Chipotle, are you listening? ‘Food businesses in Ireland must recognize that the legal onus is on them to make sure that the food they sell or serve is safe to eat’

The Food Safety Authority served two enforcement orders on food businesses last month.

barf.o.meter.dec.12The first was a closure order served on Earl’s Delicatessen restaurant at the School of Architecture at University College Dublin in Clonskeagh. The order was lifted two days later.

A prohibition order was also served on Sheahans Butchers in Church Street, Kerry.

During the month of January, two successful prosecutions were carried out by the HSE on Kelleghan Catering Food Stall in Tallow, Waterford and Millbridge Meats butcher in Kimmacrennan, Donegal.

Commenting on enforcement orders served in January, Dr Pamela Byrne, chief executive of the FSAI said food businesses need to be vigilant at all times in relation to food safety to ensure full compliance with food legislation.

“Food businesses must recognise that the legal onus is on them to make sure that the food they sell or serve is safe to eat,” she said. “This requires ongoing compliance with food safety and hygiene standards.”


Really: Vomiting Larry is easing the burden of Norovirus in Ireland

I never saw my uncle Larry barf, but when I was young, he seemed larger than life. Great hockey player. As he died, not so much. Winter of The Irish Times writes in the gazetteer of human illness, and forever associated with the most common cause of acute infectious gastroenteritis in western Europe and North America, is Norwalk in the US state of Ohio.

In October 1968, 116 pupils and teachers at the town’s Bronson elementary school contracted diarrhoea and vomiting.

By 1972, electron microscopy of feces samples taken from the outbreak identified a novel agent, subsequently named Norwalk virus.

Known today as norovirus, its alias, the “winter vomiting bug”, is a misnomer, with year-round outbreaks occurring, albeit with a winter peak.

For example, data from the HSE’s health protection surveillance centre show that in April, May and June of 2015 there were 25 outbreaks involving 385 people, and by mid-November 2015 a total of 87 outbreaks had affected 1,508 people. Norovirus gastroenteritis has been a notifiable disease in Ireland since January 2004.

Infection control expert Prof Dinah Gould of Cardiff University highlights the mistaken belief that norovirus gastroenteritis is “always without serious consequences and the infection is frequently described as mild and self-limiting”.

This, she writes, ignores the fact that the illness is distressing and can last for several days. Further, while healthy individuals do not suffer long-term ill effects, there may be severe outcomes for children, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.

According to Gould: “They can become severely dehydrated, and in severe cases may develop renal impairment.”

Viral gastrointestinal infections are acquired via the fecal-oral route: viruses shed in feces end up in someone else’s mouth, typically through food or water, although virus transfer can occur from touching contaminated surfaces.

Noroviruses are as tough as old boots and expert inducers of projectile vomiting, so can cause havoc on cruise ships and in institutional and other settings. On December 5th last year, for example, the staff canteen at Russell Investments Center’s skyscraper offices in Seattle, Washington State, was reportedly the suspected source of a norovirus outbreak affecting hundreds of employees.

In 2009 celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal was running the Fat Duck restaurant in Berkshire, and over a six-week period, 529 diners were also running within 48 hours of sampling a tainted tasting menu costing £130.

Heston’s declared speciality of “molecular gastronomy” was apposite given laboratory findings that samples of the Fat Duck’s nosh featured a striking molecular profile consistent with norovirus enrichment.

Contaminated oysters were suspected, and a 47-page UK Health Protection Agency report on the outbreak reprints the tasting menu, including an oyster and passion fruit jelly with lavender, and something called “Sound of the Sea”.

And 2014 saw inspectors telling staff at Blumenthal’s Dinner restaurant in London’s Knightsbridge to wash their hands more often following a norovirus outbreak affecting 10 dinner diners.

The importance of handwashing for the interruption of norovirus transmission is crucial considering that during an acute infection more than one billion virus particles per gram of faeces can be shed, and that healthy adults usually excrete norovirus for about 10 days, although one report found that a child shed norovirus for about 100 days.

Someone delving into the cloacal chaos wrought by norovirus is Dr Catherine Makison Booth, senior scientist at the UK government’s Health and Safety Laboratory.

Makison Booth’s invention – Vomiting Larry – gives startling insights into the infectious nature of this agent. But who is Larry?

norovirus-2The title of Makison Booth’s paper in the Journal of Infection Prevention (2014, 15: 176-180) sums it up: “Vomiting Larry: a simulated vomiting system for assessing environmental contamination from projectile vomiting related to norovirus infection.”

A system of compressed air, pistons, a water supply and a “pneumatic ram”, Larry is topped off by an authentic manikin head, complete with teeth, tongue and vocal cords.

“The first question anyone asks about Vomiting Larry is why is he called Larry and not Vomiting Victor, Puking Pete or Barfing Barry,” Makison Booth told The Irish Times.

“His name comes from his realistic manikin head, which is a commercially available device in its own right known as Airway Larry, used by medical students for practising techniques such as laryngoscopy.

“There can be as many as a thousand million viruses in the vomit and diarrhea produced by infected individuals, yet it takes only 10 to 100 viruses to cause infection in the next unaffected person.

