Heston are you listening? Every worker needs a time-off cushion for illness

Laura Otolski of Takoma Park, Maryland, writes that as a registered dietitian-nutritionist, my work has focused on not only what to eat, but also on how to keep food safe to eat. This has included seven years at a D.C.-based organization that provides home-delivered meals to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-challenging conditions.

vomitMy department there monitored food safety, which involved thorough inspections of the kitchen twice a week, and regular reviews of proper hygiene procedures with both new and longtime volunteers. Both staff and volunteers knew not to work in the kitchen when they were ill, in order to prevent contamination.

These practices are absolutely necessary when you are feeding people with compromised immune systems. Indeed, such rules should be in place in any food service establishment.

Two factors made successful infection control more likely at that organization.

First, the kitchen staff were provided with paid sick leave, and, second, the volunteers were not under financial pressure to come in when they were not feeling well. No one was worried about losing a day’s pay, or their job.

All employees need to have that kind of security. Workers need to be able to stay home when they are ill, and keep infectious diseases out of the workplace. Everyone gets sick, so everyone should have the opportunity to earn sick days.

Meats are impounded as Maine chefs play with high-risk processes

Food porn: Portland’s restaurants are on the cutting edge of the culinary renaissance in Maine, where locally sourced ingredients and inventive dishes are prized by award-winning chefs and consumers.

celebrity.chefs_-300x225But efforts by health inspectors to bring local restaurants into compliance with federal regulations and reduce the risks of a potentially dangerous foodborne illness outbreak is splashing cold water on the sizzling creativity of many area chefs – at least temporarily.

In recent months, hundreds of pounds of meat have been embargoed by health officials and are waiting in cold storage until restaurants can prove the food is safe. Several restaurants have been ordered to stop vacuum-sealing their meats, cooking sous vide dishes and offering some types of house-cured meats until they develop special hazard plans and in some cases get formal variances from the Maine Food Code.

“These are high-risk processes,” said Michael Russell, who oversees Portland’s restaurant inspection program. “In Portland, we noticed a growth in specialized processing two years ago and a significant increase in the number of establishments using these practices within the past year.”

The city’s crackdown has caught many restaurants off-guard, and there is no clear process for getting plans and variances from the state food code.

“It’s been an open secret that all of the best restaurants in Portland have been using techniques that are not approved by the FDA without variance and (special) plans,” said Brendan Murray, the head chef at Duckfat. “There is a huge amount of talent and dedication to serving the best food in the city. The level is rising rapidly and that’s a good thing.”

But do chefs know food safety?

Restaurants are required to develop special plans – called Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points plans – for nearly 20 advanced food preparations, including vacuum-sealing, also known as reduced oxygen packaging, of raw and cooked meats on site, according to documents from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Nine of those preparations, including pickling, curing meats and growing bean sprouts on site, also require a formal variation from the food code.

At the same time, efforts to increase the frequency and quality of Portland’s restaurant inspection program have led to cleaner, safer kitchens and more knowledgeable kitchen staffs, according to city officials and restaurant owners.

Since 2012, when the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram published a series of investigative reports about the city’s troubled restaurant inspection program, Portland has more than doubled the size of its inspection staff, visited restaurants more frequently and posted inspection reports online.

The paper revealed that many restaurants hadn’t been inspected for years and that, when the city hired its first health inspector in 2011, 19 out of the first 23 restaurants inspected failed – a failure rate of 82.6 percent. Since then, the failure rate has steadily improved. It was 45.5 percent in 2012 (40 out of 88 restaurants), 10.5 percent in 2013 (33 of 314) and just 6.4 percent in 2014 (31 of 482).

Restaurant owners and city officials say that’s happened because everyone is becoming more familiar with the standards.

‘It’s a macho thing’ Inspecting the inspectors in Ohio

Friend of the barfblog, Pete Snyder, president of Snyder HACCP, a food safety consulting firm near St. Paul, Minn., told WCPO Cincinnati, “The food code is supposed to be uniform everywhere, but it’s only as uniform as the local inspector.”

pete.snyderDifferences in the restaurant population accounts for much of the variation between jurisdictions, but Snyder said some departments are just more aggressive than others.

