Me being a good Australian citizen: Queensland Health should make investigations into food poisoning outbreaks public

In The (Brisbane) Courier-Mail this morning:

In 2013, at least 50 people, mainly children, became ill with E coli O157 at the Ekka.

claudia.e.coli.petting.zoo.may.14Follow-up in the form of a publicly released formal report following an investigation? Nothing.

Queensland Health has been warned repeatedly about Q fever outbreaks at the Ekka related to the birthing of goats. Again, follow-up? Nothing.

In 2013, at least 130 people, including 55 nursing home patients, were stricken by norovirus in Ipswich and on the Sunshine Coast. Follow-up? Nothing.

In November 2013, at least 220 people were felled by salmonella and one was killed at Melbourne Cup functions, all linked to raw egg-based dishes served by Piccalilli Catering. Follow-up? Nothing. I even wrote to then health minister Lawrence Springborg and received no response. I guess he was busy with Parliament.

In January this year, at least 130 diners were stricken with salmonella after dining at Brisbane’s Chin Chin Chinese Restaurant. Dozens were hospitalised. Follow-up? Nothing.

Last month, 250 teachers contracted salmonella at a conference and an additional 20 people were sickened on the Gold Coast from the same egg supplier. Follow-up? Nothing. Though, to be fair, Councillor Krista Adams, Brisbane City Council Lifestyle Committee chairwoman, was on ABC radio on Monday saying the Queensland Health investigation into the matter was ongoing.

As a food safety professor in Canada and the US who relocated to Brisbane four years ago to support my French professor wife, I look at these outbreaks and wonder: what does Queensland Health do? What does Safe Food Queensland do? I believe in science, however fallible it may be, and my church is the (ice) hockey arena.

I also believe in public disclosure, especially because these investigations are conducted on the Queensland tax dollar. These are hopelessly ineffective agencies, and I’ve seen a lot of agencies, but these are the worst, especially in terms of public disclosure. Not the people, but the structure and confines in which they work for a pay cheque.

Now we’re told that hundreds of Brisbane restaurants, cafes, bakeries and caterers operate below legal safety standards.

Brisbane City Council says it is waging war on shoddy operators in light of a jump in food poisoning outbreaks.

That’s a war of attrition.

sorenne.hockeyaug.14Instead, Brisbane, and Queensland, could make a few changes to hold the food purveyors accountable.

Mandate training; make restaurant inspection disclosures mandatory, rather than voluntary; and create a culture that values microbiologically safe food.

I was coaching an ice hockey game on the Gold Coast on the weekend and the restaurant we went to afterwards was advertising a petting zoo, at the restaurant.

This is a microbiologically horrible idea. Same with zoos at schools and in malls, such as the one at Fairfield.

Queensland is on track to record its worst year on record for salmonellosis, which has infected more than 2500 people, mostly in the southeast, since the start of the year. The state is also recording spikes in other gastrointestinal illness cases, such as campylobacter (1993), cryptosporidiosis (604) and yersiniosis (180).

Data from the council’s Eat Safe star-rating system shows almost 10 per cent of Brisbane’s 6000-plus food operators operate below legal safety standards.

Queensland taxpayers deserve answers to some basic questions about all of the aforementioned outbreaks: How did the outbreak occur? Was this commodity sourced from a food safety-accredited supplier? Did handling by the caterer contribute to this outbreak? What is Queensland Health’s policy on use of raw eggs in dishes to be consumed raw? Is this policy enforced? Is the investigation closed and, if so, why and when was it closed? Will an outbreak investigation report be created and publicised? Why was the previous update erased from the department’s website and on whose authority? What is its policy on making information public?

This isn’t CSI, with its groovy UV lights that make great television but lousy science. Publicly release all surveillance data on raw eggs in Queensland (or Australia), publicly release the menu items at the Brisbane Convention Centre and Grocer & Grind, on the Gold Coast, where two of their own chefs got sick, and tell chefs to stop using raw eggs in dishes they must craft from scratch, such as aioli or mayonnaise. This is nothing new and we have been documenting the problem for years because it is a global food safety embarrassment. The solutions are there. It’s time for leadership.