“Currently there is no vaccine; no antiviral treatment; and most people often have limited immunity even after being infected.”

Norovirus is resistant to many cleaning products and alcohol hand gels we use today, meaning “norovirus spreads like wild- fire during outbreaks, causing the closure of hospitals, schools, cruise ships and even offshore rigs to try to curb its spread”.


I don’t eat potlucks, I don’t know where their bugs have been, and I carry a thermometer with me

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued a few tips to keep your holidays healthy.

barfblog.Stick It InAt home:

  • Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils for raw roasts and cooked roasts to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Wash items such as cutting boards that have touched raw meat with warm water and soap, or place them in a dishwasher.
  • To avoid overcooking beef, veal, pork and lamb roasts use a meat thermometer. These roasts should be removed from the oven when they reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees and allowed to rest for three minutes before serving.
  • Turkey, duck and goose should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured by a food thermometer. Temperatures should be taken in three areas of the bird: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing and the innermost part of the thigh.
  • Kitchen towels should be washed frequently to avoid cross-contamination, so a home cook can never have enough kitchen towels.

The rest of the advice is nonsense.

But Ireland, I have so much respect for your Safefood, yet you still insist on telling people, “no pink meat and be sure that the juices run clear before eating.”

Use a thermometer and stick it in.

Chapman sent me 10 for me to give out over the holidays. I’d be happy to mail you, Safefood Ireland, a tip-sensitive digital thermometer, since apparently no one in Europe is aware of their existence.


Recall of fresh mussels in Ireland: due to presence of DSP (diarrhetic shellfish poisoning)

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is advising consumers of a food recall of fresh mussels supplied from Wednesday of this week to some retail stores throughout Ireland.  The mussels were harvested from Roaringwater Bay, Co. Cork on Monday and Tuesday of this week and may contain harmful levels of diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) toxins.  These mussels were sold loose and in bags at fresh fish counters in some retail outlets nationwide.  The FSAI is warning consumers who may have the product at home not to eat the affected mussels. The implicated mussels have now been removed from sale.

Symptoms of diarrhetic shellfish poisoning are diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain which can start between 30 minutes to a few hours after ingestion. Complete recovery occurs within a number of days.

The FSAI is warning consumers who may have the mussels to check with the store where they purchased them and not to eat them if they are implicated in this recall.

Guidance on sous vide cooking for caterers in Ireland

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has develop guidelines for sous vide, which is French for ‘under vacuum’, is a method of cooking where food is vacuum-packed in a plastic pouch and heated in a temperature controlled bath for a defined length of time. This cooking method can present some food safety risks which should be identified and controlled. These include the potential for survival and growth of bacteria that can grow under the anaerobic (absence of oxygen) conditions created by the vacuum packaging, e.g. Clostridium botulinum.sous vide ireland Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 9.17.57 PM

Due to the rise in the use of the sous vide cooking in restaurants and catering establishments, the FSAI has prepared a factsheet which highlights the risks associated with this method of cooking. It provides guidance on managing these risks, in particular guidance on cooking temperatures and times. It also makes recommendations for cooling, storing and reheating food that has been cooked by sous vide.

Click here for the guidelines.

Staff at Irish hospital ‘terrified’ of contracting E. coli

A member of the domestic staff at Craigavon Area Hospital saysCraigavon-Area-Hospital1 she and others are “terrified” of contracting E.coli O157 after being asked to clean the kitchen where it was found.

The Southern Health and Social Care Trust confirmed yesterday (Thursday) that the bacteria had been detected in the main public canteen.

The domestic assistant, who contacted the Portadown Times, said she and other staff were alerted to the situation on Tuesday, when they were called in to a meeting.

She said all domestic staff had been asked to hand in their uniforms for swab tests and were also asked to submit a stool sample.

She criticised the hospital for the lack of information they had received since then and also expressed concern that she and other staff had been asked to go in and clean the kitchen.

“The staff are not happy. We are terrified that we are going to catch it,” she said.

However, a trust spokesperson said any cleaning is conducted under stringent environmental health guidelines and that staff are issued with all the necessary protective clothing.

Meanwhile, the canteen remains open and hot food is continuing to be served – as the bacteria cannot exist in it – but the salad and sandwich bars have been closed until all tests have been completed.

Planning for next food scare top priority for Ireland’s new food safety head

Food scares will always come and go, whether it’s horse meat, dioxins in pork or BSE. But when the next crisis arrives, there will be a new face leading the response at the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

pamela.byrne.fsaiDr Pamela Byrne (right, exactly as shown) became chief executive of the agency in March, taking over from Prof Alan Reilly. The environmental toxicologist from Cork is the first woman to head the authority but she won’t feel outnumbered because 75 per cent of her staff are female.

There are about 80 people working in the agency but she has received sanction from the Department of Health to fill several vacancies that remained unfilled because of the State recruitment embargo.

She says her job is to protect consumers’ health and that ensuring that all food ingredients are traceable is a key part of this. “Traceability within food business systems is going to be critically important,” she says.

“With globalisation of the food supply chain, we have ingredients coming from a number of different sources. We have products coming in from a number of different sources. And we have a lot of products going out.