“There’s always been in the 30 years I’ve been teaching this macho thing. They rate themselves based on how many deficiencies they find.”

When the city of Sharonville shut down its health department at the end of 2014, food inspection scores dramatically improved at Currie’s Indian restaurant on Lebanon Road.

Hamilton County’s Public Health Department, which took over restaurant inspections for Sharonville this year, cited three violations in a Feb. 12 visit to Curries and no violations on Feb. 24. That’s a far cry from the 24 violations cited by Sharonville inspectors Nov. 19. Or the 23 violations that followed in two December visits.

Sharonville inspectors “didn’t like anything,” said Hiral Agrawal, owner of the buffet-style restaurant that has operated in Sharonville Plaza for four years. “They were trying to give me a hard time.”

Sharonville Mayor Kevin Hardman said he wasn’t familiar with Curries’ enforcement history, but he doesn’t recall any complaints about the city’s food inspectors being too aggressive.

Hardman said the dismantling of the city’s health department was “largely a budgetary move” that city council approved Dec. 16. But the performance of the food safety program is one of the factors that made it hard to gain support for the idea.

A WCPO analysis of inspection records from five local health departments shows Agrawal’s account may not be an isolated incident. Inspection results can vary widely by department.

City of Cincinnati inspectors, for example, wrote an average of 1,355 violations in 2014, three times more than those in Warren County. Clermont County inspectors averaged 8.2 violations for every facility they inspected, more than double Warren County’s rate.

This year’s Dirty Dining database has 37,432 violations observed by 42 inspectors at 5,852 food establishments. That’s up from last year’s total of 32,474 violations at 5,579 locations. In 2013, we tracked 33,334 violations at 5,022 facilities.

Stadium food safety expose linked to firing

When I turned 16 my dad and I (below, exactly as shown) took a trip around the U.S. and caught a bunch of baseball games at MLB parks. Seven cities, seven games in eight days. In each of the stadiums my dad and I ate a standard hot dog (to compare and rate) as well as a sample of the local food specialty (poutine in Montreal, cheesesteaks in Philly, etc.).

I wasn’t the healthiest teenager.n564500217_1828077_9385

Food is a big part of the stadium experience for many.

In November 2014, ESPN’s Outside the Lines ran a story about Jon Costa, an Aramark employee at Kaufmann Stadium who reported frustration with his bosses over not being able to address food safety problems. Today, ESPN reported that Costa had been fired.

Jon Costa shared with “Outside the Lines” a copy of a letter he said his former employer, Aramark, sent him on March 17 saying Costa was being fired “for cause.” The letter outlines a number of reasons, the first of which is that he violated the company’s media policy by taking his concerns public.

The company defended its food safety record: “In Kansas City, we have served over 17 million fans since 2007 at hundreds of games and events and have a strong record of performance. We have continued to work closely with the Kansas City Health Department who has inspected Truman Sports Complex more than 100 times over our operating tenure. None of our Kansas City sports operations have ever been shut down by the Health Department and there have been no cases of food-related illness tied to our operations.”

In its letter of termination, Aramark also said Costa “failed to take prompt action to address food safety issues, notwithstanding documented support from his managers and direction from them to do so” and to discipline employees who were violating food safety practices.

But Costa said he had tried to solve problems by addressing them on site and bringing them to the attention of managers who never supported his efforts. He said he did not supervise anyone and had neither the authority nor training to discipline fellow employees.

The letter detailing his firing also says that Costa hampered Aramark’s relationship with the local health department and that he did not follow protocol in dealing with the department. Costa, who used to work for the City of Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department, denied those allegations. When “Outside the Lines” interviewed health department division manager Naser Jouhari in November, he said he knew Costa as a former employee and Aramark representative and that, “It’s all been pleasant. We never had any major concerns.”

