‘Some pink or no pink?’ Hamburger safety BS

Food safety friend Michéle writes:

As part of my daily public health mission, I track foodborne outbreaks and teach food safety. I do the latter to try to reduce the former.  Anywhere, anytime, anyway I can introduce it into conversation.  Because everyone should be served safe food.

hamburger-safe and unsafe-thumb-450x138-175Recently, on a rare night out, I was trying to order a hamburger from a small regional restaurant.

The conversation progressed like this:

Waiter:  Do you want that burger with ‘some pink’ or ‘no pink?’

Me:  Can you tell me what temperature equals ‘some pink’?

Waiter:  We don’t cook to a temperature.  We cook to ‘some pink’ or ‘no pink’.

Me:  Color is not an indicator of doneness.   Please ask the chef to cook my burger to 155 degrees F.

Waiter:  Our burgers have no dyes. We can only do ‘some pink’ or ‘no pink’.

meatwad.raw.hamburgerAs a food safety professional, I was concerned with this.   As I mentioned to the waiter, “some pink or no pink” is not an indicator of doneness.  Numerous meat chemistry factors play a role in influencing color and can result in premature browning, which is why color is not a reliable indicator.

So I reached out to the restaurant’s customer service representative via Twitter and email, asking about their beef procedures. Ever the educator, I even provided resources for them to review, in case it proved helpful to their response.   www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/ehsnet/plain_language/restaurants-ground-beef-handling-cooking.pdf

To their credit, the company seemed happy to respond and explain their hamburger handling processes, and I received a reply from their “Chief Strategy Officer.” Unfortunately their explanation of safe meat handling was NOT correct, and definitely NOT food safe:

From their email:

“The dangers in ground beef have to do with the grinding process, the potential contamination comes from the exterior of the animal. Steak is safe to eat raw because it is only the interior of the animal and it does not get ground up with any exterior parts of the animal. The bacteria cannot pass into the internal flesh unless it is ground in. We grind in house  so there is no surface coming in contact with our beef.”

The email goes on to explain:

“We don’t sell our hamburgers based on temperature because we hand-form our burgers and therefore they have different internal temperatures throughout the patty as there are different thicknesses. We cook our burgers based on time, less time for a pink and more time for no pink. The terms do somewhat relate to the color but are more ways to describe less cooked and more cooked.”

rare.hamburgerOuch!  That’s scary. Shouldn’t their cook terms be related to a number of degrees, not a hue of red?

Unfortunately, they are not alone. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that many restaurants prepare and cook beef in ways that could lead to undercooking, and that about one-in-10 restaurant hamburgers are undercooked. Their recommendations are that establishments should measure the final temperature of ground beef using a thermometer or using standard cooking methods that always cook ground beef to 155°F for 15 second to prevent foodborne illness. FDA agrees.

Beef, even beef ground on-site, it not without risk. E. coli normally lives in the intestines of animals and the infectious dose is very low.  (According to BugCounter Don Schaffner dose response models for pathogenic E. coli indicate even a single cell holds the probability of causing illness.) E. coli on the outside of a  hunk of beef such as chuck, roast or steak can be mixed into the middle of a burger – the place that takes the longest to reach 155 degrees F and become safe.  Irradiation or cold pasteurization can reduce risk, but other food safety assurance steps must also be in place.

In the company’s discussion of their hamburger handling process, there is no mention of cross-contamination controls. Sanitation. Active managerial oversight. Strict supplier control. Microbial testing and certificates of analysis. Handwashing?

They did, however assure me that  “The FDA does allow for the sale of rare meat so long as you print warning about potential foodborne illness on your menu which we have.”  

True. But advisories and Disclaimers don’t make for a safer food product. Or negate an establishment’s responsibility to take the numerical temperature of food.   

Color is a lousy indicator.  Make safe food.  Stick it in.  Use a thermometer.

barfblog.Stick It In

 

 

Soil may protect onions from E. coli

Early research indicates one of the best protections for onions against irrigation water-borne bacteria, such as E. coli, may be the soil itself.

onionThat research is being conducted at the Malheur Experiment Station by Joy Waite-Cusic, assistant professor of Food Safety Systems at Oregon State University.

Onions in the research plot have been irrigated with water inoculated with E. coli, some to extreme highs, Waite-Cusic said. The E. coli was applied during the last irrigation. In the sample of onions taken from the plots, the majority of them did not test positive for the bacteria, Waite-Cusic said.

In one of the latest samplings, onions were harvested one afternoon, put in bags and tested the next morning. Only 16 out of 150 onions tested positive for E. coli, Waite-Cusic said, and this from rows where the irrigation water had been artificially inoculated with 100,000 colony-forming units of generic E. coli for 100 milliliters of water.

“The soil does a good job of filtering,” experiment station superintendent Clint Shock said.

Testing showed that there was less E. coli as the water moved from the furrow or drop tape through the soil to the onion bulb.

