20 years on, Scotland E. coli tragedy saw heart ripped from town

In November 1996, over 400 fell ill and 21 were killed in Scotland by E. coli O157:H7 found in deli meats produced by family butchers John Barr & Son. The Butcher of Scotland, who had been in business for 28 years and was previously awarded the title of Scottish Butcher of the Year, was using the same knives to handle raw and cooked meat.

e-coli-scotland-1996-1A memo at the time, unearthed by The Herald shows what many suspected: that the interests of the food and agriculture industries were given higher priority than public health.

Then Scottish Office health minister, James Douglas-Hamilton, wrote on Dec. 5, 1996 to Sir Russell Hillhouse, the under-secretary of state at the Scottish Office that, “The key issue to be addressed is that when there is an outbreak of infectious disease whether the public health interest should over-ride the food industry and agricultural interests. I believe the public health interest should be paramount, but it was not seen to do so in this case.”

The aptly named agriculture minister, Douglas Hogg, argued E. coli was a “Scottish issue” and that licensing should only be in Scotland.

A memo to Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Forsyth, on March 19, 1997, noted: “The Cabinet Office and No 10 were not impressed by Mr Hogg’s idea.”

Ross Thompson of the Daily Record reports that 20 years later, a Wishaw Old Parish Church member believes the heart was ripped from the congregation in the wake of the crippling E. coli tragedy.

Wishaw Old Parish Church session clerk Tom Donaldson was served the same meal as 10 others who lost their lives from the killer bug when infected meat, from John Barr’s Butchers, was served at an annual church lunch.

This week marks 20 years since the outbreak claimed its first victim, 80-year-old Harry Shaw.

Over the next few weeks, 20 others died and hundreds more were infected in what is still the world’s worst E. coli outbreak.

This week, Tom reflected on the horrific events two decades on.

He said: “Many of our members and office-bearers still carry the sad memories of that time.

e-coli-scotland-barr“The heart was torn from the church by the loss of so many members.

“We lost eight members, including three valued elders.

“We held the same meal for over 10 years. For a lot of the people going, it was a chance to get out of the house and see people they hadn’t seen for a while.

“I had the same meal as everyone else but, thankfully, I didn’t have any symptoms. When we heard that people were unwell and then that people had died we couldn’t believe it.

“It was really heart-breaking.”

Over the next few weeks, the world’s media converged on Wishaw to cover the ongoing tragedy.

One man who carried the burden more than most was church minister Rev James Davidson.

Indeed, after burying three of his congregation, Rev Davidson admitted it had been the worst week of his life.

Tom added: “The minister carried the heavy burden as pastor; not only by conducting so many funerals in such a short period but also having to continue to minister to the congregation Sunday by Sunday.

“In one week he had to carry out three funerals. He was heart-broken.

“He really needed more help than he got because not only was he doing those funerals but he was also going to the hospital to visit the sick as well.

“The local media, like the Wishaw Press, and the guys who worked for the Scottish television channels were very respectful. But there was the other side where others would confront the minister and other office- bearers, at their homes and at the church for a comment.

“For quite a few years we had to deal with being ‘that E. coli church’ and people still remember that.”

 

Food porn: People want rare hamburgers yet aren’t informed of risks

I love this paper.

The research is cool, but to me it culminates 16 years of Chapman becoming a better researcher.

ben-newI had a hand in the idea for the paper, but Chapman and his team did all the work.

I edited some stuf.

I was reminded last night of all the youthful energy me, and Chapman and Blaine and Lisa and Brae and Katie and Sarah and the reintroduced Carol – had when we did the bulk of our creative work.

Sorta like the Stones 68-72.

And yet that was the most turmoil in my life, as I went through a painful divorce, separation from kids, an interesting girlfriend and finally meeting Amy a few years later.

My line is graduate students should be able to bail their supervisor out of jail or drive me to the airport when (I) threatened with arrest.

Sorta like the Stones 68-72.

This is Chapman’s moment to shine, and although barfblog.com was named the number 1 food safety blog by someone pushing something today, it don’t matter much.

doug-ben-familyOften Chapman and I will send an e-mail to each other about some obscure reference in a post, with the comment, we only write for each other.

And the over 75,000 direct subscribers in over 70 countries.

Well done Chapman et al., couldn’t be prouder.

You too Blaine.