Over 300 sickened: We have the highest standards, we plead guilty

In Oct. 2012, reports started trickling in of people sick with E. coli O157 after dining at Flicks, a Belfast restaurant.

flicksBy Nov. 2012, 137 confirmed cases and 164 probable cases of E. coli O157 had been linked to this one restaurant.

“All of our books and health checks are up to date, staff training is all up to date,” co-owner Michael McAdam said at the time.

“We have followed every rule and regulation. We take our job seriously and where this came from I have no idea.”

Yesterday, as the charges were put to Yorkgate Movie House boss McAdam, as an owner of the former Flicks Restaurant, he replied: “we plead guilty”.

The charges included failure to supervise, instruct or train staff in food hygiene; inadequate training for food hygiene procedures; failure to protect foods from E. coli contamination; failures to identify hazards, or to record or monitor them; no cleaning or drying facilities for staff, or even soap in a blocked wash hand basin; and one charge of failing to keep chopped parsley at the proper temperature to prevent pathogenic microorganisms or formation of toxins.

Adjourning the case until next month, Judge Gordon Kerr QC asked defence lawyer Stuart Spence for an up-to-date report on the company as the court would be considering ‘a financial penalty’ in such a case.


Does food safety inspection disclosure work in the UK? Sortof

The UK Food Standards Agency reports:

The evaluation was commissioned with the Policy Studies Institute in 2011 and ran until mid-2014.  It explored the impact of the FHRS and the FHIS on local authorities, consumers, businesses, food hygiene compliance and the incidence of foodborne disease. The evaluation and other research findings have been discussed by the FSA Board today.

rest.inspection.disclosure.ukIn England, Wales and Northern Ireland businesses are rated from 0 – 5, with 0 being the lowest rating and 5 being the highest. Businesses rated with a 3 or above are considered to be generally satisfactory or better. The FSA recommends consumers choose to eat in these ‘compliant’ establishments.

These final reports provide evidence that the FHRS had a positive impact on business compliance levels. These showed that there was a significant increase in ‘broad compliance’ (equivalent to ratings of 3 to 5) in the first year, and a significant increase in ‘full compliance’ (rating of 5) in the second year in local authority areas after the FHRS was introduced, compared with areas where the scheme was not yet operating.  There was also a significant decrease in the proportion of businesses with very poor levels of compliance in the first two years after launch.

For Scotland, although the general pattern was the same for FHIS, the changes in compliance levels were not statistically significant.

The reports also include findings on consumer views about the scheme and provide some interesting insights.  For example, those using the schemes said they were more likely to refer to hygiene information when in an unfamiliar location, or eating with vulnerable people or for special occasions when planning meals out at Christmas or Valentine’s Day.

UAE: Food safety violators to face stiff fine and jail

The Federal National Council (FNC) on Tuesday approved a draft law on food safety with minor amendments, with suggested jail terms of up to two years and fines ranging from Dh100,000 to Dh2 million for flouting food safety rules.

jail.monopolyThe bill will be sent back to the Cabinet for its approval and then for presidential assent for implementation. The bill was passed by the Cabinet in March last year.

The house called for the establishment of a federal authority for the research and development of techniques and policies pertaining to food safety in the country. The authority, the FNC suggested, could implement food safety regulations and services with the judicial power of imposing penalties on those found flouting food safety policies.

Under the proposed law, food imports into the country will only be done with the approval of the Ministry of Environment and Water.

Those found importing or distributing unhealthy and dangerous foodstuff will face a prison term of up to two years, and a fine ranging between Dh100,000 and Dh300,000, or both.

The proposed law also authorises the Ministry of Economy to impose fines of up to Dh100,000 for other offences regulated by the Cabinet.

The draft law also states a prison term of not less than a month and a fine of Dh500,000 for those found importing foodstuff containing any by-products of pork and alcohol without permission.

Cameras are everywhere: Newfoundland uni probing student complaints of raw, mouldy food

The food service at Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L. is looking into complaints of spoiled meals, after photos of mouldy and raw products allegedly served at a campus dining hall were posted to social media.

memorial.uni.foodA collection of photos and complaints were posted online Monday, alleging that the students were being served spoiled, unsafe food. The photos include images of a fly on a taco plate, undercooked pork chops, and a mouldy lemon.