“With the intended expansion of the food industry, it’s going to be really important that robust traceability systems are in place. And it’s also going to help us in terms of understanding where there might be new and emerging risks.”

The value of food and drink exports has grown from €7.1 billion in 2009 to €10.5 billion but Byrne says this growth also presents challenges. “As anything gets bigger there’s always going to be a need to make sure that those systems are fit for purpose. Food businesses are sourcing ingredients from all over the world and they must make sure their suppliers are reputable.” Exotic tastes But with increasingly exotic tastes being catered for, isn’t it impossible to ensure that all 21 ingredients in one recipe, for example, can be traced back to source and vouched for? “No, I don’t think it’s impossible,” she says. “A reputable food business operator who is sourcing ingredients from multiple sources all over the world should put in the systems to make sure that they are convinced of the reputable nature of every supplier.”

She says the horse meat crisis heightened everyone’s awareness of what can go wrong in the food industry.

So where will the next food scare come from? The authority is working with its European counterparts in investigations into the substitution of lower-value fish species for higher-value species, and the passing off of lower-quality honey as manuka honey.

Byrne also says her agency and the Department of Agriculture are leading a drive to reduce outbreaks of the food-poisoning bacterium campylobacter and are bringing chicken producers, processors and retailers together to do this.

In other Irish news, 15 enforcement orders – 14 closures and one prohibition — were served on food businesses in May, the highest number of closures in one month so far this year.

Dr Pamela Byrne, Chief Executive, FSAI warns that the legal onus is on food businesses to act responsibly and ensure that the food they serve and sell is safe to eat at all times.  She states that every Closure Order undermines the confidence consumers should expect to have in the safety of the food they eat. This has negative implications not only for the premises involved, but for the wider food industry.

“Most food businesses follow high standards and are compliant with food safety legislation.  However, inspectors continue to encounter cases where consumers’ health is jeopardised through a failure to comply with food safety and hygiene requirements,” says Dr Byrne says.  “There can be no excuse for such breaches and negligent practices. They are avoidable when food businesses have proper food safety management systems in place.”

Salmonella in tumeric in Ireland

The FSAI has issued a warning that a spice sold in Ireland could be carrying traces of Salmonella.

tumeric.ireland.salmThe spice is a ground tumeric root that comes in 50g batches.

It is mostly sold in Eastern European food outlets under the name ‘Kurkumawurzel’ and is being recalled by food producer Monolith Mitte Gmbh.

The product originates in Germany and the batches carrying the Salmonella infantis are not safe to eat.

Businesses that sold this particular spice are required to put up ‘point of sale’ notices alerting people to the batch.

The batches that are being recalled have best before dates of 31/12/2016; 28/02/2017 and 31/03/2017.

8 sick: Suspected outbreak of cryptosporidium hits thousands of homes in Ireland

Almost 6,500 homes in Westport have been placed on a boil water notice after a suspected outbreak of cryptosporidium.

crypto_enlargedThe precautionary notice was issued by Irish Water to a large number of customers in the town and to those on nearby group water schemes this evening.

It will affect thousands of homes and businesses in the busy tourist town.

Irish Water says the HSE has issued the precautionary boil notice, after eight people in the Westport area reported symptoms of crytosporidium.

They say no crytosporidium had been detected in ongoing water samples, however, as a precaution they are urging customers to boil water before using it for drinking, preparing food and baby food or brushing teeth.

Campylobacter sucks: Irish woman’s terrifying ordeal, paralyzed and couldn’t move a muscle

An Irish woman was left paralysed from her neck to her toes after eating a chicken which was contaminated with a common bacteria.

campy.chickenSandra Loftus, from Kinsealy, Co Dublin, contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome – a severely debilitating condition of the nervous system – after she ate chicken infected with campylobacter.

The bacteria commonly causes food poisoning and shockingly 98.3% of chickens bought by the public here in Ireland are infected with it.

And like Sandra, one in 100 of us who contract food poisoning from campylobacter will get Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

She explained: “I was cooking dinner for the family and I was doing a chicken stir fry.

“The next day I was very sick I had terrible cramps in my stomach, nausea, diarrhea – it was really bad. The Saturday then when I got up the legs just went from under me.

“After a full day in hospital they said to me, ‘Look, just go home, it could be a virus, come back to us if it gets worse.’

“When Monday came I couldn’t even lift my hands – there was no power or anything.

“So I was straight back over to A&E and spent three months in high dependency there and then nearly a year in rehab in Dun Laoghaire.”

Sandra told RTE’s Consumer Show that she thought she was going to die.

She said: “I was paralysed from my neck to my toes, I couldn’t move a muscle.

barfblog.Stick It In“And I thought I was going to die because when we looked into it one in four people can die from this.”

Sandra spent three months in intensive care unit battling for her life and then spent a further nine months at the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dun Laoghaire.

Thankfully she has now fully recovered from her ordeal.

However, in the food safety advice bit at the end, sorta like Dear Abbey, the story says, “Make sure chicken is steaming hot all the way through before serving. Cut in to the thickest part of the meat and check that it is steaming hot with no pink meat and that the juices run clear.”


Use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer.