Gastro outbreak strikes Australia’s Fraser Coast

Australia’s Fraser Coast, including the town of Hervey Bay, is billed as Australia’s whale watching capital and the scallops are like no other, especially those apparently hepatitis A infected frozen scallops from the Philippines which has sickened 208 Hawaiians.

_DSC0022----Whalesong-with-Eliza Wheeler of the Fraser Coast Chronicle reports an outbreak of gastroenteritis has stricken dozens of people over the past week, inundating home doctors, and putting a strain on the region’s hospitals.

House Call Doctor’s Assistant Clinical Director Dr Ryan Harvey said this particularly aggressive bug had been making people sick across the state.

He said it appeared to be a far more virulent strain than in previous years.

“It is worse than what we have seen and causing worse illness. A lot of people who might otherwise have had an upset stomach are experiencing severe gastro,” Dr Harvey said.

He said there had been reports of a 15% increase in the number of people with gastroenteritis being admitted to hospitals.

Another fairytale: Informed choice on food safety

The paper in Adelaide wrote an opinion piece last week about how consumers basically make faith-based decisions when it comes to food safety.

I recycled an old op-ed in response, and still wondering why the same issues haven’t gained traction after 20 years of publicity in Australia.

cantaloupe.salmonellaThe Advertiser editorial thingies wrote that irony can be really ironic, given that the government department charged with upholding and maintaining food standards in SA treats the public like mushrooms.

By keeping the public in the dark by refusing to release the names of the 621 food outlets in breach of hygiene rules last year, SA Health is denying consumers the right to make an informed choice.

While it is good enough for the NSW State Government to identify offending premises, those who water their gardens with human effluent, sell out of date food and have cockroach-infested kitchens in SA apparently deserve anonymity.

There is more than a whiff of double standards surrounding the secrecy of the data held by SA Health.

On one hand (who writes this crap?), the public is not allowed to know which of their local fast food outlets is cutting food hygiene corners by selling six-day-old schnitzels, and on the other, it wasted no time last week issuing a warning about NT- grown rockmelons being the apparent source of a food poisoning outbreak in SA.

Surely the public is allowed to know the identity of a food retailer that has been found guilty of a major breach of food standards that could potentially have the same impact as eating the dodgy rockmelon.

For a food outlet to be warned several times about using effluent to water gardens simply beggars belief.

SA Health’s repeated warnings to the business owner were akin to being slapped with a wet lettuce leaf.

If such a practice can continue for such an extended period of time, the public can only wonder just what sort of heinous breach of food safety regulations a business must commit to be jumped on immediately.

My response was:

I coach little kids’ (ice) hockey in Brisbane.

For that voluntary pleasure, I had to complete 16 hours of certification training, in addition to the 40 hours of training I completed in Canada to coach a travel team.

To produce or serve food in Australia requires … nothing.

Restaurants and food service establishments are a significant source of the foodborne illness that strikes up to 20 per cent of citizens in so-called developed countries each and every year.

After helping develop and watching the mish-mash of federal, state and local approaches to restaurant inspection and disclosure in a number of western countries for the past 15 years, I can draw two broad conclusions:

  • Anyone who serves, prepares or handles food, in a restaurant, nursing home, day care center, supermarket or local market needs some basic food safety training; and,
  • the results of restaurant and other food service inspections must be made public.

There should be mandatory food handler training, for say, three hours, that could happen in school, on the job, whatever. But training is only a beginning. Just because you tell someone to wash the poop off their hands before they prepare salad for 100 people doesn’t mean it is going to happen; weekly outbreaks of hepatitis A confirm this. There are a number of additional carrots and sticks that can be used to create a culture that values microbiologically safe food and a work environment that rewards hygienic behavior. But mandating basic training is a start.

Next is to verify that training is being translated into safe food handling practices through inspection. And those inspection results should be publicly available.

A philosophy of transparency and openness underlies the efforts of many local health units across North America in seeking to make available the results of restaurant inspections. In the absence of regular media exposes, or a reality TV show where camera crews follow an inspector into a restaurant unannounced, how do consumers — diners — know which of their favorite restaurants are safe?

Cities, counties and states are using a blend of web sites, letter or numerical grades on doors, and providing disclosure upon request. In Denmark, smiley or sad faces are affixed to restaurant windows.

Publicly available grading systems rapidly communicate to diners the potential risk in dining at a particular establishment and restaurants given a lower grade may be more likely to comply with health regulations in the future to prevent lost business.

More importantly, such public displays of information help bolster overall awareness of food safety amongst staff and the public — people routinely talk about this stuff. The interested public can handle more, not less, information about food safety.

Even in New South Wales and Queensland, results are only posted voluntarily. 

So if an outlet sucks at food safety, they don’t have to tell anyone.