Dr Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety in Canada and the US who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia

145 sickened: 80 victims compensated over E. coli outbreak in Ireland

Belfast Crown Court heard on Wednesday that compensation was paid to around 80 people by Moviehouse Cinema Limited – the parent company of the former Flicks restaurant at the Cityside complex, which was voluntary closed two days after the second outbreak emerged.

flicks.belfastThe payments ranged from £3,000 to £12,000.

Moviehouse Cinema Limited, which was represented in court by its managing director Michael McAdam, admitted a total of 11 separate food hygiene offences.

They included failing to ensure that food handlers were supervised and instructed, failing to ensure that staff toilets were kept clean, and keeping food at a temperature which was likely to support the growth of pathogenic micro-organisms or the formulation of toxins.

The court heard that Flicks Restaurant was at the centre of two outbreaks of E. coli in 2012 – one in August which affected four people and a second outbreak detected in October where there were 141 confirmed cases.

12 sick: E. coli leafy greens cone of silence, again

The Public Health Agency of Canada is collaborating with federal and provincial public health partners to investigate an outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7, commonly called E.coli, with a possible link to leafy greens. A specific product has not been identified yet, and the investigation is ongoing.

lettuce.skull.e.coli.O145At this time, the risk to Canadians is low. However, Canadians are reminded to follow safe food handling practices to avoid illness. (WTF are Canadians supposed to do with leafy greens?)

There have been 12 cases of E. coli with a matching genetic fingerprint reported in Alberta (9), Saskatchewan (1), Ontario (1), and Newfoundland and Labrador (1). The illness onset dates range from March 13 to March 31, 2015.

Based on the investigation findings to date, exposure to leafy greens has emerged as a possible source of illness. Leafy greens can include all varieties of lettuces and other green leaf vegetables such as kale, spinach, arugula, or chard. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s investigation into the food source is ongoing. If products are identified, the Agency will inform the public and ensure that they are promptly removed from the marketplace.

The following tips will help you reduce your risk of infection with E. coli or other food-borne illnesses:

Wash fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them, clean counters and cutting boards and wash your hands regularly.

Bullshit. Packaged leafy greens are not to be re-washed.

Meat (and science) mythologies

My latest for Texas A&M’s Center for Food Safety:

HomePage_Soliloquy_powellsworld_aprilOn September 11, 1998, the journal Science published a paper by Cornell and U.S. Department of Agriculture science-thingies that concluded the key to reducing E. coli O157 in cattle was to feed them hay instead of grain beginning five days before slaughter.

The PR writers and journalists had a hay day, saying “a simple change in cattle diets in the days before slaughter may reduce the risk of E. coli infections in humans” or this N.Y.Times headline, “E. coli bacteria can be eliminated from cattle, researchers find.”

Food safety isn’t that simple.

Science isn’t that simple.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota wrote in 2007 that the frequently cited Cornell study, was “based on a study of three cows rotated on different diets and for which the researchers did not even test for E. coli O157:H7. Unfortunately, the authors extrapolated these incredibly sparse results to the entire cattle industry.”

In 1998, I helped Dale Hancock of Washington State University anchor an evidence-based response that was also published in Science, but the damage was done.

In the subsequent 17 years, the data on cattle feeding and E. coli risk has been a mess, and open to citation to prove one’s pre-existing viewpoint – that’s why the Internet exists.

As my former Canadian and Kansas colleague David Renter wrote in Sept. 2006,“Cattle raised on diets of ‘grass, hay and other fibrous forage’ do contain E. coli O157:H7 bacteria in their feces as do other animals including deer, sheep, goats, bison, opossum, raccoons, birds, and many others.

