People are getting sick E. coli O157 outbreak at Boston’s Chicken & Rice Guys

Megan Woolhouse of the Boston Globe reports an E. coli O157 outbreak shuttered three locations of the Chicken & Rice Guys, as well as its fleet of Middle Eastern food trucks, Boston health inspectors said Tuesday.

The department confirmed seven cases of E. coli stemming from the Chicken & Rice Guys Allston location, which supplies food to the chain’s other outposts. The problems led to the temporary suspension of its operating license, Boston Inspectional Services Commissioner William Christopher Jr. said.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” Christopher said. “People are getting sick.”

He added that he did not know the condition of any of the people who were affected.

The company’s four food trucks, which rotate locations around Greater Boston, were taken off the road Tuesday afternoon, said Phanna Ky, general manager of the chain’s Medford restaurant, the only location that remained open Tuesday evening.

Christopher said Boston does not have jurisdiction over the Medford location.

Chicken & Rice Guys officials could not be reached.

According to Boston Inspectional Services, the city received an anonymous complaint and opened an investigation Tuesday. Public health officials remained at the Allston site throughout the afternoon trying to determine a specific source of the outbreak, Christopher said.

He added that the department will meet with the chain’s owner on Wednesday morning to discuss a course of action.

Boston inspector resigns in food-safety scandal

Keith Eddings of the Eagle-Tribune, reports the city code inspector accused of selling bogus food safety certificates to employees at restaurants and bodegas resigned on Monday, two weeks after Mayor Daniel Rivera put him on paid leave as the first of the phony certificates was found at Noelia Market on East Haverhill Street.

sscertificateAlso this week, the National Restaurant Association, whose ServSafe program trains and tests millions of employees in food safety nationwide, told the city it will invalidate all 497 certificates that the inspector, Jorge De Jesus, issued in Lawrence over the last five years.

De Jesus issued the licenses on behalf of the Restaurant Association, not the city, but the city requires them from merchants seeking the common victualler license needed to sell food. That made it a conflict of interest for De Jesus to issue even valid certificates in Lawrence, Assistant City Attorney Brian Corrigan said.

City Inspectional Services Director Pat Ruiz said he so far has found 25 ServSafe certificates that he believes De Jesus sold to merchants without putting them through the course and exam required for the certificates, but he said determining the validity of the certificates has been time-consuming and inconclusive. He said a better option is to invalidate all 497 certificates De Jesus issued and require the employees holding them to take the course and pass the test.

Ruiz said the Restaurant Association told him Tuesday that it is notifying the 497 certificate holders this week that their certificates are being revoked, and will offer them the food safety course without charge over the next few weeks. The association could not be reached late Tuesday, but a spokeswoman said last week that it has suspended De Jesus from the ServSafe program pending its own investigation and is taking the issue “very seriously.”

Rivera said the merchants who bought a ServSafe certificate from De Jesus without taking the required course and passing an exam are victims of De Jesus’ scam and would not be punished.

“We’re focusing on the bad actor, not the victims of this,” Rivera said.

De Jesus was a teacher and proctor in the ServSafe program and so had access to the certificates. He was charging merchants as much as $450 for a bogus certificate, Corrigan said. The course lasts just a few hours and typically costs less than $100. 

The ServSafe types at the National Restaurant Association, who apparently don’t like to post on blogs like barfblog.com,  sent me a note saying:

“DeJesus had an independent business and one of his activities was providing food safety classes.  He used some of our ServSafe materials and signed an agreement indicating that he would use them in a responsible and ethical manner. Once we found he was not in compliance with that agreement, he was no longer authorized to use our materials. He was never hired or paid by the Association and was not our employee.”

About time: Boston restaurants could face steep fine if they don’t post food safety

Matt Rocheleau of the Boston Globe reports that Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh is asking the City Council for approval to fine restaurants $300 per day if they fail to post their food safety inspection letter grades in their storefronts.

ny_rest_inspect_disclosureRestaurants and food trucks would have a year to comply after the launch of the letter-grade system being developed for restaurants citywide, though the grades would be available on the city’s website.

The city’s Inspectional Services Department has been developing the program. Officials there have said restaurants would receive either an A, B, or C grade.

The program would resemble rating systems that New York, Los Angeles, and other cities have been using since as early as the late 1990s. Locally, Newton launched a similar program in the fall that requires numerical ratings to be displayed inside restaurants.

Boston officials have previously told the Globe that letter grades will be issued to all of the city’s roughly 3,000 food establishments, including restaurants, food trucks, cafeterias, and other food vendors.