Toronto, Los Angeles and New York have had mandatory disclosure, on the doors for years.

Adelaide can figure it out.

And instead of waiting for politicians to take the lead, the best restaurants, those with nothing to hide and everything to be proud of, will go ahead and make their inspection scores available — today.

44 sickened: It was the eggs, again, in Australia, tea towels not suitable for draining excess moisture

Fuck me.

Grocer-Grind-Bacon-Eggs-Benny-640x423I give up.

How hopeless are Australians when it comes to making people barf with raw or undercooked eggs?

According to Greg Stolz of The Courier-Mail, a top Gold Coast cafe has pleaded guilty to putting more than 20 customers in hospital with salmonella poisoning, most after eating contaminated eggs benedict (right, exactly as shown, with a serving of sprouts).

Gold Coast Hospital had to open a special ward to cope with the mass outbreak, Southport Magistrates Court heard.

A total of 44 diners became ill after eating at the Grocer and Grind cafe at Broadbeach Waters in March last year, the court was told.

Thirty had laboratory-confirmed salmonella poisoning while another 14 also reported being ill.

Twenty-two customers were hospitalised with symptoms including nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, fever, blood in their stools and diarrhea.

The court heard poor food handling practices, including “temperature abuse” and using a tea towel to drain moisture from eggs used to make hollandaise sauce, was to blame for the outbreak.

Grocer and Grind had been issued an official warning about poor hygiene including dirty tea towels four months before the outbreak, the court heard.

Grocer and Grind and its owner Taletha March pleaded guilty to two charges, brought by Queensland Health, of selling unsafe food.

The cafe and Ms March face maximum fines of more than $330,000.

The hearing is continuing.

A selection of egg-related outbreaks in Australia can be found here.

 

Market food safety at retail and show me the data: Science fairs and rockmelon

I judged my first science fair this morning.

I’ve done lots of stuff with schoolkids over the years – food is a wonderful teaching tool – but this was tough.

cantaloupe.salmonellaThere were 10 of us, judging about 180 projects at one elementary school.

Being the newbie, I got the prep (kindergarten) and grade 1s (grade 2 would have been a conflict of interest).

We had score sheets that will be returned to the students, and I thought, how do I evaluate this, I don’t want to crush the investigative soul of a 6-year-old.

It’s fair game to crush the souls of PhD students and other profs through peer-review, but this felt like peer-review for little kids.

I mainly wrote encouraging things and asked questions.

The things kids think of.

We have an awards thingy later tonight, with the all-Aussie sausage sizzle (yes, I will bring my tip-sensitive digital thermometer and use it, because that is the only data that matters when involving food safety), but I wonder if they’ll serve rockmelon (cantaloupe).

Probably not.

They know who I am, and didn’t serve it at the last school function, after 97 were confirmed sick with Salmonella linked to rockmelon from Red Dirt Farms in the Northern Territories of Australia.

But, as is often, public health seems to take a back seat to biz.

Matt Brann of ABC reports that demand for rockmelons has dived following a salmonella scare earlier this month, which was linked to rockmelons from a farm in the Northern Territory.

(It’s not a scare, it’s an outbreak with lots of sick people).

Christian Bloecker is in the middle of his rockmelon harvest in the Kimberley’s Ord Irrigation Scheme, and said fruit was now being left in the paddock.

“There’s nothing as a farmer that you can really do about it, apart from getting the awareness out there that rockmelons from the Ord are beautiful, fresh and safe to eat,” he said.

Then you’re getting bad advice.

Prove everything you do to produce a safe crop. Look at models in California and Colorado.

Market your food safety at retail.

Some growers are better than others. They should be rewarded.

Soundbites are empty when people are sick.

And as I judged the students this morning, it wasn’t about soundbits and show: it was, show me the data.

Of course it was the eggs: 71 sick from InterContinental Adelaide buffet

Katrina Stokes of The Advertiser reports the InterContinental Adelaide buffet breakfast that made at least 71 people sick from salmonella poisoning has been linked to cross-contamination from eggs.

scrambled.eggsAn Adelaide City Council and SA Health joint investigation has identified the likely cause of the salmonella as cross contamination or inadequate cooking of raw eggs.

The total number of people struck down with symptoms including vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and headaches after eating the breakfast spread at the luxury hotel on Sunday, July 31, has risen to 71, including 21 people who were admitted to hospital.

InterContinental Adelaide general manager Colin McCandless said the investigation was “still ongoing”.

“What the Adelaide City Council has released is a likely cause (but) we’re still partnering with them fully to determine what the exact cause was,” he said.

That’s the same McCandless who last week said it was ‘absolutely safe’ to eat at the hotel.