“Cattle diet can affect levels of E. coli O157:H7, but this is a complex issue that has been and continues to be studied by many scientists.  To suggest switching cattle from grain to forage based on a small piece of the scientific evidence is inappropriate and irresponsible.”

Simplistically attacking one facet of livestock production may be politically expedient, but instead provides a false sense of security and ignores the biological realities of E. coli O157:H7. In 1999, for example, 90 children were felled at a fair in London, Ont. The source was a goat at a petting zoo.

Although there have been numerous outbreaks of shiga-toxin producing E. coli involving other ruminants – sheep, deer, goats, elk — the critics and the fashionably fashionable keep going back to cattle, especially feedlot cattle.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently joined the food pornographers at the N.Y. Times, and endless organic propaganda by saying – 17 years after the original, unrepeated study — that grass-fed beef is safer.

There is no evidence to prove this.

There’s some social media amplification going here, just like with the anti-vaxxers and raw milk fans.

I’m not sure how to address all the allegedly scientific nonsense that is out there.

I used to be a proponent of take it head on, but over time, it got tiring. Data has never convinced anyone who didn’t want to be convinced.

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety at the University of Guelph in Canada and Kansas State University in the U.S., who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.



Because when food safety is in question, ask a politician: UK raw milk producer back in business after ban

The North Devon farming family banned last year by the Food Standards Authority from selling their raw milk and cheese is back in action after a six-month ordeal.

baton.farm_.dairy_-300x200And their return to production has won warm feedback from hundreds of well wishers.

But the Wrights of Barton Farm, Kentisbury, are still in the dark about the allegations made about their milk and any connection with cases of E coli food poisoning.

They sought the help of North Devon MP Nick Harvey to try to have restrictions on their farm lifted.

A report about the FSA investigation into half a dozen cases is due to be published at the end of April.

Meanwhile Barton Farm has just won a Good Dairy Award from Compassion in World Farming.

Linda and husband Gary were stopped from selling their raw milk and cheese six months ago when the FSA said it was investigating half a dozen cases of food poisoning which officials linked with the bacteria E coli.

Although the FSA attributed the sickness to raw milk bought from Barton Farm Gary and Linda have had no evidence to link the two.

They recently sought the help of North Devon MP, Nick Harvey, who has contacted the FSA to find out why the restrictions on Barton Farm were continuing so long.

“The lifting of restrictions came out of the blue,” said Gary. “I had gone to Nick Harvey who’s been following our case.

“I can’t say that’s the reason but it’s a coincidence.”

Probiotic to reduce E. coli in beef

The probiotic strain Lactobacillus acidophilus BT-1386, available exclusively from Lallemand Animal Nutrition, was added to the 2015 pre-harvest production best practice (PBP) document released by the Beef Industry Food Safety Council (BIFSCo).

Lallemand logoThis lactic acid bacteria strain was noted on this PBP document based on the peer-reviewed literature available to support its effectiveness against E. coli O157:H7. Two Micro-Cell products from Lallemand Animal Nutrition contain this proprietary strain ─ Micro-Cell LA and Micro-Cell GOLD.

Yeah for whistleblowers: Canadian meat processor expected to plead guilty in E. coli case

Pitt Meadows Meats is expected to plead guilty on Monday to at least one count of selling E. coli-tainted meat in 2010, CBC News has learned.

pitt-meadows-300One of British Columbia’s largest meat processing plants, which now calls itself Meadow Valley Meats, was charged with 11 counts under the Food and Drugs Act for selling meat unfit for human consumption after a former employee contacted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The coverup came to light when Daniel Land, who oversaw the plant’s quality assurance, later contacted CBC News, saying officials at Pitt Meadows Meats told him to keep quiet about the positive test result obtained on Sept. 9. 2010.

Land said a manager failed to report lab results that showed a sample of its product was contaminated with the deadly E. coli O157 strain.

Regulations require federally licensed plants to report such findings.