When an establishment gets a low grade, inspectors will return within 30 days to reinspect, city officials have said. If the violations are corrected, the city would bump up the grade accordingly. If the issues remain, the grade would stand until the next routine inspection, officials have said.

Restaurants would be subject to the $300 fines if they fail to post their letter grades “immediately after receipt, unobstructed, at eye-level, facing outward on an exterior-facing wall or window within five feet of the main entrance in the interior of the restaurant,” according to Walsh’s proposal to the council, which was previously reported on by the Universal Hub website.

The council is due to take up the matter at a meeting in City Hall on Wednesday.

The new rating system would not cost the city any extra money, city officials have said, because it would calculate grades based on the existing system used to inspect restaurants.

 

Chipotle outbreak makes Boston College commencement address

Part of our approach on barfblog is to inject surprise and humor, or what some might call shock jockery, into food safety messages to compel folks to employ risk reduction practices.

Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don’t. Linking a norovirus outbreak with a tragic terrorist event isn’t the best idea. According to Boston.com, United States Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz made the Chipotle/Boston Marathon bombing connection during a Boston College commencement speech.Screen-Shot-2016-05-23-at-10.38.40-AM-850x478$large

United States Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz is a native of Fall River, Mass., an alumnus of BC and a professor at MIT, which means he knows very well what it means to be a Bostonian.

But Boston College’s commencement speaker gave a special shout-out to the class of 2016 for being what he called “Boston College strong.”

“You were here for the terrible Boston Marathon terrorism events, the terrible snow storm, and, as I understand, the perils of fast food became also known to this class,” he said.

Those “perils” occurred in December during a norovirus outbreak at the Chipotle in Cleveland Circle. More than 140 Boston College students got sick after eating at the restaurant, including many members of the basketball team.

Whole Foods still sucks at food safety: Boston edition

A Globe review of Boston food safety inspection data found that supermarkets are equal-opportunity offenders, with hundreds of violations, big and small, scattered across stores and neighborhoods of all kinds.

whole.foods.vomitThree years of citation records from the city’s Inspectional Services Department show a wide variety of problems, from minor ones such as cluttered storage areas and ice buildup in freezers to critical ones like employees not washing up before handling food. And there were nearly 50 citations issued for evidence of rodents, flies, or cockroaches.

Of the stores open during the entire three-year period, everyone had at least a dozen violations.

The Boston supermarket with the most violations — 127 — was the Whole Foods on Cambridge Street, near Beacon Hill, a high-end brand in what is generally considered a well-to-do, white-collar area. But not all citations are created equal, so sheer quantity may not be an indicator of an especially problematic store.

Case in point: The majority of violations (108) at the Cambridge Street Whole Foods involved relatively minor problems, including dirty shelves and improperly stored mops. None of them involved mice or rats. It was last week’s discovery of mice in a Roxbury Stop & Shop that brought new attention to the issue of supermarket cleanliness.

Interpreting the violation data requires some context. For example, larger grocery stores, as well as chains with more locations, often have a higher chance of being hit with citations simply because their size creates more opportunities for missteps. That’s especially true among stores like Whole Foods that sell large quantities of self-service prepared foods.

A Whole Foods spokeswoman, in a statement, said the chain is “dedicated to maintaining the highest quality standards for the products we sell and the stores we operate.”

Uh-huh.

 

Norovirus-linked Chipotle reopens in Boston; manager and employee fired

Following an all-clear (which means, you’re meeting the basic food code requirements) from health officials, the Chipotle location linked to over 140 norovirus illnesses is all set to open. Minus at least two employees – the manager and ill employee have, according to WCVB, both been fired.

Chipotle is expected to be cleared to reopen its Cleveland Circle location Wednesday after more than 100 customers got sick with norovirus earlier this month.chipotle21

Boston Inspectional Services said the restaurant has been disinfected and a second round of samples tested negative for norovirus. All employees also tested negative for the virus.

City inspectors were at the restaurant for a final rundown Wednesday.

One hundred and forty people, most of them Boston College students, got norovirus after eating at the restaurant.

Health officials said a sick employee was the source. The company said that employee and the manager on duty at the time have been fired.

There was some organizational/food safety culture issue at work in this outbreak. The chain offers paid sick leave to its employees – so why was there an ill food handler working?

That’s a values/not understanding risk issue and a management fail.