SA Health chief medical officer Professor Paddy Phillips said the latest salmonella outbreak was another reminder of the potential risks associated with handling raw eggs.

The hotel’s $37 full breakfast buffet at the Riverside Restaurant includes scrambled eggs.

And what about those dips? Any raw eggs in those?

A selection of egg-related outbreaks in Australia can be found here.

Fine dining in Brisbane

A restaurant operator who was caught storing dodgy ice-cream balls and tenderising chicken at an ‘alarming’ temperature has been ordered to pay a hefty fine.

West End GardenMinh Tri Nguyen, who operates the restaurant West End Garden, was last week fined $37,500 in the Brisbane Magistrates Court after he pleaded guilty to a string of food safety violations.

Brisbane City Council authorities inspected the restaurant after five diners suffered food poisoning in January 2015.

Council prosecutor Mark Thomas had previously told the court that authorities had found ice cream balls, a tea towel and dish cloth contaminated with salmonella.

He also said chicken and beef had been found tenderising in a sink at a dangerous temperature.

Australia has an egg problem: Adelaide Hotel InterContinental edition

There are so many egg/salmonella/Australia stories in the past few years that I spent 20 min googling to see if this was a repeat.

It’s not.

According to the Daily Mail over 40 salmonellosis cases, including 9 hospitalizations have been linked to InterContinental Adelaide.raw.eggs_

A mother of three said her and her husband started showing the telltale signs of food poisoning two days after eating the contaminated food. According to the woman, Adelaide City Council and InterContinental suspect the cause to be eggs.

A South Australian Health spokesperson said authorities were ‘aware of a localised case of food poisoning in a city hotel’.
it is understood that up to 45 could have contracted the disease, but the exact number remains unconfirmed as the hotel chain and SA Health investigate the cause of the outbreak.

‘The issue I have is they (the hotel and the council) know there are 400 people out there potentially infected with salmonella and they’re not actively notifying them,’ the mother told the newspaper.

But InterContinental Adelaide general manager Colin McCandless said it was ‘absolutely safe’ to eat at the hotel.

Saying absolutely safe means absolutely nothing. Especially to the nine who were hospitalized.

A selection of egg-related outbreaks in Australia can be found here.

Raw eggs are risky, but where are pasteurized eggs available in Australia: Criminal trial over Copa Brazilian restaurant Salmonella outbreak begins, 162 sickened at May 2013 brunch

In May, 2013, at least 162 people who went out for a Mother’s Day meal at the Copa Brazilian in Canberra, Australia, were sickened with Salmonella.

raw.eggs_The Copa was eventually closed and sold in 2014.

But the court case is just beginning.

Alexandra Back of the Canberra Times reports that court was told the outbreak had the quickest incubation period one expert had ever seen, a court has heard.

And the speed at which the Copa Brazilian’s customers got sick could be because of the amount of bacteria ingested, the expert said.

In May 2013, within a week of opening, the 161 customers were served a potato salad with a raw egg aioli in a $45 all-you-can eat deal.

An ACT Health investigation traced the raw eggs to a Victorian supplier, while the Dickson restaurant eventually closed in 2014.

Copa’s owners, Zeffirelli Pizza Restaurant Pty Ltd, still faced criminal charges over selling unsafe food. They have pleaded not guilty.

Their defence was that they believed the food was safe to eat.

Defence lawyer Tim Sharman told the court the owners held a positive and reasonable belief the eggs were safe. He said the eggs came from a primary industry and chain of suppliers that was regulated, and the owner’s were entitled to rely on that regulation.

He said the possibility of a “bad egg” was beyond the owners’ control.

The court heard evidence how a crack in the shell invisible to the eye would allow salmonella to develop inside, but not be seen or smelled.

Further, at the time, the ACT had no guidelines or rules governing how to handle raw egg products, unlike other jurisdictions, Mr Sharman said.

The court was told staff were “disturbed” to hear of the outbreak.

But this was a business, and food poisoning was a risk restaurateurs should be aware of, prosecutor Michael Reardon told the court.

And there was a safer alternative in pasteurised egg products, he said, giving the owners ability to control for the risk of salmonella.

Cameron Moffat, an epidemiologist who at the time was with the ACT Health Service, said the use of products such as raw egg mayonnaise in restaurants was “in vogue”, and causing some problems, Mr Moffatt told the court.

Radomir Krsteski, manager of the microbiology unit at ACT Health, also gave evidence at the ACT Magistrates Court on Thursday.

raw.egg_.mayo_.may_.13He said pasteurisation – a process of heating the egg products – was the safest way to ensure an egg would be free of salmonella.

He also explained how a “bad egg” with a hairline crack and kept in conditions favourable to the bacteria, could become contaminated with salmonella without someone’s knowledge.

