now “doing more testing than we have ever done,” as Arnold tells me. Upfront, this new testing system requires resource-intensive validation studies, to ensure that the entire system is functioning correctly. But after these studies are performed, the company’s food will undergo substantially less food testing than it was under Samadpour. As with Samadpour’s testing program, there are complicated pros and cons to Marsden’s system, but as one neutral food-safety observer says, “If you’re in a courtroom and you listen to both sides of the argument, it’s hard to say that anyone is 100% correct. It’s all wrapped up in a lot of academic infighting and politics.”

This infighting is not purely academic. According to four sources familiar with the situation, Heidi Wederquist, Chipotle’s director of QA and food safety, disagreed with the direction of the company’s program. She has since departed Chipotle to join Samadpour’s IEH Laboratories. Her second in command, Chipotle’s former QA manager, followed her to IEH as well. (Arnold says he cannot comment on the reason for Wederquist’s departure. Wederquist did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this matter.)

Following the outbreaks, Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder and co-CEO, indicated to the public that the company would soon be 10 to 15 years ahead of the restaurant industry in terms of food safety.

More unsubstantiated bragging.

The program Marsden developed, centered on interventions, is a strong system, industry experts say, but it’s not exactly revolutionary. Kill steps are common in the restaurant industry, as is the type of testing Marsden adopted. If anything, this new food-safety system has raised questions about how fresh Chipotle’s food remains today.

The efficacy of Chipotle’s food-safety system is still left, to an extent, up to its crew workers, who are expected to properly wash items such as its lettuce; properly blanch much of its produce; properly handle and cook raw chicken; and properly follow in-restaurant hygiene protocols, such as hand washing, temperature logs, and other food audits. These 60,000 crew workers make an average of $10 an hour and the average Chipotle restaurant sees its headcount turn over at least once a year.

Celebrities want to own a restaurant: Gladys Knight Chicken & Waffles scores 44 on health inspection

The popular but troubled diner Gladys Knight Signature Chicken & Waffles scored a low failing grade of 44 on a recent health inspection.

gladys-knight-chicken-wafflesRoaches and fruit flies, as well as grease and dirt build-ups, were noted on the Peachtree Street restaurant’s inspection, which happened last Thursday.

Under Georgia law, the restaurant will be inspected again within the next 10 days. Another failing grade could lead to Chicken & Waffles being shut down temporarily to fix the problems or even having its license revoked.

Gladys Knight has filed a lawsuit to have her name removed from the chain of restaurants now run by her son, Shanga Hankerson. Hankerson has refused.

That move came after federal revenue officials conducted a June raid at all locations of the restaurant and its corporate headquarters.

The Department of Revenue has opened an investigation of Hankerson, alleging he has failed to pay more than $650,000 in sales and withholding taxes.

UK McDonald’s forced to close after staff find dead mice

Josh Parry and Tyler Mears of the Mirror report a McDonald’s restaurant in Liverpool was forced to close this week after staff found dead mice at the branch.

mcdonaldsBosses confirmed the restaurant was closed for a “short period” after evidence of mice was discovered at the fast food joint.

They said the eaterie in Walton Road has taken steps to address the issue after they called in pest control.

They also insisted there was “no concern regarding food safety” and apologised for the temporary closure of the store.

Restaurant inspection grades easier to spot in Northern Ireland

Starting from, Friday 7 October, people in Northern Ireland will find it easier to see the food hygiene rating of places they eat out or buy food, as food businesses will now have to display their rating sticker by law.

fhrs-niThe Food Hygiene Rating Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 and associated regulations have come into force, and this new legislation means that the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is now mandatory, replacing the voluntary scheme run since the end of 2011 by district councils and the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

No matter what the rating of the food business, they will have to by law display the rating sticker given by the district council following inspection. This can range from ‘5’ which means the food hygiene standards are very good, down to ‘0’ where urgent improvement is necessary. This instant and visible hygiene rating information will help people choose where to eat out or shop for food, including restaurants, pubs, cafes, takeaways as well as supermarkets, other food shops and hospitals, care homes and schools.

The FSA has built a case for mandation in England using evidence from Wales where display is mandatory and where there has been an increased positive impact on hygiene standards compared with England. It is also exploring how a viable statutory scheme could be delivered in the future in line with the FSA’s Regulating our Future programme. In the meantime the current voluntary scheme in England is being aligned with the statutory schemes in Wales and N Ireland as far as possible without legislative requirements. 

Sewage forces Ireland Starbucks to close for a week

Tim O’Brien of The Irish Times reports a Starbucks outlet was among 10 food businesses to receive temporary closure orders during September from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

starbucks-sewageThe agency ordered the outlet at 21 Great Georges Street in Waterford to close its doors on September 27th. It remained shut for more than a week, reopening on October 5th.