E. coli O157 outbreak sickens at least 24 people in Canada

The Public Health Agency of Canada is warning the public about an outbreak of a potentially deadly form of E. coli after at least 24 people became infected and five of them ended up being hospitalized.

e.coli.testThe 24 cases of Escherichia coli O157 occurred between July 12 and Aug. 8, with the “peak of illnesses” reported between July 25 and Aug. 1, according a statement from PHAC. The source of the illnesses has not yet been identified and the investigation is ongoing.

4 confirmed E. coli cases in Indiana; 3 more suspected

The State Department of Health says there are now four confirmed E. coli cases with three more being investigated.

Destiny SmithBut, it stresses, there have been no new cases of possible E. coli reported to the agency since the beginning of the month.

The department is still looking into the possible source of exposure.

Nine-year-old Destiny Smith apparently died from E. coli.

Christian duty to help, but better to prevent E. coli and HUS

A benefit roping was held Thursday night at the Roosevelt County Fair, New Mexico, for 2-year-old Melrose resident Eliza Dodd, who was diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

Eliza DoddHUS is an E. coli-related infection that involves loss of motor skills and kidney problems. Dodd arrived home from a 45-day stint at the children’s hospital in Fort Worth about two weeks before the benefit roping.

Event coordinator and roper Jarryd Burris said the event was an incredible success.

“It was excellent to make a significant difference in the lives of a really great family,” Burris said.

The event had over 300 teams, and between the stray gathering won by Jacob and Wesley Gudgell and the team roping, the event collected over $10,000 in donations for the family for medical costs. This surpassed Burris’ original goal of $6,000.

“We are hoping that amount should take the pressure off,” Burris said.

Eliza must receive soliris infusions every two weeks in Lubbock as well as take up to six medications a day.

She is still experiencing extreme fatigue, stomach issues and low kidney function, said Jana, but she has regained the majority of her motor function, speech and brain activity.

 “It is our Christian duty to help those in need,” Price’s daughter Mindy Oder said. “It’s the concept of doing unto others what you would have done unto you.”

Paternalistic warning about E. coli in Australian goats feta cheese

As usual, Australian government types don’t tell how the contamination was discovered or if anyone is sick.

Cottage Cheese FarmCottage Cheese Farm Pty Ltd has recalled Cottage Cheese Farm Goats Fetta Cheese from Cottage Cheese Farm and Middle East Bakeries in Victoria, Australia, due to microbial (E. coli) contamination. Food products contaminated with E.coli may cause illness if consumed. Any consumers concerned about their health should seek medical advice and should return the products to the place of purchase for a full refund.

Microbial-based recalls of organic food on the rise

New data collected by Stericycle, a company that handles recalls for businesses, shows a sharp jump in the number of recalls of organic food products, according to a story in the N.Y. Times.

organic-manure1Organic food products accounted for 7 percent of all food units recalled so far this year, compared with 2 percent of those recalled last year, according to data from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture that Stericycle uses to compile its quarterly report on recalls.

In 2012 and 2013, only 1 percent of total units of food recalled were organic.

Kevin Pollack, a vice president at Stericycle, said the growing consumer and corporate demand for organic ingredients was at least partly responsible for the increase.

“What’s striking is that since 2012, all organic recalls have been driven by bacterial contamination, like salmonella, listeria and hepatitis A, rather than a problem with a label,” Mr. Pollack said. “This is a fairly serious and really important issue because a lot of consumers just aren’t aware of it.”

For that matter, the overall amount of food recalled because of suspected bacterial contamination has increased this year, adding to what has been an upward trend in food recalls since 2012, according to Stericycle, which predicts a 24 percent increase in the number of food units that will be recalled by the F.D.A. this year.

The Organic Trade Association, however, took issue with Stericycle’s accounting of recalls, saying its own quick analysis of recall data from the F.D.A. and the Agriculture Department show the problem is less severe, with organic products accounting for 4.9 percent of recalls, in line with the percentage of organic food sold out of total retail sales of food.

“A key point to keep in mind is that an overall increase in organic recalls between 2012 and 2015 would not be surprising — not because organic food is less safe, but because of the dramatic increase in organic food sales and purchases that we’ve been seeing in this country,” said Gwendolyn Wyard, senior director of regulatory and technical affairs at the trade group.

“Sales of organic food in the U.S. have risen by almost 25 percent just since 2012, and the number of organic products on the market is increasing steadily as demand for organic increases,” she said.

Ms. Wyard also noted that food safety mechanisms had increased since 2012, with a corresponding increase in food recalls.

Leafs are bumpy: Change in disinfecting spinach, salad greens could reduce illness

Cross contamination in commercial processing facilities that prepare spinach and other leafy greens for the market can make people sick. But researchers are reporting a new, easy-to-implement method that could eliminate or reduce such incidences.

howcleanisyoThe scientists will present their work at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Spinach or other leafy salad greens were responsible for 18 food-poisoning outbreaks over the last decade.

Greens are washed by commercial processes before they head to the grocery store. But these methods, which can include water and bleach rinses or irradiation, are not completely effective, says Nichola Kinsinger, Ph.D. She says scientists have estimated that 99 percent of food-borne illnesses from leafy greens can be traced back to disinfection issues. As a result, they have searched for and developed a different approach to attacking the bacteria, most notably E. coli, which is the cause of many outbreaks.