Maybe there’ some Salmonella-night-vision goggles I don’t know about. But do restaurant owners really want to make people sick, and do they really want to lose their business?

When we go out to eat, which is increasingly rare, I always ask, does your chef use raw eggs in the aioli or mayo or something else that is not cooked?

In Australia the answer is usually a convincing yes.

I try not to be an ass about these things, but what I do say is, look at all the raw-egg related outbreaks in Australia and then say something like, we’re fans of your food, that’s why we come here. Do you really want to lose this business you worked so hard for because of a dip?

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

Show me the data (and end product testing doesn’t mean much): rockmelon edition

After a week of breakfast meetings in St. Louis at IAFP, I’ve seen my share of sliced cantaloupe (sometimes on ice, sometimes not).

I stick to pineapple, grapefruit and strawberries on the continental buffet tables.

Dealing with the fallout of 90+ cases of Salmonella Hvittingfoss linked to Red Dirt Melons industry members are, according to SBS, putting a public relations press to reduce market impacts.Unknown

Rockmelon growers in northern Australia will begin a campaign pleading with shoppers to buy their produce in light of a widening salmonella outbreak linked to the fruit.

A total of 97 cases of salmonella linked to rockmelon have been identified by NSW Health in the past seven weeks, including 49 in NSW between June 14 and August 1.

Authorities are still unsure of the outbreak’s origin but melon farmers insist it’s safe to eat rockmelons bought after August 2.

“As far as I’m aware, all of the growers who are still producing rockmelon have had microbial tests done on their produce and they have all been clear,” the Australian Melon Association association’s Dianne Fullelove told AAP.

Name change? 86 sick with Salmonella from Red Dirt Melons in Australia

Sorenne had scooter day today at school.

It’s all part of the active lifestyle thingy the school does – and our school is really good at it, because driving just doesn’t makes sense for the locals – but Sorenne’s scooter has seen better days and now she’s an avid bike rider.

cantaloupe.salmonellaShe still got a sausage on white bread – breakfast of champions – and some fruit for her efforts.

The fruit this morning consisted of watermelon and orange slices. I asked the co-ordinator if she considered rockmelon — otherwise known as cantaloupe – and she said, I did last week, but then just didn’t.

And then I heard the news last night.

Food safety Doug, who ruins all the fun for the other kids, gave her a big thumbs up.

Later today, it was confirmed that at least 86 people in Australia have contracted an “exceedingly rare” form of salmonella linked to the consumption of rockmelon.

Red Dirt Melons – a Northern Territories-based supplier – is recalling its rockmelons after Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) launched an investigation into a spike in salmonella cases in a number of Australian states. 

Whole rockmelons, as well as pre-sliced melons, can carry the bacteria, and should be avoided, health authorities said. 

There have been 86 reported cases of Salmonella Hvittingfoss (S. Hittingfoss) nationally – 43 cases in NSW – in the two weeks to August 1.

It’s a sizeable jump compared to the two cases per month on average in NSW over the last five years.

The people affected by the recent outbreak range in ages, but 49 per cent of cases in NSW were children under five years old.

Victorian authorities are investigating eight suspected cases of salmonella poisoning that may be linked to the fruit.

Red Dirt Melons have begun a recall of their rockmelons after the Salmonella bacteria was detected by health authorities in South Australia on August 2.

Woolworths removed all Red Dirt rockmelons from its stores on Monday evening when they were told of the possible link, a spokesman for the supermarket giant said.

The chain has also suspended any future supply from Red Dirt until the food authorities provide further guidance.

Rockmelons could become contaminated with salmonella due to water contamination, contact with fertiliser, pests or animals, or if the rockmelons were not cleaned properly before sale, The NSW Food Authority said.

Rockmelons have been linked to salmonella poisonings in the past, including in the US in the 1950s, 1960s and in 2002.

The Hvittingfoss strain turned up in Sydney and Adelaide in the past few weeks, according to the Australian Melon Association. Food Standards Australia New Zealand says authorities are investigating and has warned pregnant woman, infants and the elderly not to eat the fruit.

Industry, state and federal authorities are expected to discuss the issue in a teleconference on Wednesday afternoon.

“We want more details so consumers can find out which parts of Australia are not impacted,” melon association spokeswoman Dianne Fullelove told AAP.

“We would like to have our supply chain moving. At the moment it’s virtually stopped.”

Nicevmessage of safety and compassion.

The fruit has previously been linked to salmonella, with 50 cases linked to the Saintpaul strain reported in NSW in 2006. In America in 2011, rockmelon contaminated with listeria was linked to more than 20 deaths (33 – dp).

This chart of Salmonella-in-cantaloupe outbreaks will be updated in the next couple of days. Cantaloupe Related Outbreaks

cantaloupe.infosheet