The FSAI declines to give details of why closure orders are served on any outlet, but its chief executive, Dr Pamela Byrne, said they are only issued for serious risks or regular breaches of hygiene regulations.

“Enforcement orders and most especially closure orders and prohibition orders are never served for minor food safety breaches,” she said.

“They are served on food businesses only when a serious risk to consumer health has been identified or where there are a number of ongoing breaches of food legislation and that largely tends to relate to a grave hygiene or operational issue.”

A spokeswoman for Entertainment Enterprises Group, which operates the Starbucks chain in Ireland, said the Waterford closure was a result of contaminated water flowing into the shop.

“The problem was with the main drainage pipes,” she said.

“There was a rupture of the main pipe in the middle of the road outside our store. Water then seeped under the road and pavement into our basement.

“The pipes were repaired and the store is restored to its proper condition. The store reopened yesterday afternoon.”

‘I’ve never made anyone sick before’ Hometown fairytale after 100 sickened

Brantford, Ontario, my hometown where the telephone, Wayne Gretzgy and Massey-Ferguson combines were all birthed (it’s in Canada) has convicted a DIY caterer linked to a food poisoning outbreak last year.

massey-ferguson-combineLana Plank of Lana Plank Catering was fined $500.

Plank was charged last December after an extensive investigation into how about 100 people became sick after eating a lunch she prepared in September 2015.

Those affected were among more than 150 people at a daylong workshop held by Brant Family and Children’s Services at the South Dumfries Community Centre in St. George. The resulting illnesses – cramps, diarrhea, headaches and nausea – affected the agency for days with some staff feeling the effects two weeks later.

The investigation tracked the problem to the egg and potato salad wraps made and served by Plank. The food was contaminated with plesiomonas shigelloides, inked to raw shellfish and unsanitary conditions, and enterotoxigenic escherichia coli, a common cause of traveller’s diarrhea.

Plank was not a registered caterer in Brant County at the time of the incident, nor inspected by the Brant County Health Unit. But justice of the peace Audrey Greene Summers was told Plank, a resident of Waterford, is a registered caterer in Norfolk County.

She was originally charged with operating a food premise without notifying the health unit but that charge was dropped upon her guilty plea.

Defence lawyer John Renwick said Plank has been in business for many years and has worked for a long-term care facility with no previous problems.

Renwick said Plank believes the symptoms suffered by the agency employees could have been part of a wider bug going around the community.

“Those are suspicions on her part but she’s not in a position to challenge (the agreed upon facts),” said Renwick.

He also noted that Plank did not receive a list of food to which people were allergic.

The case drew the attention of Public Health Ontario and saw the local health unit interview many of those affected, solicit surveys from others and obtain results from several laboratories. The case was based on stool samples and an extensive analysis of data.

“I’d like to commend our staff for their hard work on this incident,” Jeff Kowal, manager of environmental health for the health unit, said in written statement released late Tuesday.

“This was a prime example of the important role the health unit plays in investigating cases of food-borne illness to keep our community safe and healthy.”

Kowal said food safety is taken seriously by the health unit. All food service workers must use safe food handling practices to prevent food-borne illnesses.

He reminded people hiring a caterer to first visit to see the reports on inspected caterers.

Maybe the Brant County health unit should practice what it preaches.




Fancy food ain’t safe food: ‘Live rat’ lands on woman’s head UK edition

A rodent believed to have been a live rat fell from the ceiling and landed on a woman’s head as she dined at a fancy London restaurant.

smiths-of-smithfieldThe animal, only a baby at three inches long, was killed on impact when it hit the woman and bounced on to the table at expensive Smiths of Smithfield where the woman was eating with a group of friends.

Obviously horrified by what happened, their party started protesting at what had happened, alerting staff to the unwelcome garnish to their food.

‘We were disgusted,’ witness Paul Stubbs, a 56-year-old city worker from Harrow in North West London told the Sun.

‘It was only a baby but still about three inches long. It had obviously fallen from a nest in the open vents.

‘People were pretty horrified. Everybody stayed to finish, though I wouldn’t go back.’

The restaurant reportedly offered the group of 24 a £450 discount from their bill.

Staff allegedly told customers that the small rodent was a mouse – however, pest control experts told the Sun they were ‘fairly convinced’ it was a baby rat.

The restaurant, rated 3.5 stars on TripAdvisor, is situated next to the capital’s only working meat market and is famous for its rare breed steak and prime cuts. has contacted Smiths of Smithfield for a comment on the rat/possibly a baby mouse incident.

A spokesman previously said: ‘At Smiths we pride ourselves on our hygiene and food safety management. We have investigated the matter fully and this is an isolated incident and we confirm that there is no risk to our customers.’

He went on to say the diners ‘were offered what was accepted as reasonable compensation.’

The Brits ooze with empathy.