Assessment of risk communication about undercooked hamburgers by restaurant servers

Ellen M. Thomas, RTI International; Andrew Binder, Anne McLaughlin, Lee-Ann Jaykus, Dana Hanson, and Benjamin Chapman, North Carolina State University; and Doug Powell, powellfoodsafety.com

Journal of Food Protection

DOI: 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-16-065

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2013 Model Food Code, it is the duty of a food establishment to disclose and remind consumers of risk when ordering undercooked food such as ground beef. The purpose of this study was to explore actual risk communication activities of food establishment servers. Secret shoppers visited restaurants (n=265) in seven geographic locations across the U.S., ordered medium rare burgers, and collected and coded risk information from chain and independent restaurant menus and from server responses. The majority of servers reported an unreliable method of doneness (77%) or other incorrect information (66%) related to burger doneness and safety. These results indicate major gaps in server knowledge and risk communication, and the current risk communication language in the Model Food Code does not sufficiently fill these gaps. Furthermore, should servers even be acting as risk communicators? There are numerous challenges associated with this practice including high turnover rates, limited education, and the high stress environment based on pleasing a customer. If it is determined that servers should be risk communicators, food establishment staff should be adequately equipped with consumer advisory messages that are accurate, audience-appropriate, and delivered in a professional manner so as to help their customers make more informed food safety decisions.

Norovirus: Over 100 sickened by raw oysters on Vancouver Island

CBC reports Island Health says Norovirus is likely to blame after more than 100 people who ate raw oysters in Tofino earlier this month fell ill.

osoyoos-oyster-festival-sampling-feature-600x403Roughly 120 people, many of whom had attended the Clayoquot Oyster Festival, suffered gastrointestinal symptoms last week.

But Island Health says people got sick at more than one location, and that people reported being ill over the course of several days.

They say it appears everyone who became ill consumed raw oysters from the same supplier, who is not being named. 

Why not? Going public failure.

“The predominant amount of evidence clearly shows that raw oysters at that particular point in time that were available were the cause of the illness,” said Paul Hasselback, a medical health officer for Island Health.

norovirusHasselback says they are now investigating how the affected oysters were harvested and transported.

There have been a number of shellfish-related illnesses in B.C. in the past two years, and officials have warned that the warming climate is linked to an increase in food poisoning from oysters.

Don’t Trust Your Waiter for Food Safety Advice

Matt Shipman, Research Communications Lead at NC State News Services and contributor to The Abstract (and all-around great guy) writes,

I went out for lunch recently at an upscale restaurant. Other guests wore suits, there was an extensive wine list, and the server was extremely upbeat. What she didn’t know, and I did, was that my guest for lunch was a food safety expert – and her tableside manner was being judged.

Shortly after being seated, my dining companion pointed to the bottom of the menu.

“Consuming undercooked meats may increase risk of foodborne illness,” said Ben Chapman, a food safety researcher at NC State. “It’s right there on the menu. Now let’s see if the server follows through.”hamburger-blog-2016-header-992x558

When the server returned, Chapman ordered a medium-rare hamburger. The server didn’t mention anything, so Chapman asked how the restaurant knew whether the burger would be safe to eat.

The server said that the cooks could tell whether the hamburger was safe by feeling how firm the burger was, and noted that lots of people order medium-rare hamburgers and don’t get sick. Chapman changed his order to well-done anyway, and the server left to get our drinks.

“This,” Chapman said, “is basically everything that can go wrong with how restaurant servers share food safety information with consumers: the menu gives patrons vague, but accurate, information. And the server gave us information that’s inaccurate and not based on the science.”

And Chapman knows what he’s talking about – he just published a paper evaluating how restaurants handle food safety communication, based on the experiences of “secret shoppers” at 265 different restaurants scattered across the United States. You can read more about that paper here.

So what does make a hamburger safer?

  • Cooking hamburgers to 155°F for 15 seconds or 160°F (for an instant kill).
  • Restaurants are required to cook to these temperatures in many jurisdictions unless requested to do otherwise by a customer.
  • Restaurants should have thermometers in the kitchen; if they don’t, you may want to reconsider your dining choice.
  • Don’t trust color (no red or pink) as an indicator of safety.
  • Just because the juices are “running clear” doesn’t mean the burger has reached a safe temperature.
  • The touch, feel or look of the meat are not reliable ways of determining how well cooked the hamburger is.

The study, which was performed by a team of researchers from NC State and RTI International, is published in the Journal of Food Protection.

Study: Restaurants Not Good At Explaining Risks of Undercooked Meat to Customers

When I was eleven my parents took me to Disney World in Florida. I don’t remember much about the trip other than we rode space mountain, went to Epcot, and did the backlot tram tour at what was then called MGM Studios.

