‘No substantiated evidence of very rare’ outbreak: Dundee firm linked to venison E. coli outbreak

Blame the consumer, Bambi edition.

hqdefaultRaw venison products distributed by a company in Dundee have been linked to an outbreak of E. coli which affected nine people across Scotland.

An investigation by Health Protection Scotland found a link to certain products produced by Highland Game.

Nine people contracted the same strain of E. coli O157 after eating venison purchased raw and cooked at home.

Highland Game said there was “no substantiated evidence” of the source of the “very rare” outbreak.

Food Standards Scotland said the affected products, including Scottish Slimmers venison sausages, Scottish Slimmers venison meatballs, grillsteaks, and venison steaks with pepper sauce, had use-by dates from 4 September to 1 October.

A spokesman said the products “should not present a risk to health if they are handled and cooked properly”, but said consumers should contact the company or retailer if they had concerns.

He added: “Food Standards Scotland is working closely with Highland Game, who have confirmed that they have taken immediate precautionary action.”

A spokeswoman for Highland Game said a full inspection of the Dundee premises had been undertaken and “every assistance” given to FSS.

Scottish Slimmers venison sausagesShe said: “This is a very rare incident and venison has an excellent track record of safety and standards, and there is no substantiated evidence to support the actual source of the outbreak.

“Our stringent hygiene controls at Highland Game are second to none, however as with all meats there can be a risk of contamination somewhere in the food chain.”

Stephen Gibbs, chairman of the Scottish Venison Partnership, added: “We believe this is an isolated, rogue incident in an industry that has an exemplary record in terms of food safety. Consumers should have every confidence in continuing to eat venison – but we cannot stress enough that storage and cooking instructions should be carefully followed exactly, as with any other meat product, as well as good personal hygiene in relation to food preparation.”

Doublespeak: It’s non-O157, but it’s still STEC, Schrader farms meat market recalls beef

Schrader Farms Meat Market, a Romulus, N.Y., establishment, is recalling approximately 20 pounds of ground beef product that may be contaminated with non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

big-brother-1984The ground beef item was produced on September 2, 2015. The following product is subject to recall:

1-lb. packages containing of “SCHRADER FARMS Meat Market Ground Beef” or “SCHRADER FARMS Meat Market GROUND BEEF, BULK” with a pack date of September 2, 2015. 

The products subject to recall bear the establishment number “Est. 44950” inside the USDA mark of inspection. These products were sold at the Schrader Farms retail store in Seneca County, New York.         

The problem was discovered during routine establishment testing, however this establishment failed to follow FSIS Notice 56-14 “Control of Agency Tested Products for Adulterants” and product was released in to commerce prematurely. FSIS and the company have received no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

Many clinical laboratories do not test for non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), such as STEC O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 or O145 because it is harder to identify than STEC O157.

‘Some pink or no pink?’ Hamburger safety BS

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

HomePage_BURGERThe UK Food Standards Agency, created in the aftermath of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) mess, has sunk to new science-based lows and should be abolished.

This is not an evidence-based agency, but rather a lapdog for British arrogance.

For years I have criticized the FSA for their endorsement of piping hot as a safe cooking standard.

It is a regulators job to promote policies based on the best scientific evidence, not to appeal to cooking-show inspired public opinion.

For all the taxpayer-supplied millions provided to FSA the best they can do is appeal to the lowest common denominator.

FSA has published details of a proposed new approach to the preparation and service of rare (pink) burgers in food outlets.

The increased popularity of burgers served rare has prompted the FSA to look at how businesses can meet this consumer demand while ensuring public health remains protected.

hamburger.thermometerThe FSA’s long-standing advice has been that burgers should be cooked thoroughly until they are steaming hot throughout, the juices run clear and there is no pink meat left inside.

This long-standing advice is stupid, because hamburgers can appear pink yet safely cooked, or brown and undercooked. It has to do with myoglobin in the animal at the age it was slaughtered.

This research was published by Melvin Hunt of Kansas State University in 1998.

But FSA knows better.

They say controls should be in place throughout the supply chain and businesses will need to demonstrate to their local authority officer that the food safety procedures which they implement are appropriate. Examples of some of these controls are:

  • sourcing the meat only from establishments which have specific controls in place to minimise the risk of contamination of meat intended to be eaten raw or lightly cooked;
  • ensuring that the supplier carries out appropriate testing of raw meat to check that their procedures for minimising contamination are working;
  • strict temperature control to prevent growth of any bugs and appropriate preparation and cooking procedures; and,
  • providing consumer advice on menus regarding the additional risk from burgers which aren’t thoroughly cooked.

Maybe British inspectors have special bacteria-vision goggles.

Professor Guy Poppy, Chief Scientific Adviser for the Food Standards Agency, said: ‘We are clear that the best way of ensuring burgers are safe to eat is to cook them thoroughly but we acknowledge that some people choose to eat them rare. The proposals we will be discussing with the FSA board in September strike a balance between protecting public health and maintaining consumer choice.’

Not once was a thermometer mentioned. And that’s standard procedure in the U.S., Canada and Australia.