“They told me that this would be looked after — they would pull it off the shelf,” Land said from his home in Edmonton. “Shame on them. There was tainted meat in the marketplace and they did nothing.”

Land was fired and decided to report the incident to the CFIA, a month after the test came back positive for E. coli.

Federal inspectors shut down the plant for a month and issued a recall, warning consumers that Pitt Meadows beef and lamb products may be contaminated with E. coli and should not be consumed. 

All the products were halal, meaning the animals were slaughtered in accordance with Islamic tradition, and distributed in the Metro Vancouver area.

Pitt Meadows Meats repeatedly described Land as a disgruntled employee who may have tainted the beef himself. 

“That’s a lie. We had a positive E. coli O157,” Land said.

“The meat was out there in the industry. When CFIA got involved and pulled it off shelves the meat was already in stores and people had already consumed it.”

107 sick: Contaminated fried fish causes food poisoning in Vietnam

The Food Administration of Vietnam yesterday announced fried egg fish goldfish to poison 107 workers of Star Company in Phu Nghia Industrial Park in Chuong My District in Hanoi.

fried egg goldfish107 workers of Star Company were hospitalized on April 8 after eating lunch with fried egg fish goldfish at the company in April 7. The fried fish was contaminated with E.coli.

I will call him George: E. coli in duck

Escherichia coli is one of the foodborne pathogens associated with several cases of human sickness. Duck meat is an excellent source of animal-derived high quality proteins. This study was undertaken to investigate the possible transmission of diarrheagenic E. coli from consumption of duck meat and giblets. Additionally, expression of some virulence-associated genes in the isolated E. coli serotypes was examined using polymerase chain reaction. Finally, antibiogram of the identified E. coli serotypes was also investigated.

E. coli could be isolated from the examined duck meat and giblets. Five serogroups could be identified, including E. coli O86, O127, O114, O26 and O78. Liver harbored the highest incidence of E. coli followed by gizzard, heart, spleen and muscle. Isolated E. coli serogroups harbored different virulent factors responsible for diarrhea and hemorrhage. Additionally, isolated E. coli serogroups showed marked low sensitivity or even resistance to the most common used antibiotics in Egypt.

Prevalence, molecular characterization and antibiotic susceptibility of Escherichia Coli isolated from duck meat and giblets

Journal of Food Safety [ahead of print]

Darwish, W. S., Eldin, W. F. S. and Eldesoky, K. I.


Reduction of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli attached to stainless steel

Amy R. Parks and Mindy M. Brashears write in Food Safety Magazine that shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) are pathogens of concern across various products within the food industry, as they have been connected to a wide variety of outbreaks and recalls.

e.coli.vaccine.beefMost of the scientific literature concerning the removal of attached STEC cells focuses on E. coli O157:H7, as it was the first STEC to be considered an adulterant in nonintact beef products in the United States after a large outbreak from undercooked ground beef patties in 1982.

Worldwide, non-O157 STEC strains are estimated to cause 20 to 50 percent of STEC-related infections. A review of outbreaks from 1983 through 2002 found six serogroups (O26, O111, O103, O121, O145 and O45) to be the most common non-O157 STECs causing human illness in the United States.With an estimated 70 percent of non-O157 STEC infections being caused by these serogroups, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service has included these serogroups along with E. coli O157:H7 as adulterants in nonintact beef products.

Biofilms are communities of microorganisms that can form on both living and nonliving surfaces, including those found in food processing plants. Biofilm formation depends on the microorganisms present and can be affected by a variety of environmental conditions, including nutrient availability, temperature, the cleanliness of the surface and the presence of other microorganisms. Previous studies have determined that E. coli O157:H7 can attach and form biofilms on surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic.

A series of studies, including two conducted in our laboratory, have shown STEC attachment is strain dependent. This finding was important because it shows assumptions cannot be made about the entire serogroup in terms of attachment to and biofilm formation on these surfaces.