A-B-C disclosure system for Boston

Boston, you’re a big city with a strange accent, why haven’t you figured out restaurant inspection disclosure until now?

restaurant_food_crap_garbage_10Regardless, Boston plans to soon start assigning letter grades to publicly rate the cleanliness and food safety practices for all restaurants and other food-service vendors in the city, giving diners a visible new tool to confidently choose where to eat.

Officials hope to launch a pilot version of the grading system in early January. For the first year, restaurant letter grades — either an A, B, or C — would be posted online only.

But after that, as long as the program’s roll-out goes smoothly, the grades would be posted in storefront windows of every restaurant across Boston, resembling systems New York and other cities have been using for years.

“We want to make it as simple as we can for people to understand the health conditions at our restaurants,” said William Christopher, head of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department, which will oversee the program.

Christopher said he went to New York City recently to review that city’s program, which began in 2010. He also has researched grading systems in other cities, including Los Angeles, which has been issuing grades since 1997.

Locally, Newton launched a similar restaurant-rating program last month.

A Globe report in May detailed how a review by city inspectors 2014 found serious health code violations at nearly half of Boston’s food service vendors, including restaurants, food trucks, and cafeterias. However, Christopher said the city had been considering the grading system idea prior to that report.

Christopher cited how officials in other cities have said their grading systems have spurred improvements: reducing health violations, improving public awareness about food safety, and even boosting business for restaurants, by increasing competition for owners to keep cleaner stores.

“Everyone wants to be an A rating, so it motivates restaurateurs,” Christopher said in an interview Monday.

But such systems have also faced criticism. Some have questioned assertions that the grading systems lead to improved conditions, and others have accused the ratings of being arbitrary.

smiley.faces.denmark.rest.inspectionBob Luz, president and chief executive of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, reacted cautiously to the new initiative. He said such rating systems can oversimplify the results of restaurant inspections, which he noted the City of Boston already makes available online in more detail.

And the restaurant association thingy would be expected to say nothing else, using talking points from the National Restaurant Association. Go back and look at the crap that was hurled when Toronto adopted a red-yellow-green system in 2001 (or 02?).

I prepared a court brief on why the system was valid, but it never went to court because once a system is introduced, it’s hard to get rid of.

We’ve spent the last 15 years trying to determine the most effective disclosure systems.

Restaurant association types could do the same.

Boston, don’t hide restaurants’ dirty secrets

An editorial in the Boston Globe states that last year, nearly half of the restaurants in Boston were cited by city inspectors for two of the most serious health and sanitary code violations on the books, and about 200 were written up for 10 or more violations, according to a Globe analysis of municipal records published this week. But until reporter Matt Rocheleau’s story, most of these establishments’ customers had no idea they were at risk of becoming ill.

larry.the_.cable_.guy_.health.inspector-213x300-213x300Technically, the information had been available to the public prior to the Globe report. The city publishes an online spreadsheet listing restaurant inspection results, which can be accessed through something called the Mayor’s Food Court, a web portal created in 2001. The site — which is ancient in tech years — also allows users to a search for inspection data by restaurant name. Never heard of it? You have plenty of company.

Lauren Lockwood, the city’s first chief digital officer, knows that’s a problem. “We’re focusing on the distinction of making things available versus accessible,” she said. “The city now makes a truly tremendous amount of information available online; the problem is that the access is user unfriendly.”

A better designed and promoted online database to replace the Mayor’s Food Court would be welcome. But given the serious public health considerations, technology that doesn’t necessarily require the intervention of an IT department should also be used to spread word about sanitary code violations. For instance, the city could send out a weekly e-mail bulletin that lists the latest citations.

Boston should also follow the lead of New York and San Francisco, which require restaurants to post a health code compliance grade where everyone can see. Under New York’s letter grade system, which was enacted in 2010, violations are translated into points. Fewer points mean a higher grade.

I agree.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009.

The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information.

Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.

Abstract

barf.o.meter_.dec_.12-216x300-216x300The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants is fragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2011. Designing a national restaurant inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Journal of Food Protection 74(11): 1869-1874
.