It didn’t take the Daily Mail long to point out that under the proposal, people can eat burgers that are cooked rare and pink in the middle in restaurants, but not at home or on the barbecue.

barfblog.Stick It InThe move follows pressure from some gourmet burger, pub and restaurant chains who argue that the meat tastes better if it is still pink in the middle.

The proposal, which will have to be approved by the FSA board next month, will also lift the risk of prosecution of food outlets by council environmental health officers.

Officials at the FSA say consumers should be allowed to take an adult decision when eating out whether they want to eat a burger that is pink in the middle.
But it is also arguing that people cannot take this same adult decision when cooking burgers at home.

‘The FSA’s long-standing advice has been that burgers should be cooked thoroughly until they are steaming hot throughout, the juices run clear and there is no pink meat left inside.

These piping hot morons should not be taken seriously by any scientist and should be turfed.

Color sucks. Stick it in and use a thermometer.

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

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University.


‘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



Is Juicy Lucy a safe burger? Use a thermometer

The Food Network with their BS recipes is another gift that keeps on giving.

juicy.lucyUse a tip-sensitive digital meat thermometer  and make sure it gets to 165F.

Forget the fluff below.

Lightly mix 6 ounces ground beef chuck with a big pinch of kosher salt. Form into two equal balls, and then shape into two flat patties. Lay two slices American cheese between them and form the meat around the cheese; make an indentation in the center of the patty. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat; sprinkle the skillet with salt. Cook the burger 4 to 5 minutes per side. Serve on a soft bun.

Hamburgers and Memorial Day

As I devoured a 160F tip-sensitive thermometer verified hamburger this morning while watching Tampa beat New York in hockey playoffs, I was reminded that NY Times foodie Sam Sifton took 1,600 words last year to describe how to cook the ‘perfect burger’ and no mention of thermometers.

The Times wonders why it’s losing readers (and please, stop sending me the daily offers to resubscribe for almost nothing, it’s embarrassing).

Food porn always trumps food safety, until someone gets sick.

Bask in Memorial Day, my fellow U.S. citizens, remember those who gave and continue to give, and try not to make anyone barf.

hamburger-safe and unsafe-thumb-450x138-175

E. coli O157 recall in ground beef in Canada

Killarney Market is voluntarily recalling Killarney Market brand ground beef from the marketplace due to possible E. coli O157:H7 contamination

Killarney Market brand ground beefThis recall was triggered by Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) test results. The CFIA is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. If other high-risk products are recalled, the CFIA will notify the public through updated Food Recall Warnings.

There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products.

Rare hamburgers are (not) safe, tasty and disgusting

What once was deemed unfit for human consumption now is considered a delicacy.

rare.hamburgerLes MacPherson of The StarPhoenix says restaurants in Saskatoon (that’s in Canada) are now offering rare hamburgers as a feature entree. They can get away with this by grinding their beef on the premises, just before it is served. E. coli thus does not have time to colonize the larger surface area exposed by grinding. At these establishments, you can order and safely consume a burger scorched on the outside and raw on the inside, like a big, juicy steak.

No. This is just more food porn that ignores biology.

Some talk, some do: 101 burgers all temped for safety

Sorenne was in prep (kindergarten for North American types) last year when she asked, “Dad, can I order food from the tuck shop?”

“Not until I check it out,” said Dr. food safety dad.

doug.tuckshop.feb.15So I asked about, and, as these things go, was soon nominated to be the food safety advisor or something for the tuck shop.

I can say that having worked with the team of volunteers, led by Katherine, they didn’t need much help in the food safety and cleanliness area.

I’ve introduced some basic paperwork (like recording fridge and freezer temperatures), some posters on cooking and handwashing as reminders, and using tip-sensitive digital thermometers to determine whether food is cooked to a microbiologically safe temperature.

I’m a parent, and wouldn’t serve anything to my daughter that I wouldn’t serve at home (as Katherine likes to say). That’s why I individually temped all 101 beef and chicken burgers that I cooked Feb. 6, 2015, for tuck shop.

It’s what I’d do at home, and what I’d expect anyone else to do.

The menu’s up to Katherine and the other volunteers. I’m there to make sure that whatever they serve, it’s safe.

It is.

No thermometers in sight? Gold Coast French chefs Meyjitte Boughenout and Arnault Ollivier to open a burger restaurant at Coolangatta

Coolangatta is, to date, my favorite Australian beach. It’s about an hour away, not nearly as busy as the Gold Coast, but with all the amenities that are missing in some of the more, uh, remote places (which we’ll be investigating next weekend on our way to the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, about five hours south, for a ice hockey tournament).

The Gold Coast Bulletin reports that two French fine-dining chefs say there’s been a countrywide “dumbing down” of the burger and they’re fighting back with fresher flavor.

Meyjitte Boughenout and Arnault Ollivier, owners of Absynthe French Restaurant at Surfers Paradise, promise to restore the appetizing art form to its former glory when they open the Burger Trap at The Strand, Coolangatta in November.

When hamburgers were created in the eponymous German town back in 1880, it was to allow travellers to eat a meal very quickly, yet of a high standard of nutrition and quality.

Meyjitte says, “Burger Trap is going to make it fun, a visual treat and just put healthy back into burgers. You can see the patties being made in front of you.”

That should mean I can see the cooks use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer to ensure safety.