And I remember the burger I had one night at a restaurant on International Drive.24235f1049c18d3d50fd3c0017886141

It was the juiciest, tastiest burger I had ever had.

It was really undercooked, I ordered it medium rare.

I don’t think ordering burgers undercooked was an option in Ontario. I had never been offered a choice before.

No one told me or my parents that there was increased risk of illness eating undercooked meat. Maybe there was a consumer advisory on the menu. But probably not, I don’t remember seeing it. This was 1989, before Jack-in-the-Box. After McDonalds in 1982.

While golfing at IAFP in 2005, Doug and I were in line for burgers in-between the front and back nine. The cook asked the group in front of us how they wanted their burgers. One guy responded, “Bloody … with cheese.”

No one said anything about the risks.

Over the next nine holes we talked about servers as risk communicators, figuring out what they knew, what they said and how to get better information to patrons.

Years later, as part of a USDA CAP grant my former PhD student and current Food Safety Scientist at RTI International, Ellen Thomas, would lead the first part of this work and found that servers aren’t great at helping folks makes informed decisions. That paper was publish today.

NC State University’s press release about the paper is below.

Front-line staff, such as servers in restaurants, are often trusted with providing customers with food safety information regarding their meals.  A challenge to the industry is that these positions have high turnover, relatively low wages and servers are focused primarily on providing patrons with a positive experience. And new research shows that this poses a problem.

A recent study finds that restaurants don’t do an effective job of communicating with customers when it comes to addressing risks associated with eating undercooked meat – specifically hamburgers. Inaccurate information provided by servers often contradicts science-based information customers need to make informed food safety decisions.

All 50 states in the U.S. have adopted some version of the Food & Drug Administration’s Model Food Code, which requires restaurants to tell customers about risks associated with undercooked meat and poultry products. Such as hamburgers.

“We wanted to know how well restaurant servers and menus communicated with customers about these risks, specifically in the context of beef hamburgers,” says Ben Chapman, co-author of a study on the work and an associate professor at North Carolina State University whose research program is aimed at improving food safety.

The researchers focused on beef hamburgers because consuming undercooked ground beef has been linked to a lot of foodborne illness outbreaks, including outbreaks related primarily to Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

For this study, the researchers sent trained “secret shoppers” into 265 full-service, sit-down restaurants in seven different regions around the U.S. At each restaurant, the patrons ordered one well-done hamburger and one medium-rare hamburger to go. The shoppers then recorded how, if at all, the restaurant communicated about risk.

This study is the latest in a long line of real-world research that Chapman and his collaborators have conducted.

“We try to actually match what people do versus what they say they do because people will say anything on a survey,” says Chapman “We’ve looked at cooking shows; observed handwashing and cross-contamination in commercial kitchens; hand hygiene during a norovirus outbreaks and others. What people actually do is the difference between an enjoyable meal and a foodborne illness.

“For example,” Chapman says, “did the server mention risks associated with undercooked meat when the shopper ordered? If not, the shopper would ask about the risk of getting sick, and then record whether the wait staff responded with clear, accurate information.”

The shoppers also looked to see whether restaurants included clear, accurate risk information on their menus.

The study found that 25 percent of restaurants wouldn’t even sell an undercooked hamburger to secret shoppers. However, at restaurants that would sell a medium-rare hamburger, the majority of servers – 77 percent – gave customers unreliable information about food safety.

“Servers said that meat was safe because it was cooked until ‘until the juices ran clear’ – which is totally unreliable,” says Ellen Thomas, a food safety scientist at RTI International and lead author of the study who worked on the project while a Ph.D. student at NC State. “Those 77 percent didn’t mention things like cooking meat to the appropriate temperature – either 155°F for 15 seconds, or 160°F for instant kill.

“The indicator of safety most widely-reported by servers was the color of the burger, and that’s also not a reliable indicator at all,” Thomas says “Time and temperature are all that matter. And undercooked, unsafe burger can be brown in the middle, and a safely cooked burger can still be red or pink in the center.”

Meanwhile, almost all of the menus complied with FDA guidance. But what servers told customers often contradicted the information on the menu.

“If a menu says something is risky but a server says that it isn’t, that can downplay the risks for consumers and impact a customer’s decisions,” Chapman says. “It’s confusing, leaving the patron to choose which message to believe”

The researchers also found that chain restaurants fared much better than independent restaurants at having servers offer reliable risk information.