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from contaminated food or water each year, and up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food service facilities. The aim of restaurant inspections is to reduce foodborne outbreaks and enhance consumer confidence in food service. Inspection disclosure systems have been developed as tools for consumers and incentives for food service operators. Disclosure systems are common in developed countries but are inconsistently used, possibly because previous research has not determined the best format for disclosing inspection results. This study was conducted to develop a consistent, compelling, and trusted inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Existing international and national disclosure systems were evaluated. Two cards, a letter grade (A, B, C, or F) and a gauge (speedometer style), were designed to represent a restaurant’s inspection result and were provided to 371 premises in six districts for 3 months. Operators (n = 269) and consumers (n = 991) were interviewed to determine which card design best communicated inspection results. Less than half of the consumers noticed cards before entering the premises; these data indicated that the letter attracted more initial attention (78%) than the gauge (45%). Fifty-eight percent (38) of the operators with the gauge preferred the letter; and 79% (47) of the operators with letter preferred the letter. Eighty-eight percent (133) of the consumers in gauge districts preferred the letter, and 72% (161) of those in letter districts preferring the letter. Based on these data, the letter method was recommended for a national disclosure system for New Zealand.

Boston eateries cited for serious violations

City inspectors last year found multiple instances of the most serious type of health and sanitary code violations at nearly half of Boston’s restaurants and food service locations, according to a Globe review of municipal data.

At least two violations that can cause foodborne illness — the most serious of three levels — were discovered at more than 1,350 restaurants across Boston during 2014, according to records of inspections at every establishment in the city that serves food, including upscale dining locations, company cafeterias, takeout and fast-food restaurants, and food trucks.

Five or more of the most serious violations were discovered at more than 500 locations, or about 18 percent of all restaurants in the city, and 10 or more of the most serious violations were identified at about 200 eateries.

A violation is classified under the most serious category when inspectors observe improper practices or procedures that research has identified as the most prevalent contributing factors of foodborne illness.

Examples of such infractions include: not storing food or washing dishes at proper temperatures, employees not following hand-washing and glove-wearing protocols, and evidence that insects or rodents have been near food.

Last year, the location with the highest total of the most serious types of violation was Best Barbecue Kitchen, a small butcher shop and takeout restaurant on Beach Street in Chinatown, which racked up 70 such violations, according to city records.

That restaurant also had the highest total of violations in all categories — at 219 — last year. As of last month, Best Barbecue Kitchen had accumulated the highest number of the most serious violations: 130, dating back to 2007, when the city began posting the data online. It also had the second-highest total of violations of any type: 614.

The restaurant that had the second-highest total of the most serious violations last year was Cosi, a cafe and sandwich chain inside South Station, where 50 were found. The restaurant with the third-highest total of the most serious violations last year could be found several feet away inside South Station: Master Wok, which had 45.

Staff members at all three restaurants declined to comment last week and requests to speak with managers went unanswered.

Bob Luz, president and chief executive of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said the safety of customers is the top priority for restaurant owners.

“Food safety is number one for every restaurateur in the state, and obviously it’s something we consider as incredibly important,” said Luz.

Uh-huh.

12 sick; good communication can’t cover lousy management; Clover restaurant’s lapses preceded Salmonella outbreak

When a city inspector went to the Clover restaurant in East Cambridge last Friday, she found spoiled cauliflower, hummus, and various salads coming back from food trucks at improper temperatures, and no one on hand to supervise the kitchen staff.

That inspection, sparked by an outbreak of food poisoning among some of Clover’s customers, led the city to shut the restaurant indefinitely, according to a report provided to the Globe. Deborah Kotz writes the chief clover.food.lb.jul.13executive then decided to close the other three restaurants and 10 food trucks in the popular Clover Food Lab chain, which all are supplied by the East Cambridge kitchen.

Twelve cases of salmonella were reported in June and early this month among patrons of Clover’s various locations in Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline.

While the state health department declined to comment, citing its ongoing investigation, Clover CEO Ayr Muir said in an interview that he has received details on half of the people. Those customers had eaten one of two dishes containing pita bread purchased from a supplier, as well as tahini, hummus, and a cucumber tomato salad made by Clover chefs.

Muir acknowledged there were food safety practices with which “we could do a lot better,” but added that he thinks food inspectors frequently note violations at many restaurants. “I think we operate some of the cleanest kitchens in the country,” he said.

Clover has become something of an institution among the health-food set. Its no-frills vegetarian fare attracted a devoted following after it began five years ago with a single food truck near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and it grew rapidly. Its website promises locally grown and fresh food — so fresh that they have “no freezers. In the entire company. Not one.”

But Clover has racked up a string of safety lapses, ranging from minor violations such as greasy buildup on equipment, walls, and counters to major infractions such as a failure to provide handwashing facilities to employees in a food truck on Park Street off Boston Common.

Haven’t heard anything about how and where Clover sources its supposedly superior food.