The author of the lengthy post complained that students living in residence are forced to purchase meal plans that cost between $2,200 and $2,300 per semester, but the food being served to them is not edible.

According to the post, the school’s dining services are now being handled by Aramark, a U.S.-based food services company.

“Over the course of this year, every meal is a gamble,” the post read. “The only truly safe foods which pose no threat of food poisoning/disgusting experiences are toasts and cereals. I personally have had uncooked eggs, raw cod fish, uncooked chicken breasts/chicken pot pie, food with hair baked in, and several other equally disgusting occurrences.”

The lengthy post also included complaints that were posted to the MUN Dining Services Facebook page, and responses from the page administrators.

An online petition has also been created, calling on the university to enforce higher food quality and health standards at the dining hall. 

In response to the complaints, a statement was posted Wednesday to the MUN Dining Services Facebook page, stating that the dining services department is “very concerned” about the images posted to social media. 

barf.o.meter.dec.12“We have brought in a team of food safety experts to assess our operations and ensure that we are providing a positive, safe and healthy dining environment for students, faculty, visitors and staff,” the statement said.

A town hall meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, for students to voice their concerns about the university’s food services.

Why is the university responding with an antiquated town hall meeting instead of aggressively circulating proof of the safety of the food? Oh, maybe that doesn’t exist.

How Canadian: Restaurant food safety reporting needs review in Guelph

According to this editorial, it seems like the Guelph-area public health unit can take extra steps to make the community more aware of food safety issues at local eateries.

smiley.faces.denmark.rest.inspectionWellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health’s latest records show it has recently flagged 152 area eateries with food safety violations that could cause food poisoning.

However, unless someone went through the health unit’s posted database for such issues, there would be no public notification surrounding these findings. What’s more, there is no obligation for local eateries to even draw the public’s attention to the existence of recent health unit inspection results, let alone make available, on-site, a report of such findings relating to their food operation.

The health unit touted its present, public food safety inspections database related to local eateries when the online tool was launched in 2013. It suggested the system was a big improvement over what had been in place in this regard. That was true. What it replaced was an opaque system for the public that required requests for the food safety records of eateries to be made to the health unit for its release, on its timing.

However, even when the Check Before You Choose program emerged, it lagged behind best practices elsewhere in the public health field — even in southern Ontario.

barf.o.meter.dec.12Since 2001, Toronto Public Health’s DineSafe has been a leader in this sector. Where the Guelph-area health unit obliges citizens to do their research and dig for potentially concerning restaurant food safety records, the Toronto system makes eateries prominently post the results of the latest health unit inspections on-site. What’s more, the reports are colour coded, so it can be seen at a glance whether an eatery received a pass (green), a yellow report (conditional approval), or a red (closure order) in their latest inspection.

The Toronto system has its critics. Some fault DineSafe as a “name and shame” initiative that may also give a false sense of food safety security to diners. However, DineSafe’s introduction coincided with a period where the rate of food safety compliance jumped at local eateries and stayed higher.

A version of the system has since been adopted in several other regional health unit venues and in other international jurisdictions.

Fancy food ain’t safe food: UK Hell’s Kitchen edition

The owner of an award-winning café must pay out thousands for food safety offences that include leaving raw chickens next to a block of cheese.

helen.pattison.hell's.kitchenHelen Pattinson, 47, who ran Hell’s Kitchen, in Stockport centre, until it closed in summer 2013 was found guilty of eight breaches of the Food Safety Act.

She was fined £2,550 with £5,000 costs at Manchester Crown Court on Thursday following inspections in September 2012 and again in May 2013.

After the first inspection the café, on Hillgate, was given a zero hygiene rating. It had been named as producing the best builders’ breakfast in Stockport in 2012.

The other most serious offences were deemed to include food being washed in sinks full of dirty equipment, a build up of food debris on the counter, dirty walls and having a dirty pie warmer.