“That’s not surprising,” Chapman says. “Large chains implement standardized training across all outlets for servers in order to protect their brand and reduce the likelihood of being implicated in a foodborne illness outbreak. That’s bad for business.

“This study tells us that servers aren’t good risk communicators,” Chapman says. “We encourage consumers to ask food safety questions, but they should probably ask a manager.

“It also tells us that we need to work on addressing the widespread – and wrong – belief that color is a reliable indicator of food safety in meat,” Chapman says. “Restaurants are in a position to help us share this information with consumers, but many servers are currently sharing incorrect information.”

The paper, “Assessment of Risk Communication about Undercooked Hamburgers by Restaurant Servers,” is published in the Journal of Food Protection. The paper was co-authored by Andrew Binder, Anne McLaughlin, Lee-Ann Jaykus, and Dana Hanson of NC State; and by Doug Powell of barfblog.com. The research was supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2012-68003-30155 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Abstract: According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2013 Model Food Code, it is the duty of a food establishment to disclose and remind consumers of risk when ordering undercooked food such as ground beef. The purpose of this study was to explore actual risk communication activities of food establishment servers. Secret shoppers visited restaurants (n=265) in seven geographic locations across the U.S., ordered medium rare burgers, and collected and coded risk information from chain and independent restaurant menus and from server responses. The majority of servers reported an unreliable method of doneness (77%) or other incorrect information (66%) related to burger doneness and safety. These results indicate major gaps in server knowledge and risk communication, and the current risk communication language in the Model Food Code does not sufficiently fill these gaps. Furthermore, should servers even be acting as risk communicators? There are numerous challenges associated with this practice including high turnover rates, limited education, and the high stress environment based on pleasing a customer. If it is determined that servers should be risk communicators, food establishment staff should be adequately equipped with consumer advisory messages that are accurate, audience-appropriate, and delivered in a professional manner so as to help their customers make more informed food safety decisions.

Salmonella everywhere and i love science: Food regulators in Virginia seize adulterated milk products

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced today that the U.S. Marshals Service seized more than 4 million pounds of product produced by Valley Milk Products LLC (Valley Milk) of Strasburg, Virginia. The company is owned by the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association Inc. in Reston, Virginia. The seized products include dry nonfat milk powder and buttermilk powder packaged in 40- and 50-pound bags for further manufacturing and are worth nearly $4 million.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed the complaint, on behalf of the FDA, in the U.S. District Court for the Virginia Western District, alleging that the seized products are adulterated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

During an FDA inspection of Valley Milk from July – September 2016, FDA investigators observed poor sanitary practices and reviewed the company’s records, which showed positive results for Salmonella in the plant’s internal environmental and finished product samples. FDA investigators observed residues on internal parts of the processing equipment after it had been cleaned by the company and water dripping from the ceiling onto food manufacturing equipment. In addition, environmental swabs collected during the inspection confirmed the presence of Salmonella meleagridis on surfaces food came into contact with after being pasteurized. Throughout the investigation, the FDA worked closely with the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“The FDA urged Valley Milk to conduct a voluntary recall of the implicated products,” said Melinda K. Plaisier, the FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. “The firm refused to recall and, as a result, we have had to intervene and seize this adulterated food to prevent it from reaching consumers who could be exposed to Salmonella from these products.”

The FDA used a bacterial typing tool called whole genome sequencing (WGS) to link the samples collected in the facility over time. WGS technology can show the relationship among isolates of bacterial pathogens found in the environment, a food source or a person who became ill from consuming contaminated food. The sampling results indicate that the Salmonella strains from 2016 are nearly identical to Salmonella strains found at the company in 2010, 2011 and 2013. These findings of Salmonella meleagridis at the company dating back several years demonstrate the existence of a persistent strain of Salmonella at this facility.

Salmonella is a pathogenic bacterium that can contaminate foods and which may result in gastroenteritis or other serious clinical conditions, including septicemia, arterial infections, endocarditis and septic arthritis. Most people recover from salmonellosis in four to seven days without treatment but about one person in every thousand with salmonellosis dies.

Valley Milk is currently not producing dry powdered milk products. No illnesses linked to Valley Milk products have been reported to date. Consumers can report problems with FDA-regulated products to their district office consumer complaint coordinator.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

Olive Garden 911 call: Ricky Smith accused of sexual innuendo in ‘racist’ incident

Everyone’s got a camera.

ricky-smith-comedianI don’t know who Ricky Smith is but I like his fashion.

An Olive Garden employee called 911 on comedian Ricky Smith and his friends, and blasted them for allegedly sexually harassing their server and trying to buy alcohol for minors.