“Despite current disinfection rinsing, bacteria are surviving on the leaf and causing cross contamination, resulting in the numerous outbreaks we hear about in the media,” Kinsinger says. She is a postdoc in the lab of Sharon Walker, Ph.D., at the University of California, Riverside. “Pathogens can come from irrigation waters or from water used during processing, and they can adhere to spinach leaves. If these bacteria are not all killed in the disinfection process, they can continue to live, grow, spread and contaminate other surfaces within the facility and other leaves.”

Using a parallel-plate flow chamber system that Walker developed, the researchers tested the real-time attachment and detachment of bacteria to the outer layer of spinach leaves. At low bleach concentrations, the bacteria fell off the leaves, but remained alive. At the higher concentrations used commercially, however, all of the bacteria were killed. “This result was perplexing,” Walker says. “Our experiments were telling us that commercial bleach rinses should be much more effective than they are. But then we studied the leaf itself in more detail.”

A spinach leaf is not perfectly smooth, she notes. So, the team modeled how the bleach would move across the surface of a spinach leaf, taking its bumps and grooves into account. Surprisingly, the model revealed that the concentrations of bleach on leaves may not be consistent.

“We found that because of the topology of the spinach leaf, nearly 15 percent of the surface may ‘see’ a bleach concentration that is 1,000-times less than that of the rinse solution,” Kinsinger says. In some cases, that translated to a 90 percent bacterial survival in their tests—and a high risk for cross contamination.

To reduce that risk, the researchers are optimizing an inexpensive titanium dioxide (TiO2) photocatalyst that companies could add to the rinse water or use to coat equipment surfaces that come into contact with the leaves as they are processed. When TiO2 absorbs light, it produces a strong oxidant that kills bacteria.

The scientists now plan to conduct more studies on the photocatalyst, and they will look at a broader range of foods, engineered surfaces and pathogens.

 

E. coli O91 in elderly patient

Hemolytic-uremic syndrome due to enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli, belonging to serogroup O91 has rarely been described. We report here a case of post-diarrheal HUS due to EHEC O91 in an elderly patient for whom diagnosis was delayed given a previously diagnosed C. difficile infection. This case highlights the usefulness of Shiga-toxin detection.

Fatal case of hemolytic-uremic syndrome in an adult due to a rare serogroup O91 Entero hemorrhagic Escherichia coli associated with a Clostridium difficile infection. More than meets the eye

International Journal of Infectious Diseases

Thomas Guillard, Anne Limelette, Elisabeth Le Magrex-Debar, Alain Wynckel, Malika Gouali, Patricia Mariani-Kurkdjian, Charlotte Guyot-Colosio, Christophe de Champs

http://www.ijidonline.com/article/S1201-9712%2815%2900149-6/fulltext

Biosensor platform for rapid detection of E. coli in drinking water

The need for rapid, specific and sensitive assays that provide a detection of bacterial indicators are important for monitoring water quality. Rapid detection using biosensor is a novel approach for microbiological testing applications. Besides, validation of rapid methods is an obstacle in adoption of such new bio-sensing technologies.

drinking.water.e.coliIn this study, the strategy developed is based on using the compound 4-methylumbelliferyl glucuronide (MUG), which is hydrolyzed rapidly by the action of E. coli β-D-glucuronidase (GUD) enzyme to yield a fluorogenic product that can be quantified and directly related to the number of E. coli cells present in water samples. The detection time required for the biosensor response ranged from 30 to 120 minutes, depending on the number of bacteria. The specificity of the MUG based biosensor platform assay for the detection of E. coli was examined by pure cultures of non-target bacterial genera and also non-target substrates. GUD activity was found to be specific for E. coli and no such enzymatic activity was detected in other species. Moreover, the sensitivity of rapid enzymatic assays was investigated and repeatedly determined to be less than 10 E. coli cells per reaction vial concentrated from 100 mL of water samples.

The applicability of the method was tested by performing fluorescence assays under pure and mixed bacterial flora in environmental samples. In addition, the procedural QA/QC for routine monitoring of drinking water samples have been validated by comparing the performance of the biosensor platform for the detection of E. coli and culture-based standard techniques such as Membrane Filtration (MF). The results of this study indicated that the fluorescence signals generated in samples using specific substrate molecules can be utilized to develop a bio-sensing platform for the detection of E. coli in drinking water. The procedural QA/QC of the biosensor will provide both industry and regulatory authorities a useful tool for near real-time monitoring of E. coli in drinking water samples. Furthermore, this system can be applied independently or in conjunction with other methods as a part of an array of biochemical assays in order to reliably detect E. coli in water.

Biosensor platform for rapid detection of E. coli in drinking water

Arizona State University Digital Repository

Hesari, Nikou / Abbaszadegan, Morteza / Alum, Absar / Fox, Peter  / Stout, Valerie

http://repository.asu.edu/items/34809