TMZ obtained the audio … the caller asks for police backup because Smith’s group was being “rowdy” and yelling “racist comments” at the female manager. The caller gave her account of what started the ruckus.

But her version was totally different from what Ricky told us — that everyone in his party was over 23, showed their IDs, never raised their voices and never made sexual or racial comments.

When did the drinking age become 23? And who is Ricky Smith?

Because Nickelback sucks: Canadian police are punishing drunk drivers by making them listen to Nickelback

The questionable music quality of Canadian rock band Nickelback has become the butt of jokes and ridicule, but before now it had not slipped so far as to be considered torture.

nickelback-rcmpThat seems to be the insinuation police in the town of Kensington, on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, made when they threatened to unleash Chad Kroeger’s voice on anyone caught drunk driving over the upcoming holiday season.

In a Facebook post last week that just received attention Wednesday, the department threatened: “On top of a hefty fine, a criminal charge and a years driving suspension, we will also provide you with a bonus gift of playing the offices [sic] copy of Nickelback in the cruiser on the way to jail.” Along with the post came a picture of an unopened copy—a cassette—of Nickelback’s September 11, 2001 release of Silver Side Up, which went Platinum in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Some Canadians took offense to the warning, and said the police department was making jokes about a serious crime. Some defended Nickelback. Others offered alternative Canadian-born artists to help deter drunk driving, like pop singer Justin Bieber.

I would suggest Celine Dion, Bryan Adams and Rush.

Below, the only decent Rush song.

Canadians trafficking $16,000 of Nutella

Josh Hafner of USA Today reports Toronto-area police announced Friday that they had arrested suspects tied to a trafficking ring of drugs, stolen cars and a truckload of the rich, hazelnutty goodness that is Nutella.

nutella“Yes, I said Nutella,” confirmed Det. Sgt. Paul LaSalle, per the Toronto Star.

An elaborate sting dubbed “Project Cyclone” resulted in York Regional Police divvying 137 charges between 23 suspects, the Star reported, including 60-year-old Balwinder Dhaliwal – the so-called “King of Car Thieves” once profiled on the History channel’s Mastermind series.

In the process, police recovered stolen goods totaling roughly 3.75 million U.S. dollars, including 60 vehicles, $149,000 worth of loose cash and assorted amounts of heroin and cocaine. Also found: a trailer chock-full of that creamy spread of the gods, Nutella.

LaSalle said he wasn’t surprised by the stash of chocolatey breakfast bliss, which amounted to about $16,300 in U.S. currency.

 “I’ve never seen an investigation that did spiral into so many directions,” he said, according to the Star.

A spike in car thefts led to the investigation beginning in 2015, around the time that a new body shop named Benefit Motors opened in the nearby suburb of Vaughan.

Police grew suspicious of the business and eventually tracked two luxury cars to the shop that were left running in the same driveway to warm up, YorkRegion.com reported.

Police said the thieves targeted mostly luxury cars from brands such as Lamborghini, Maserati and Porsche. Once stolen, the thieves made fake papers for them and changed their identification numbers before reselling them, authorities explained.

“If someone in the criminal world wanted a cheap and nice ride, they came to see the Dhaliwals,” LaSalle said, according to the Star.

Unloading the filched Nutella proved a less complicated affair: Thieves sold the jars of nutty blessedness for about half their market value, YorkRegion.com reported.

Be careful: Pet food – raw, frozen, processed – can be contaminated

My new best friend – Ted, the dog – came from a breeder in Toowoomba, about 90 minutes away, atop Australia’s Great Dividing Ridge.

ted-grass-nov-16He weighs less than our cats, but is feisty and loves a walk.

Or a run.

The breeder (we went to the local shelters, but they had dogs that were not deemed appropriate by our townhouse body corporate) so we got the little one rather than make a rush decision to buy an $800K house so we could have a bigger dog.

Besides, this one’s got personality.

The breeder insisted that dogs do better on a raw meat diet.

I just wanted to get the dog, go visit our friends, and go home, so didn’t belabor the point.

But any raw product carries the same risk of Salmonella and E. coli and other things that are not fun to inflict on your dog.

Natures Menu is recalling its ‘Country Hunter 80% Farm Reared Turkey with Wholesome Fruit and Veg’ frozen pet food, because the product contains Salmonella.

The UK Food Standards Agency is issuing this product recall notice because we are responsible for animal feed regulations and their enforcement through local authorities.sorenne-ted